A common problem managers bring to HR is the staff member who ‘doesn’t listen to feedback.’ Often, these managers hope the HR team will take the problem off their hands by taking over the feedback process. However, the HR practitioner’s role is enabling managers to address ‘resistance to feedback’ themselves. There are five key coaching questions cluey HR practitioners ask managers in this situation.

How specific was the feedback?

The first thing to check is how the manager worded their performance feedback statement. All too often, feedback is too broad or too vague for staff to understand. In some situations, the message becomes so vague that the staff member doesn’t realise they’ve received feedback. In these cases, you, as an HR practitioner, should explain the difference between generalisations (‘Your work is sloppy. You need to pay attention to detail’) and evidence-based statements (‘The data report contains twelve errors. Let’s look at each one and discuss how you can prevent similar errors occurring in future.’)

Did the staff member agree that change was needed?

If the staff member doesn’t believe that change is desirable, they are unlikely to put effort into developing new behaviours. This will make is seem as though they’re resisting or ignoring feedback. But perhaps something different is happening. Maybe the staff member doesn’t believe that change is necessary. Therefore, they can’t visualise themselves making the change. Managers can address this issue by making sure they prompt for agreement that change will be useful to the employee.

Psychologists have shown that when people voice commitment to a course of action, they are more likely to follow through on making behavioural changes. So you, as an HR practitioner, can support managers by teaching them to ask commitment-generating questions when giving feedback on performance. For example:

  • Do you agree that this needs to change?
  • How will you benefit from doing this differently?
  • I believe you can benefit from changing…What do you think?
  • What can you do to get a different result next time?

Was clear guidance given on how the staff member’s behaviour could change?

Explaining what needs to change is only half of the feedback equation. When giving feedback, managers also need to ensure that staff members are clear about how they can change. HR practitioners play an important role in teaching managers how to give clear, behavioural guidelines on what staff can do differently. For example, it helps to use phrases such as:

  • In future, it will help to check your figures with accounts before processing them.
  • You can solve the problem of spelling errors by proof-reading your work before handing it in.
  • To prevent layout problems, please use the standard template for reports. Let’s go through it together now, so you know what to include in each section.

What coaching or training was provided?

As all HR practitioners know, many performance problems are caused by skill gaps. So it’s important to check with managers regarding the training or coaching they have provided to employees they perceive as ‘resistant to feedback.’ If necessary, you can help managers learn how to conduct a skills audit and discuss development needs with their team members.

How was behavioural change recognised and reinforced?

Behavioural change takes effort. And staff members will lose motivation if their effort is not recognised and reinforced. In other words, it’s really important to recognise the fact that an employee has changed their behaviour in response to a feedback message. HR practitioners play an important part in ‘making change stick’ because they can teach managers to notice and reinforce early changes. You can coach managers in this skill by suggesting they look for opportunities to ‘catch people doing something right.’ Instruct them how to give positive, reinforcing feedback. You can even try role-playing feedback situations, so that managers feel confident delivering reinforcing messages.

By asking these five questions, you can help managers develop the micro skills required to deliver effective feedback. Make sure you give them opportunities to try out those micro skills in safe environment. And when you see them using them effectively, make sure you reinforce THEIR efforts!