It’s generally accepted that feedback is a good thing. We tend to complain that there’s not enough of it in organisations. Just find some time to sit down with people; be clear about what you want to say; be specific about behaviour and what it takes to be successful around here and always go for the ball and not the player – simple.

Well, not quite. There are some people who don’t respond very well to feedback and it’s precisely these people who seem to get the most. You are probably thinking about under-performers but here’s the paradox: it’s the over-performers that actually have the greatest problem with other people commenting on their behaviour.

Why? Many high performers have two primary drivers – please others and be perfect; sometimes these occur together, sometimes alone.

Those who are driven to please others are often lively, enthusiastic and outgoing. They can make great figureheads and they can certainly help keep team spirits up but they are also prone to over-reaction. Think about it – if you are doing all that you can to please other people, how receptive are going to be to someone telling you that you aren’t?

With those who are driven to be perfect, they are usually hard-working, conscientious and dependable and seem on the surface to be model corporate citizens but they are also prone to over-work and anxiety and can be workaholics. Again, if you are doing all that you can to be the model of perfection, how good does it feel when someone tells you that you are not?

So, we have an issue. It doesn’t matter how precise your competency framework is, or how skilled you are at describing behaviour that falls short of the mark, if it just doesn’t land emotionally with the person on the receiving end. You can’t just apply a neat process of feedback here. You simply have to engage with both of these types of people at an emotional level. Yes – you do have to talk about the player and not just the ball!

In the next blog, I’ll look at some tips for dealing with this in more detail as we move on to explore some of the early signs of dysfunction and derailment.