When They Just Don’t Believe You

Posted on September 23, 2014.

Know who the hardest person to manage is?  No, it’s not the underperformer. Nor is it the high maintenance employee.  The absolute hardest person to manage is the person who can’t accurately self-assess. This type of employee never, ever sees himself or herself the way others do. And by others, I mean everyone else.  A recent Harvard Business Review article talks about ways to coach the person that doesn’t want to be coached.  

And there are some great tips in the article, but the onus is mostly on you, the manager, to find a better way to coach someone.  And I’ll admit, it’s a challenge to try to bring someone along who doesn’t think they need your help.

But I would argue the bigger challenge is getting someone to stop saying, “you’re wrong”, every time you try to deliver some constructive criticism.  It is THE MOST FRUSTRATING experience I ever had as a manager.   It’d be great if you could just fire them all, but it’s not usually an option.  And the reality is that they aren’t necessarily terrible performers, they just can’t improve because they already think there’s nothing wrong. So how do you deal with the poor self-assessor?

·      Document. Everyone has clients or customers whether they’re internal or external.  Before having a formal feedback session with your employee, gather some feedback from these customers.  Put it in writing.  This person won’t believe you if you don’t use their names, so make sure you get their permission and warn them they make get a call from your employee. When delivering this third party feedback, make it clear that any negative follow up to any of the third party contributors will result in disciplinary action.  I’ve found that no matter how disappointed an external customer may be, when asked for feedback, they have a tendency to white wash reality.  Be prepared with very specific questions related to actual tasks your employee was required to do, the timeline required and follow up.  

·      Find a Mentor.  The HBR article has some great suggestions and implies that one reason someone refutes your feedback is that they just don’t trust you.  You can follow their suggestions on building trust or find an alternative.  Just like parents with children, they tend to listen to everyone but mom or dad.  So find someone within the organization that you know this person respects and likes and ask him or her to mentor your employee.  Make sure the mentor is willing to deliver both positive and constructive feedback.  Provide the mentor with any real life examples that might help.  Make sure they build a bond first. After all, you want your employee to trust and listen to their mentor.  Just like with a parent/child relationship, it’s not surprising how the exact same feedback delivered by someone else is received in a more receptive way.

As frustrating as this type of employee can be, make sure to keep your cool. It’s really easy to let the conversation escalate into a shouting match.  But if you’ve tried everything and they still don’t want to listen, you may have to make some hard decisions.