How to handle an employee who shuts down when I give negative feedback
August 21, 2022 6:31 AM   Subscribe

I have only 5 or so employees. My latest hire has been here only a few months and overall she's doing great, picking up complex processes quite fast. However, anytime I have to give negative feedback, she completely shuts down and will sulk for the rest of the day. How do you advise I improve the situation?

Overall, I'm quite pleased with this employee, and I also make this clear. She's handling quite a lot of responsibilities after only a few months at the company. I definitely want her to stay on board, but I find myself walking on eggshells or delaying having to give feedback when I notice an error or oversight. I'd like this to improve.

I'll give an example:
We have email templates that we use for recurring processes/customer service. I've explained the system of the templates, we organized and labelled them together so that she knows which one to use when. We also edited some of the wording on the templates at her suggestion to make them completely foolproof to use.

On days that she's not working, I handle those customer service tasks. That's how I noticed that she didn't use a template when handling a specific process. This led to a big oversight in the email that she freestyled, resulting in a very frustrated customer. (Plus tangentially, it takes her longer to type a freestyle email than to use the template, so it's a waste of resources, but that's another issue).

So I mention to her that I noticed she doesn't use the template, and explained how that resulted in the oversight. (NB the oversight directly results in more work for her in cleaning up the situation).
Upon receiving feedback her mood changes directly, she completely shuts down, avoids eye contact, to the point that it feels she's not listening to what i say. Once the conversation is over she'll be visibly annoyed, banging on her keyboard or mouse on the desk, or shoving something in the garbage with unnecessary force, stomping off on the stairs to the coffee corner etc... The rest of the time, she's perfectly civilized and quiet.

This same behaviour happens anytime i point out something that's not going well, no matter how big or small. She's already made a few mistakes that have been quite expensive to fix, so it's not like I can just ignore the mistakes. I need to talk about it and decide together on how to adapt the process, so the mistake doesn't happen again.

So I don't really need tips on that template situation, i need tips on dealing with an employee that shuts down when i give feedback. To be clear, I never blame or shout, I'm truly trying to troubleshoot so we get to the bottom of the issue together and improve our processes so the same issue doesn't happen twice. I make it very clear that it's OK to make mistakes, but not OK to not learn from them/not have a plan in place to avoid it in the future.

For context, we're a tiny organization, and I share a desk with this employee, so there's no way to avoid being in each other's space. Realistically, we're never going to have an individual office anytime in the future, so that's just how things are. These are all in-person interaction, not remote-work issues. If it matters, her job is Operations Manager. She's about 10 years younger than me, but I don't feel this is a generational gap, if I look at my other employees her age.

If you've been in this situation, or if you've been the employee that shuts down when receiving negative feedback, what's helped?
posted by PardonMyFrench to Work & Money (39 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Giving feedback is the hardest part of being a manager. It's also why you exist.

Feedback is often hard to receive because it's about something in the past. Giving the feedback, for many managers, is "communicating that you made a mistake."

But, that's not why we give feedback. We give feedback with the goal of "preventing future mistakes."

The best time to give feedback is immediately -before- a behavior. Then, the person receiving feedback can 1: immediately successfully complete a task 2: prove that they know how to complete the task and 3: start a hopefully new habit of always completing tasks correctly.

But - when you notice the failure is when it is top of mind. If you need to, you could say "next time we start this task I'd like to go over the steps again". Or, you can try to schedule a meeting right before the task ro help you remember.

When actually giving the feedback, it's so helpful to focus on what to do in the future, and not even mention what they did in the past. Once you are sure they have a firm grasp on what ideal behavior is like, then, you can ask them to evaluate their own work. Tell them that it sounds like they get it now, and thanks for the extra time.

In my experience, giving feedback this way while treating direct reports with a lot of respect and not condescending, is the greatest way you can be a good manager. It's great you noticed that one employee doesn't take feedback well - I would say that this is probably something you could practice with all employees! By getting better at this skill, and giving reports and coworkers a lot of good feedback and helpful advice without being patronizing, they will come to you for help and advice in the future too.
posted by bbqturtle at 6:43 AM on August 21, 2022 [16 favorites]

I would have a conversation with her along the lines of "You have been a fantastic addition to our team and I want to keep making sure you feel comfortable here and we can work well here together. As I mentioned before, I'm really happy with the work you've been doing. I do notice that when I suggest doing things differently, you seen hurt by it, and that's not my intention. I want you to feel secure in this position and realize that we are all helping each other make this an effective and enjoyable place to work. I also welcome your feedback about my own performance as your manager. Is there a way I could deliver feedback to you that would feel safer to you?" (Or something to that effect...)
posted by beyond_pink at 6:58 AM on August 21, 2022 [25 favorites]

Did she adjust her behavior as a result of your feedback? For example, did she start using the email templates after you pointed out her error?

If she's able to follow your feedback, and the issue is just her bad attitude for the remainder of the day, I'd give the feedback at the end of the day and then leave work right afterwards.

When someone is hypersensitive to criticism, it often takes months (or years) of therapy for them to face the roots of what caused their sensitivity and then practice a new response. It's unlikely that you can "fix" this within her. Instead, try to time your feedback to let her be upset in private.

Companies often give performance feedback (e.g. putting people on a PIP) on Friday afternoons, so that the employee can be upset in private over the weekend. You can try using a similar sort of timing.
posted by cheesecake at 7:00 AM on August 21, 2022 [49 favorites]

You need to directly address their behaviour because it is not acceptable. As you noticed, they are “training” you to not criticize them/give feedback and want you to walk on eggshells around them. As this is a new hire they are currently on their *best* behaviour so this WILL get worse. And if they are like this with their manager I can only imagine how they treat co-workers.

As someone who has hired and managed hundreds of people, the ability of someone to work as a team member outweighs any skills they bring to the position. Skills can be taught, attitude tends to be hard-wired. So I would have one conversation with the person. Emphasize that their attitude as clearly expressed in their behaviour towards feedback is not acceptable and monitor for a change in behaviour.

The way you give feedback sounds constructive to me. I don’t think it needs to change except for the fact you say you now hesitate to give feedback due to feeling uncomfortable with the persons behaviour and you can’t let yourself become conflict avoidant.
posted by saucysault at 7:04 AM on August 21, 2022 [24 favorites]

I think Ask A Manager has probably handled this, but I'll add that if there are behaviors that you don't want her to exhibit in the office, it's not a bad idea to tell her. As someone who hasn't always taken feedback well, I don't always know how noticeable my reaction is.

Also note that she's very likely mad at herself, not you. I would talk to her at a separate time (not related to any other feedback you have) and point out that you've noticed this and you want to make sure she's comfortable with how you communicate (per beyond_pink). Let her know this is happening and noticeable.
posted by gideonfrog at 7:06 AM on August 21, 2022 [5 favorites]

I feel like an adult in the workforce shouldn’t be stomping around when they’ve been informed that they’re not following a procedure that they had a hand in developing. I’d try to find out what’s behind that behavior— not following protocol— using some questions from restorative practices as a first step. Here’s a script.

“Employee, you’ve been doing a great job getting up to speed on complex procedures quickly. I have been noticing a pattern, however, where you haven’t been using the templates that you and I tweaked together at your request. What happened? [Wait for an answer.] What were you thinking at the time? [Again, let them answer.] What have you thought of since? [Pause for an answer]. What would it take to get you to stick to the script in the future? It’s had financial consequences for us and that needs to stop.”

See how that conversation goes (if you haven’t had it already) and then address the stomping around if it continues. “Employee, after these conversations, it appears that you’re very upset and that you express your frustration in unpleasant ways. I can’t have you stomping around for a few hours afterwards. It’s unsettling for everyone in the office and this is an area I expect you to improve on. Would it help to take a break after these conversations or for me to schedule them at the end of the day if possible while you work on this behavior?”
posted by SaneCatLady at 7:11 AM on August 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

I’m going to take a bit of a different tack and say - what is actually wrong, employment-wise, with her showing that she’s “visibly annoyed”? Is the emotional labor of appearing to be excited and happy about negative feedback a required feature of the work environment? Is being “loud on the stairs” really that much of a problem for your office?

It kind of sounds like the issue is you want to keep providing negative feedback but to not to have to face the likely consequences of someone being scolded at work, which is an immediate shift in mood. Other people may be better at hiding it, but I don’t know anyone who is thrilled to be told by their boss they’re doing something wrong.
posted by corb at 7:18 AM on August 21, 2022 [25 favorites]

The rest of the time, she's perfectly civilized and quiet.

I came in here to ask the same questions as corb -- as well as this employee being sensitive to criticism, are you possibly being sensitive to what you perceive as disruption and you're projecting that annoyance onto her? I think it's worth keeping in mind that you're also adapting to a new person in your personal space (which you note is small) and you might be reacting strongly to something that's not actually a big deal. I'm not sure how you're supposed to tell another adult human being that they're putting trash away too loudly without sounding like you're scolding a toddler.

By all means address how you're communicating with her, but it is natural for someone to have to learn how to cope with this sort of issue, especially if she's not got a lot of experience in this environment. It might be a matter of time and letting her realise that the world isn't ending because her boss is raising an issue with her.

(As a side note, be aware that there may be a reason for this beyond inexperience or simply not knowing how to handle criticism -- rejection sensitive dysphoria is something that can happen with people with ADHD, for example, which causes a strong almost involuntary emotional response to even the mildest critique or anything they perceive as rejection. She may not even be aware that she's doing it.)
posted by fight or flight at 7:27 AM on August 21, 2022 [11 favorites]

This could be an issue of disability or neurodivergence—not implying diagnosis, but looking up things like rejection sensitive dysphoria might help you come up with strategies on how to communicate accessibly with her.
posted by The Last Sockpuppet at 7:29 AM on August 21, 2022 [9 favorites]

I agree with saucysault it needs to be addressed but I think that there might be ways to finesse it so everyone saves face.

Like - in private - "hey, I've noticed that you seemed really frustrated after I reminded you to do the thng. You've been doing great overall with the stuff, and we value your work. I know that for perfectionists, critical feedback can be more upsetting than it is for folks who aren't really invested. I get it, and I'm thinking maybe that's what happened here. Maybe you didn't realize that your frustration was showing, but [x behaviors] are pretty obvious. [Optional "is there anything else you wanted to discuss regarding the process?"] Wind up with request to keep it professional.

I don't think there's anything wrong with what you asked her to do, especially as it seems like not using the template led directly to the customer's unhappiness, but I do think that the same desirable quality of taking pride in one's work can have the converse effect of making someone feel personally hurt when that work is criticized, and acknowledging that can maybe take the edge off here.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:03 AM on August 21, 2022 [5 favorites]

Is it possible the feedback is coming across as patronising, or e.g. overexplaining the reason for the templates to exist when the issue is that the employee failed to spot that they applied, and already now realises that mistake. I'd much much rather hear “that email to x the other day needed the template” rather than “you must always use the template because <extremely long explanation which I've already been told several times now and fully understood>”.
posted by ambrosen at 8:10 AM on August 21, 2022 [12 favorites]

Chiming in to say something similar to Kevinbelt's comment, because your example rings a bell for me. As an apprentice many years ago, I reacted poorly to negative feedback after I'd used an unnecessarily challenging method of accomplishing a task. The criticism was entirely reasonable on its own terms, i.e. that I'd wasted time and produced worse results. What I couldn't articulate at the time was that doing everything in the straightforward, "easy" way was incredibly boring and confining. I needed to grow my skills and expand the boundaries of my role, neither of which could I do while sticking to the easiest, most efficient methods.
posted by jon1270 at 8:28 AM on August 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

Let her have her feelings and find ways to reduce how it affects you. Have these conversations at the end of the day as cheesecake suggested, and if that is not possible, choose to ignore the behavior instead of feeling guilty or angry about it. Detach yourself from it by recognizing that it's her issue and not yours.

If she is trying to get a rise out of you, completely ignoring it should eventually reduce the behavior. If she is having trouble handling her emotions, giving her space to do that is a respectful way of accommodating neurodiversity.
posted by metasarah at 8:40 AM on August 21, 2022 [7 favorites]

I feel like complete shit for the rest of the day after I get yet another list of everything I've done wrong. I can't tell from this if she just feels like crap and hates herself for being a fuckup or is seething with rage at you rather than herself, or what. But I definitely second giving bad feedback at the end of the day. Also I haaaaate being told I fucked up yet again at 9 a.m. and have to fake that I am ok for the next seven hours. Sounds like faking ok for the rest of the day isn't going well, so why not just make that period of her feeling shitty in public shorter?
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:42 AM on August 21, 2022 [6 favorites]

I get she makes you uncomfortable. Does her behaviour affect the rest of the team? Is she dragging people into the matter, being disruptive to where others are distracted or affected in any way? If not then yes, she’s not being perfectly calm in the moment but if she comes back from the coffee corner her normal calm self a few minutes later then that may just have to be part of the feedback process. Chances are she’s annoyed with herself and just needs a bit of time to get over that.

Ideally, she knows that about herself and just goes and takes a few minutes on her own when she needs them, without taking it out on the keyboard or rubbish first. So mention she seemed a bit upset after x meeting, re-iterate she is a valued team member, that sometimes we get a bit flustered in such conversations and that it’s ok if she wants to take a few minutes, grab a coffee or whatever before getting back to work.

But ask yourself how much disruption she really causes for the rest of the team. Only you know if her reaction affects others or not. The fact that you, as supervisor, will occasionally have to give negative feedback and that not everybody is equally good at accepting that in the moment, is one of the reasons you’re paid more. Clearly, this assumes she does actionthe feedback, isn’t rude or aggressive towards you or the rest of the team etc.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:49 AM on August 21, 2022

her eye contact and facial expressions are not your business or your problem to worry about. however, if she is actually slamming things around, like noisily and potentially in a way that will damage something, add that to your list of things to tell her to fix. not kidding. after you go through the work issues, 'you have thrown things and started whacking your mouse & keyboard loudly after each of the last x performance reviews, please do not do that again even if you are upset. however, if you would like to formally or informally respond or object to my comments now or later, or take a short break after our discussion, you are welcome to do so.'

if this seems like a ridiculous escalation in response to her behavior, don't say anything and also don't worry about it. so you can tell what she's thinking. so what?

if it doesn't seem ridiculous, do say it, but also expect to fire her sooner rather than later.

she sounds like an unbearable child. but she is also not to blame for intimidating you. you're the boss! if you're afraid of her petulance, either simply stop or simply pretend to stop. either one will work.

(some people are or seem to be honestly unaware that other people can see them & their exaggerated pantomimed huffs. don't know how else to explain it. goes along with internet-influenced communication styles in ways I am thankful not to understand. it is very humiliating for them when they realize that they can, in fact, be seen. but the younger they are when the epiphany hits, the better for all concerned.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:28 AM on August 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately bosses don’t have the luxury of ignoring such unprofessional behavior or saying, well, if the work is generally good, she gets to slam and stomp around. What if everyone at the office did that? What if she did that to an important client or the ceo? What if your other employees with disabilities can’t be in the same room with raging out and noise? Will it really serve her in her career to never be called on this, given that at some workplaces she could be dismissed for this? Of course she gets to feel her feelings, or be quiet for a couple hours, or take a break, but what you’ve described isn’t that and it needs to be addressed.

Use askamanger’s scripts. The point is that her role requires her to take feedback and your role requires you to give it, so she needs to hold up her end of the bargain.
posted by kapers at 9:53 AM on August 21, 2022 [7 favorites]

Also to be clear you’re giving feedback on her behavior (stomping and slamming,) not her emotions (“you seem upset” etc.) It’s your job to address the former, the latter isn’t really your domain at all. It’s a given that nobody loves negative feedback.
posted by kapers at 10:01 AM on August 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

I would suggest this is a coaching and development opportunity for the both of you. Emotional Intelligence is a critical skill in the workplace and it sound like both her self-awareness and self-management are fairly low, but there are ways for her to work on this. I'd propose both of you pick up a copy of the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0. It's a quick and easy read and also includes access to an online self-assessment and learning plan as well as a 6-month follow up assessment. I suggest both of you work through it together so you can discuss and share insights collaboratively, I think you'll get better traction with her that way rather than just assigning it as a task.
posted by platinum at 10:04 AM on August 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for the answers so far. It's very helpful. I'm the owner of the company, so I'm the manager by default because we're so small, but I'm definitely not trained as a manager.

Yes, the main issue I have with the slamming/stomping behaviour is that it's very visible to the rest of the team, who are also sitting very close by. There's usually conversions/collaborations going on between the other team members. Or the loud banging/stomping happens while others are having phone/video conversations, sometimes with customers, and that's just not acceptable.

When the employee in question does this, everyone else gets really quiet and "careful"/awkward for a while. The contrast is very stark because the rest of the time, she's outgoing and very social and is most likely the one to initiate chit-chat with me and other employees. So I don't need her to be quiet at all times, but I need her to not negatively affect other employees.

Again, I wish we all had a private space to work in, but that's just not the situation and isn't likely to ever be. Ideally, I'd prefer to go take a walk outside with her or something similar to deliver the feedback, but it's usually very hard to explain the specific issue without a computer screen in front of our eyes.

So it affects everyone to the point that another employee mentioned it makes her uncomfortable.

I get that nobody likes to hear negative feedback, but realistically, everyone makes mistakes, all the time. That's just what humans do and that's how we grow. I can't imagine a situation where this type of feedback won't be delivered to her, in this organization or the next.

I've asked her when she was hired if she needed any accommodations for disabilities or neurodivergence and she said no. Of course, I understand it can be very tricky/unsafe to divulge this information to an employer and not everyone does so. Or she could simply not be aware herself as well.

Delivering the feedback at the end of the day is easy to implement and will be my first thing to try.
posted by PardonMyFrench at 10:33 AM on August 21, 2022 [5 favorites]

her eye contact and facial expressions are not your business or your problem to worry about. however, if she is actually slamming things around, like noisily and potentially in a way that will damage something, add that to your list of things to tell her to fix.

I agree with this distinction, not so much because of potential damage, but because I get very stressed out by other people's anger, maybe because of an angry family member growing up, and it would suck to have that in the office - a place I couldn't freely leave. It's not something her coworkers should have to deal with.

I'd try to bring it up lightly, but I think it's definitely something to address directly.
posted by trig at 10:34 AM on August 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

I really recommend checking out this podcast episode, Why does feedback hurt so much?.

The episode is framed around relationships, but they also discuss this in the workplace.

From the show notes, abbreviated:
David introduces the concept of rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD), where you interpret feedback or questions or redirections as being very harsh and personal, and then really take it to heart—even if that’s not really what is being communicated to you (example: Did you empty the dishwasher? Someone with RSD: WHY DO YOU THINK I’M LAZY?!) ... Awareness is gamechanging. How you give people the feedback that maybe they’re taking your feedback too personally/harshly? There is a comedic setup in giving people the feedback that they may not take feedback well. What if your partner is neurotypical and feels like your ADHD hyper focus forgetfulness feels like you’re doing things on purpose, then you go down a shame spiral of forgetting (for example)? The neurotypical partner may have resentment towards the behaviors and also, how can it get better? It will happen again, we will fail. Not trying to be something you’re not, but also always working to improve and putting in effort, as well as paying attention to repairs and actually doing the work to prioritize what your partner’s needs are...How RSD connects to years of feeling like you’re failing and getting social feedback there’s something wrong with you. The importance of finding a partner who accepts you and gets that ADHD is not going away.

I mention this because this feels very familiar to me. Particularly since you mention her having made several significant mistakes. Sometimes someone with ADHD will be good at coming up with systems (like your email templates) because they need things to be organized and simple to get by, and still struggle to implement them.

We tend to be hypersensitive to criticism, having experienced lots of it. We also tend to have emotional disregulation - unusually intense emotions and difficult managing them. Your employee may have some of these issues.

If this were me, this would be my narrative after being informed of a mistake such as you describe (you=me):
*horrible sinking feeling of dread and shame* "Oh no! You screwed up again, how could you be so stupid. See, they think you're useless at this and not good enough to work here. This will keep happening and eventually they will realize you're an imposter and fire you. I can tell they think I'm reacting too much, how can I clamp down on my feelings about this, they're going to think I'm unprofessional."
Cue shut down, go to the bathroom to cry a bit and get myself together, be less effective today because I'm having too many feelings. Sometimes frustration can be part of trying to still get things done.

She sounds like a diligent and thoughtful worker, and not someone who would blame you for giving necessary criticism. I would bet money she's mad at herself, not you.

It really does feel like a horrible rejection to receive mild and necessary feedback at times. I rely on the shutdown to manage sometimes. I may not be able to articulate any useful words at these times, for fear of displaying my emotions. I might feel a bit as though I feel the feedback is unfair, because I interpret it as a hard rejection and all the good feedback has totally failed to sink in, but try not to display this feeling.

So, what to do.

Of course you need to give feedback about mistakes, and her feelings about it are hers to deal with. At the same time, she will have the feelings she is having, and she is not having them at you. It is not possible to think your way out of feelings. You can either spend time in a quiet place cooling off and managing them, or put in effort to try to mask them.

I would absolutely not think about this or speak about this as a behaviour problem or as unprofessional. It presumes intent which I doubt is there. It also presumes that she can change it. Much of how you interpret this is about you - it sounds like you feel she is taking your criticism as unreasonable. I would stop inferring anything related to you or how she interpreted the feedback from her feelings.

I would also not treat the mistakes issue as her not trying hard enough, or failing to do obvious things that would prevent the mistakes (from a neurotypical perspective). If it is that case that this person has ADHD or some other executive function issue, she may be trying absolutely as hard as she can and mistakes can still happen. They may keep happening. Instead, I would see it as a problem you can try to help with. How could she structure the work so that less mistakes happen? Making a checklist, for example? Having a habit of always double-checking? You may need to be more directly involved in coaching on these points. If it doesn't work and this person really is very helpful in other ways, is there any way you can rearrange the work so everyone is doing what they're good at? You might find this page about ADHD accommodations helpful as it discusses how you might help someone to succeed in an employment context. Of course, you do not know whether this is something she struggles with and should never ask, but you can approach the issue with this framework to the extent that it does not cause undue hardship to you as an employer.

I would also try more intentionally to create a better structure within which she can receive this feedback. I would precede any in-person discussion with an email two-three days before explaining the issue clearly, sent close to the end of the day. That way, she can have the feelings privately, not worry about a bomb dropping suddenly in in-person conversation. She can refer back to the email when the brain machine starts whirring with the "you suck" narrative to confirm that's not actually what you said. She can prepare for the conversation with you about it. Also consider if any in person conversation is necessary - I find these conversations very painful and anxiety provoking, in large part because of trying to manage these feelings.

I would frame this email to include a short reminder that you are generally pleased with her performance, a clear and specific explanation, and an invitation to discuss how you can help her to succeed. Ask her what has worked in the past and be flexible where possible within your workplace to do things that work.

Basically, try to change the structure, not the person. Accept that she finds these conversations difficult, and it would be very difficult to impossible to change how she reacts to them emotionally. While still communicating the necessary information, find ways to do so that avoid some of these issues.
posted by lookoutbelow at 10:48 AM on August 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

I actually disagree with saving minor feedback like the template issue to the end of the day, unless you do that for everyone. IMO it’s still walking on eggshells and makes the convo seem like a bigger deal than it is. And it lets her off the hook for controlling herself, which is a professional skill she needs to acquire, stat.

Feedback is normal and should be normalized for people like this (longtime manager here. I used to have a slammer and eye roller and for about two years I bent over backwards trying to adjust my delivery but of course nothing worked because the issue was hers, not mine.)

Things like firings, PIPs, major performance issues, harassment claims, etc.—of course you time those thoughtfully. But “you gotta use this template please” is something everyone needs to be able to hear from their boss as soon as their boss is aware of the problem.
posted by kapers at 10:49 AM on August 21, 2022 [8 favorites]

To clarify - it seems as though some of this is things you really would rather communicate verbally in the moment. I would still consider if they can be emails. For anything bigger or consisting of a pattern, I would still adopt the email then conversation approach.

The issue of having feelings publically in a way that makes others uncomfortable is important, but the solution does not have to be her suddenly learning to not display them. This will unavoidably consist of more clamping down and shutting down, which creates bigger feelings, and big feelings are really bad for the ability to complete cognitively difficult work. Better to put that effort to her learning how to change the structure, and you making reasonable adjustments.
posted by lookoutbelow at 10:56 AM on August 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

Another consideration is whether you've fully explained why her error matters.

With the email template, she might be thinking, "Yes I missed one piece of info that's in the email template, but I was able to send the information in the next reply, so it was no big deal. Yeah the customer sounded frustrated, but half the customers that write in sound even more frustrated. Yesterday a customer was cursing and furious, but I calmed him down by writing a human reply instead of using a robotic template. He said he was so glad he finally talked to a human and not a corporate drone, and he placed a big order. I think the customer loyalty and connection that we build with human non-template replies is worth the occasional tiny oversight and the extra time spent, but the boss won't hear of it. Guess I have to stop trying to innovate or create positive change here. Just follow the script, like a mindless robot."

You know why this oversight is big, and why this customer being frustrated is a big deal. Have you explained to her?

I once had a job where making any customer frustrated would be a huge deal. I had a different job where there were many difficult-to-please people on the free trial who never paid but complained constantly, and we were trained to ignore them. It was very helpful to get a thorough explanation of what mattered in each job, and why.
posted by cheesecake at 11:24 AM on August 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

My casual rule of thumb was that criticism/ correction could be up to about 10 - 15% and the rest should be positive or neutral interaction. I'd address slamming/stomping but not quiet/ no eye contact. Employee slams/ stomps after teaching correct process, explaining why, noting downside of incorrect process.Exhibit startled reaction. "Pat, please close the door quietly. Thanks." People have to learn to be grownups. People respect you more and behave better when you don't tolerate crap. What gets rewarded gets repeated.

It occurred to me that employee may need reassurance that their job is not in danger. Make sure you ask them at some point how they feel about their job performance and the job itself. The answers to this can be surprising.
posted by theora55 at 11:35 AM on August 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Well, if the behaviour affects the wider team yes, it has to be corrected. In addition to any specific corrections for her, perhaps think about how you manage the team as a whole? It may feel that that takes away from ‘getting on with the job at hand’ but managing your team is part of your role and is important. Not spending time on that only works up to a certain point and with certain people/as long as everything runs smoothly.

Based on your follow up, it sounds as if there may be limited/no space to have 1:1s with your team? Figure out how to make them happen every so often, for all team members, not just the new person. Perhaps you could take people to the local coffee shop or go for a walk? This shouldn’t be something that happens only in response to a problem but just a regular, check-in.

Also consider weekly team meetings to go over developments/processes/highlight achievements/what works well/what has to be tweaked and why etc. That makes talking about things that work well or that don’t work well be part of the normal team communications. Most importantly, you get to set the tone, set clear expectations etc.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:57 AM on August 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I sometimes find cleary, evidently carefully considered (carefully timed, carefully worded) critical feedback worse for my ego than the off-the cuff casual remark, because it can rather make things seem like a bigger issue. One cardinal rule of feedback is that one should point out the easily fixable stuff immediately, so waiting with feedback for the best moment and thus making it a whole thing does often make me fear that it might not be about an easily fixable matter after all. Of course that's often hard to reconcile with another cardinal rule of feedback, namely that it should be preferably delivered in private. Best to make your peace with the notion that it's pretty much impossible to deliver critical feedback in a way that ensures its graceful reception.

So I wouldn't necessarily change anything about the way I deliver feedback in your place. Of course it should be constructive, it should focus on observable and fixable stuff, it should not just be critical but also mindful of positive aspects, etc.. There are various rules of good feedback that are worth keeping in mind for every interaction, regardless of the other person's likelihood of showing strong emotions. I'm assuming you're keeping in mind all of those things already. And none of them will fix her strong feedlings, if that's just how she rolls.

You can't train her to have different emotions about receving feedback (you might train her to show them less, but as other commenters have pointed out, she might not be able to do that inspite of her best intentions and efforts - still, I'd say it's worth an attempt; if she is neurotypical and able to learn this, it would be a very valueable skill for her career) - you can train yourself to feel less upset by her emotional reaction. You might resent it less, if you can trust yourself to not be negatively affected. You have your own standards for fair, helpful feedback, which you will keep striving for. You will keep pointing out the things that need to be pointed out. You can live with the drop in the mood, because work isn't always about having fun.

Employee stomps around? "Could you be a bit more quiet, please?" - Needs pointing out, should be fair game. She might not be aware of it! I'm a horribly loud person at the best of times, and yeah, probably even louder when I'm agitated, and usually not aware of it at all. I personally wouldn't connect it to her handling of feedback; she's being to loud for whatever reason, and you need her to be more quiet, which is a reasonable expectation in a small shared office.

Employee is less chatty after receiving negative feedback? I'm afraid that's your cross to bear, she doesn't owe you chattiness.
posted by sohalt at 12:23 PM on August 21, 2022

This is probably "when you're holding a hammer everything looks like a nail", but here goes:

I'm reading "Tiny Habits" and the concept is that resultant behavior is the output of motivation, ability and prompts. The author says that most people spend most of their effort trying to wag the behavioral dog with the motivational tail. In general it is more effective to take care of any ability deficits and any prompt deafness. He gives examples of positive/negative behaviors, at personal/team/business levels.

In this case (maybe?????) the employee needs concrete ways to internalize the advice, such as taking notes/emailing questions/confirmations, as well as a prompt such as a weekly meeting, or a chat in a neutral area (not your office, not in a hear everything cubical)?

I once had a team member who became upset whenever another team member (in particular) criticized them. I tried to make clear to them that I did their reviews, and I assigned their work, and that if other team member tried to interfere to let me know and/or just tell me they were going outside to get some "fresh air" (code for this situation). I don't think it helped a lot, but nothing else was working.

Also, I realize this "behavior" is particularly extreme, so my idea may be a paper cup of water on a camp fire. FWIW.
posted by forthright at 3:49 PM on August 21, 2022

I think you received great advice above, especially the one you are starting with, the end of the day timing. I just want to add my $0.02 that upon reading your question and the description of the issue, without hesitation, I thought to myself, self, this is the employee getting down on themselves, not angry with you. Angry they made a mistake. Good luck.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:12 PM on August 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Ask her to provide you with feedback on her performance. Ask her five things: to identify what she is doing well, what could be improved, what mistakes she has made, where she wants and deserves more freedom, and what she needs help with. Do this on a regular basis. Sandwich the requests for her to identify what might appear to be negative reflections on her performance within her own positive self-assessment, but ask her explicitly to do all of the above.
posted by desert exile at 6:21 PM on August 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm sensitive to feedback, and you need to ask her if she has a preferred way to receive it. There are a lot of good suggestions in this thread, but some of them would not work with me. Hopefully she's self-aware enough to know the answer.
posted by Mavri at 6:48 PM on August 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

I assume this is part of why you asked, but you really need to protect the other employees from her stomping and slamming and making a commotion that is noticed by clients. I don't think there is a helpful way to give feedback about other employees considering this person a problem.

Desert Exile's advice is a good way to try and keep this person on track, but do be very careful that she doesn't eat up too much of your time. What you have is - despite whatever good qualities or skills she may have - is a problem that is negatively affecting your other employees.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:46 PM on August 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

I have RSD with my ADHD -- and ADHD is very underdiagnosed in women. I wasn't diagnosed until I was 41. I just thought I was a lazy screw up before then and wouldn't have known anything about the accomodations that make me a more successful and pleasant person. I did have an experience once in college that completely erased my RSD for a while, though.

I had a ballet instructor who started the semester by mentioning that she would be correcting us a lot, and that students tended to get bent out of shape about that. But that if she corrects us it's because she sees skill and potential in someone that makes her care enough to take the time to give some personal feedback. That if you get a correction, it's because you're worthy of her care and attention. For the rest of the semester I had something to answer back to that horrible inner voice that tried to beat me up whenever I got a correction -- I'm not horrible, I'm good enough that she sees me and sees someone worthy of investing in!

If you end up talking to her about her reactions to criticism, please give her something to use against that voice, just in case she's dealing with the same thing and just doesn't know it's not normal. If it's not what she has it certainly won't hurt. You started out by telling us that she was really quick to learn complex processes (side note: this is actually common in ADHD), and we get from how you're submitting a question and following up that you clearly feel she's an employee worth investing time and attention in. Let her know that. Give her enough ammo to silence the inner voice trying to tear her down, so that she can answer with, "I'm not going to get fired, they like my work, they're impressed with what I can do. And the criticism is proof that I'm valuable enough to help rather than fire when I slip."

You absolutely need to give criticism when needed, and without feeling like you're walking on egg shells around it. Some of us just need to hear a positive framing to help us push back against our own inner bully that likes to tell us we're worthless and everyone hates us.

And yeah, when you do criticize -- quick and to the point and move on. Do not linger. If you do linger, only do so to ask a question in a way that places you on her team trying to find a way to make the processes better: (in a tone of genuine curiosity) "Was there something about that particular case that you didn't want to use the template?" or "how do you think we can make these templates easier to use?". If she is on team ADHD she's likely the most creative problem solver in your office.
posted by antinomia at 7:37 AM on August 22, 2022 [5 favorites]

Do you have regular 1:1s currently? If the position is that you have them even when there are no problems, that might avoid the sense of her feeling like she is being called on the carpet. I know some managers institute them for everyone, at least temporarily, when they really just want to address things with one or two people. It might also give you a chance to see if any other employees have trouble with your feedback style that they are not expressing.
posted by BibiRose at 7:56 AM on August 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

I've had a slammer before in my workplace. My solution was to say something like,

"Hi, I'm noticing that there's extra noise and impact in how you're moving things around right now. My guess is that it's related to your feelings about (your performance review). Is that accurate? I want to reiterate that I value your work and I'm glad you're a part of the team. And of course it's ok to have feelings, and if you'd like to discuss (the review) please feel free to set up a meeting so we can talk. But banging items on the desk is distracting, and is affecting the mood in the entire office, so I need to ask you to stop expressing negative feelings that way. Would you like to take a 15 minute break and be back to work at 3:15?"

Then the person gruffly left for a break and came back acting more normal. At the end of the day, I pulled them aside again and said, "I just wanted to thank you for addressing the behaviours I pointed out - I noticed the change you made and I appreciated it." The person gruffly replied, "Well, I know when I'm in the wrong."

Of course 10 years later I was hired for a new job by the business owner only to discover that the Slammer was my new manager. He spent a few months actively and obviously looking for any reason to fire me. He was on a vendetta - in MY performance review, where I had objectively excellent performance metrics on the table, he only gave one note, it was critical, and it was based on a lie (I had a friend in the office who confirmed the lie). He literally ended my review by saying, "so in summary about your work, I don't see a reason to fire you at this point". Then he found a reason to fire me a few weeks later. So, you know, watch your back.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 3:35 PM on August 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

I share a desk with this employee

the slamming/stomping behaviour is that it's very visible to the rest of the team, who are also sitting very close by

This sounds really weird. I'm having a hard time visualizing the setup. How do two people share a single desk. How can everyone else see what's going on? It sounds like your employees don't even have the (non) dignity of cubicles.

Is your office simply way overcrowded?
posted by soylent00FF00 at 3:49 PM on August 22, 2022

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