I have to approach a really defensive team member about her poor performance. In the past, she has argued with me about my observations. She’ll improve for a few weeks and then she’ll go back to doing the same things that drive me crazy. She just came back from maternity leave so I know I need to be careful in what I say and how I say it. I have tried complimenting her to reduce her defensiveness but nothing I’ve said makes a real change.
Because almost no one likes to give or get critical feedback, I suspect you’ve made a common mistake in the way you’ve communicated your displeasure. You’ve tried to soften your message with what I call, a “Praise Sandwich.” This is when you offer a complement, follow it with a complaint and then finish up with another complement. What the other person hears is a confusing message of “I really like when you do this, BUT….” This is such a common technique that most folks interpret the words before or after the “but” as BS and they discount it.
Do not structure any feedback – good or bad with a praise sandwich. To reduce someone’s defensiveness, ask the employee to APPLY something they are good at to the new situation. Here is an example. “Heather you are so good at establishing relationships and a rapport with our patients. I’d like to see you apply those skills to influence your patients to schedule their next appointment. What do you see yourself as saying so that 95% of your patients reappoint?”
Notice that this was just one smooth message with no “buts” or “howevers.” If you want a change in behavior, then help your employee transfer what they already can do to the new situation. Ask for their insights about HOW they will implement this change and make sure you give specific, objective outcomes so they can measure their success.