4 Manager Feedback Skills to Minimize Defensiveness and Increase Receptivity

“23% of employees strongly agree that their manager provides meaningful feedback to them.”


Most managers admit that providing inspiring and meaningful feedback that leads to employee commitment is hard. It does not have to be!

Part of the solution is avoiding communication traps that cause defensiveness or confusion. Another part is applying skills that increase receptivity to suggestions.

Avoid these common communication traps:

  • Being too direct and harsh
  • Being too vague and mushy
  • Being overly critical of faults
  • Failing to acknowledge strengths
  • Not establishing a personal relationship (feels transactional)
  • Feedback given is not actionable

“Only 17% of millennials report receiving meaningful feedback. Routine feedback is better than none, but meaningful feedback — the kind that helps individuals learn, grow, and do their jobs better — is how you improve productivity and performance.”


4 skills that minimize defensiveness and increase receptivity:

  1. Ask for permission
    • “Hi Latisha, can I share my thoughts on how we are collaborating on the current project?”
    • It signals that feedback is coming, making them better prepared to receive.
    • Why this works: Employee autonomy is a key motivational driver, gives them a feeling of choice and control.
  2. Provide specifics
    • “The last two updates you provided lacked key data.”
    • Why this works: Our brains crave certainty, ambiguity is the enemy.
  3.  Share impacts of the behavior.
    • “The missing data caused the project to get behind and frustrated me as I had to hunt the data down.”
    • Gives them context, helps to connect the dots.
    • Provides a big picture cause and effect.
    • Why this works: Injects emotion, helping to humanize the feedback.
  4.  Invite collaboration, ask questions
    • “How do you see the situation and what ideas do you have for moving forward?”
    • Builds a trusting, authentic partnership.
    • Empowers them to take responsibility.
    • Why this works: Inspires new commitments.

Start providing quality and consistent feedback by avoiding common feedback traps and applying the four skills above. Your team members will appreciate more meaningful conversations that support their growth, and you will have less stress!

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring. –Steve

Check out my other blog posts!

Remote Management Skills for High Team Performance

Use the 3-C Framework

We see an incredible 42 percent of the U.S. labor force now working from home full-time…So, by sheer numbers, the U.S. is a working-from-home economy. Almost twice as many employees are working from home as at work.

May Wong, Stanford News

If you haven’t guessed by now, remote work is the new normal. What’s not new is that some teams are high performing and others languish in mediocrity.

Virtual work is not the barrier. The barrier is the “affinity distance”– the perception amongst team members of how mentally and emotionally connected they feel with each other.

So, why should managers pay attention to this soft and fuzzy notion?

Teams that have high virtual distance suffer a 90% drop in innovation effectiveness, more than 80% plunge in trust, and 60% decline in finishing projects on time and within budget, among other negative effects.

Keith Ferrazzi, Harvard Business Review

We know that high trust teams with a clear purpose, roles, and responsibilities, and shared accountability set the context for high performance. There’s actually nothing warm and fuzzy about creating these conditions.

Use the 3-C framework – get your team on track

Connection. The well-known Gallup Q12 survey statement “I have a best friend at work” correlates close interpersonal relationships with engagement and productivity.

Coaching Tip: Create remote buddy duos/trios. Require buddies to meet every week for 15-20 minute check-ins (that’s your management what). Let the buddies determine the how they want to meet and discuss. Rotate buddies monthly (the who changes, allowing for more diverse connections).

Communication. As goes communication, goes the team. Create a cadence of predictable and quality communication.

Coaching Tip: Apply the sturdy triad of communications:

  • Weekly team meetings. Keep it under 50 minutes.
  • Weekly one-on-ones. 20–30 minutes per employee.
  • Daily huddles. At beginning or end of day. Maximum of 10 minutes.

Collaboration. Require your teams to regularly co-develop solutions, action plans, and lines of accountability.

Coaching Tip: Proactively address these common pesky questions to effective team collaboration:

  • What are normal work hours?
    • For example, 9am to 5pm
  • What are common available blocks of time for collaborating?
    • For example, parents may only be available during school hours
  • What are healthy boundaries?
    • For example, are folks expected to answer emails and calls after agreed upon normal work hours?
  • What are designated channels of communications?
    • For example, is it appropriate to call a co-worker’s personal cellphone?
  • What are timeliness expectations for returning communications?
    • For example, emails must be responded to within 24 hours
  • What are the established processes for different scenarios?
    • For example, what decisions require the whole team (decision by committee) and what decisions can be made by individuals (executive action)?

To point out the obvious, there is nothing “soft” about building a high performing remote team. As the management adage goes – the soft skills are the hard skills. Managing remotely is difficult, especially for those of us doing it for the first time. However, by intentionally leveraging the 3-C Framework, your team will lower their “affinity distance,” grow closer, increase collaboration, and elevate performance.

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring. –Steve

Check out my other blog posts!

Giving Tough Feedback Remotely

Six Coaching Skills

We’re trying something new here at Steve Rudolph Coaching: vlogs! Take a break from all of your reports and emails to watch my 5-minute video about giving tough feedback remotely. Learn all six skills you need to practice to improve as a remote manager-coach. After, check out all our other great resources.

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring. –Steve

To Illustrate a Remote Worker

Managing Remote Conversations

3 Distinct Conversations to Drive Engagement, Accountability and Productivity

The remote work environment not only creates a vacuum of human connection but also fosters a blurry view of work performance. Managers, in partnership with their team members, must proactively pursue two prized output dimensions:

  • Increased engagement and collaboration
  • Increased accountability and results

Team disengagement and sub-par performance thrives in the backwaters of ambiguity and uncertainty.

“Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.”

-Brené Brown, Dare to Lead

Communication should provide three core needs for all employees to do their best work:

  1. Direction
  2. Clarity
  3. Support

3 Distinct Remote Manager Conversations to Elevate Team Engagement, Accountability and Performance

#1 Manager Conversations that Provide Direction

Key elements include:

  • Goals / objectives
  • Measurements / metrics
  • Outputs / results
  • Roles / responsibilities

Coaching Tip: These items are commonly known as expectations, or in stronger language, non-negotiables. Effective managers manage around clear expectations, not personalities.

#2 Feedback Conversations that Provide Clarity

  • Frequent – daily
  • Candid + Caring
  • 3:1 ratio of positive to developmental
  • Positive recognition outperforms low recognition cultures

Coaching Tip: High-performing managers create feedback-rich environments and grasp that smaller, sooner conversations are better than larger, later conversations.

#3 Coaching Conversations that Provide Support

  • Monthly (or more frequent) one-on-one meetings
  • Largely based on employee’s agenda
    • 80% focused on their development + 20% on business and performance outcomes
    • Employee does 80% of talking, manager does 20%
  • Accountability – Concludes with a SMART action plan

Coaching Tip: View a disciplined coaching process as a strategic, competitive advantage. High-performers want to work for a manager who will grow and develop them, and sponsor them for next-level leadership opportunities.

“The meaning of a word is the action it produces.”

-Ashley Montague

Managing a remote team can be a confusing, and often, stressful experience. But this new world of telework also presents an excellent opportunity to elevate your leadership communication skills!  Pierce the fog of remote work confusion by regularly engaging your team in these three distinct and powerful conversations.

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring. –Steve