FeaturedPost: Managing People who Can Not Handle Criticism – Liz Ryan


Dear Liz, I’m happy to have found your advice column. You deal with the exact type of sticky human topics I face all the time in my job. I manage a retail store, part of a national chain. I enjoy working with my retail sales team members, most of whom are pretty young, and I really enjoy helping people succeed and grow as people and as professionals.

I have a team member we’ll call Francesca who is a top performer in many ways. She gets to work on time and does a great job. She helps her teammates. She is a tremendous asset. She is very knowledgeable about our store and pleasant to our guests.

The one thing Francesca has trouble with is accepting any kind of criticism or coaching.

She can’t do it. Her team leader has tried several times to say, “Francesca, thank you for your tremendous work! Can I make a suggestion?” and Francesca’s face immediately changes. She hardens. She says “About what?” with a suspicious tone.

My team leader will proceed to say something like, “At times, when you’re restocking the shelves you’ll leave a box in the aisle and then our guests have to walk around it. I just want to remind you to make sure and pick up your boxes whenever you change aisle”

Francesca immediately launches into a defensive tirade. She turns into a different person. As long as we are praising her (or just chatting about any topic) she is fine. The minute anyone, including me, tries to coach Francesca, she can’t handle it. She freaks out. What can we do to help Francesca learn to accept coaching and learn from individuals? – Joyce

Dear Joyce Every employee comes to a job with quirks and rough spots — you and me included. Francesca’s rough spot is that she has a tough time accepting criticism, however mildly and warmly conveyed.

The obvious thing to do in the traditional management mindset would be to force Francesca to listen to you and your team leaders. I’m sure plenty of people have forced Francesca to do things she didn’t want to do, and that’s why she is scared of criticism.

We can be smart. We can say, “Why is Francesca so spooked over friendly coaching? She must have been badly treated at some point.” We don’t have to know where, when or by whom — we only have to adjust our approach to coaching Francesca once we notice that she has been beaten up at some point and is now afraid to hear any kind of coaching at all.

Here are three techniques that should help. The first is a role-modeling exercise. You can role-model the acceptance of coaching for Francesca and the rest of your team.

Tell your folks at an upcoming meeting that you’re likely to stop them in the store and ask them for one suggestion — one thing you can do differently to be a better manager for them.

Then, start doing it — start asking your team members, “What’s one thing I can do differently to be a better manager for you?” Listen carefully to their answers. Write them down. Thank your team members for their suggestions, even if they are goofy. Thank them warmly!

Ask Francesca the same question. She may not have a ready answer but she will see you asking for feedback, receiving it graciously and thanking your team members for coaching you.

Your team leaders can do the same thing. They can ask their teammates for their answers to the question “How can I be a better team leader for you?”

The second technique is more direct. Ask your team leader, Francesca’s supervisor, to sit down with Francesca and say, “I need your help, Francesca. I need your  advice. From time to time I have coaching suggestions and guidance for you and everyone else on our team. I need to know how to share those suggestions with you in the way that will work best for you.

“I’m not doing a great job of coaching you so far. How would you like to be coach.

Your team leader will involve Francesca in answering the question, “What’s the best way to help Francesca grow?”

The third suggestion is to give Francesca a new employee to mentor. Ask Francesca to start a mentoring journal and to write about her interactions with her trainee. Ask Francesca to create a day-by-day training plan for her trainee and to ask her trainee how he or she would like to be coached.

Through these three techniques, you will create a safe space around Francesca to help her understand that coaching isn’t evil.

She will become a coach herself — to you, to her team leader and to her trainee. Francesca will gradually see that the world is not as dangerous as she may think it is – at least not in your store!

All the best,

Liz Ryan is the CEO and founder of Human Workplace and read the rest of her Forbes.com .

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