How To Give Feedback To Highly Emotional People

Some of us take feedback so personally. We fret, worry, feel anxious, and decide that the world is against us – even as a response to clear, helpful feedback. The feedback process can be brutal, for three main reasons:

1. The way feedback is delivered, as if someone is King and we are a Slave. (The best workers in the world by far are volunteers! Do we treat people like volunteers or like we own them?)

2. We get too many words pushed at us. We can only process and remember 1 or 2 things and we get deluged with corrective possibilities that overwhelm us and make us feel bad.

3. Feedback can be an observation and analysis of past actions. We can do nothing about our past actions. So feedback regarding our past can leave some people feeling judged and helpless.

We need to follow a few simple guidelines to help others receive feedback, despite their sensitivity to the process. Most of us want ideas on ways to grow, be happier, be more engaged, and prosper, while honoring personal values and achieving professional success. Here are some tips on how to deliver feedback so your people will be more receptive:

Don’t sugarcoat our comments

Use fewer words. When we say, “Please don’t take this the wrong way,” or “I hate to say this but,” we set the stage for a bomb dropping. People will never accept our Content until they feel safe with our Intent. Instead, we can ask, “Would you like a discussion for your growth?”  Lean into the future of what “great” will look like with certain behavior modifications, versus just feedback which is rearview mirror management. Here are 3 tips regarding feedback through wordy emails (which is the worst possible format for coaching)

1. Write out your complete thoughts.

2. Delete almost all of that, especially ”yes, but”; keep all the “pleases,” “yeses, ”greats” and “thank-you’s.”  

3. Hit send.

Ask for input

Have the coachee be involved in the conversation. Start with, “What do you believe is going really well?” If they see their poor behavior as great – gently guide them with, “Well, how might I think that actual behavior could be improved?” This is not designed to trick anyone, rather to build genuine conversation about perceptions. We want them to discover for themselves another perspective regarding why some people are not responding as intended, based on the coachee’s behaviors.  

We do things for two reasons – 1. We are pushed or 2. We feel like it. Pushing sensitive people is like pushing a burro, instead, we should help them “feel like it.” Ask them, “What behavior changes could you make to get the desired response you want in a client, teammate, or even a spouse?”

Be specific

Get to the point and help them with behavior change. Phrases like “you need to be more convincing,” or “you should jump in with both feet,” or “you are too wishy-washy” – these are vague and open to countless interpretations; they are also mostly unactionable. If we say instead, “please don’t roll your eyes,” or “try asking this exact question,” or “please don’t talk while someone else is talking” – these are actionable behaviors. We can control, change, and choose our behaviors. It’s hard to choose others’ attitudes. Something like “smiling more” is easy to do, since it’s all muscle-based. “Be more positive” is harder because it isn’t specific and we sometimes don’t actually know what to do.

Don’t be part of their emotions

If others cry or get emotional, be respectful, hand them tissues, and avoid reciprocating. Be empathetic, and less sympathetic. As they get overly excited, upset, or mad, avoid that tendency to raise voices and be foolish. When we have to confirm that, “I am right,” we lose perspective of our role as guide and become more an owner of their story.

“Arguing with a fool, proves there are two.” ~ Doris Smith

Be encouraging

Lean on past successes they have had as motivation capable of propelling them to achieving new behaviors and changing. Help them see for themselves that the changes we expect from feedback are attainable.

Measure our impact

Sure, we can measure the actual changes in them. That’s great. The other measure for me is “Do they ask me for more feedback in the future?” I can recall, years ago, having a boss give me feedback and thinking – “I hope I don’t have to see him again anytime soon.” I want the people I coach, to want more feedback. That sense of appreciation, and their personal effort to find value and success, is reward enough for me.

Great Coaching!

Sensitively Yours,



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