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Difficult Employee Series: Resistant to Feedback

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As an employer, one of the biggest challenges you may face is dealing with a difficult employee who is resistant to feedback: whether it’s due to their personality or past experiences, some employees can be extremely stubborn when it comes to receiving criticism or suggestions for improvement, even on relatively small or simple matters.

However, as someone responsible for maintaining a positive and productive work environment, it’s your duty to find ways to address this issue. In this article, we will discuss some effective strategies for dealing with that awkward employee who simply can’t help but take other’s views personally.

Understanding the Root Causes

Before you can effectively deal with a resistant employee, it’s important to understand why they may be acting this way. Some common reasons for this enhanced sensitivity to any form of criticism are as follows:

  • Fear of Failure
  • Low Self-Esteem or Insecurity
  • Past Negative Experiences

By understanding the root cause, you can approach the situation with empathy and sympathy, and find ways to help them overcome their attitude, rather than exacerbate the situation.

Next, let’s look at practical steps you can take as an employer to get them out of this mindset.

Open Communication and Workplace Culture

“Nothing in life is more important than the ability to communicate effectively.”
– Gerald R. Ford, 38th President of the United States

Communication is key. No matter the underlying causes for their behaviour, the best way to approach an employee who reacts badly to any criticism is to create a safe, non-judgemental space for them to express their thoughts and opinions. By allowing them the room to voice their concerns, and listening attentively, you can then incorporate what they’ve said and construct a measured response, sensitive to their personal predicament.

It’s appropriate to relay your feedback in a constructive and positive manner, rather than focusing in on the negative. Instead, highlight areas for improvement and offer solutions or resources to help them improve in a respectful manner and you may soon find them far more amenable to what you’re saying, and become a better employee as a result.

Encourage Self-Reflection

“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.”
– Aldous Huxley

Self-reflection is an almightily powerful tool, and not just for difficult employees, but for business owners themselves. By encouraging it, you can instigate that most revolutionary moment: self-realisation. How? The answer is a simple one.

Instead of telling your employees what they have done wrong, ask them to reflect on their own performance; to consider what they would do in your position, or how they might feel if they were to work alongside themselves, rather than as themselves.
Done correctly, this approach can help them take ownership and responsibility of their own actions and lead to positive lasting change.

Offer Support

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
–  Winston Churchill

All too often, an employee who acts defensively when it comes to any form of criticism does so because, deep-down, they feel unsupported, overwhelmed, vulnerable or even out of their depth.

As an employer, it is incumbent upon you to provide the necessary support and guidance to help them break through this mire of uncertainty, and to instil a sense of confidence and robustness. This can be done in innumerate ways, but some key methods are as follows:

  • Provide resources and training so that the employee feels fully informed and capable
  • Offer one-to-one guidance or mentorship opportunities
  • Consider implementing a buddy system – a burden shared is a burden halved!
  • Divide the workload: if the burden of work is taking its toll upon an employee, consider reallocating certain tasks so that they feel less overwhelmed.

These approaches are likelier to yield far greater results than merely admonishing an employee, and should pave the way for a much keener sense of self-assurance.

Be Patient and Persistent

“Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.”
– Dr. Johnson

Difficult employees are exactly that: difficult. Dealing with them can be a frustrating process. However, by harnessing the virtues of patience and persistence, you give yourself the opportunity to reap the rewards. After all, an employee is not necessarily always going to be difficult to deal with, but they may always be good at their job.

Change takes time, and some need more time to process things than others. Continue to offer your support and communicate openly, and be careful of not pushing too hard or too fast and soon the change will follow.

Seek Outside Help

“To think well and to consent to obey someone giving good advice are the same thing.”
– Herodotus

Good employers know when to try; great managers know when to seek help. If you’re struggling to change the attitude of a particularly difficult employee, don’t hesitate to seek external advice. HR professionals and consultants like HR:4UK have almost four decades of experience in dealing with challenging employees across all types of industry, and sometimes, an unbiased third party can grant a fresh perspective and solutions which you may otherwise have overlooked.

To get in touch with their dedicated team today, contact 01455 444 222 or email


Dealing with a particularly resistant employee can be a demanding task, but it’s not an impossible one. By following the above steps – understanding the root cause, communicating openly and constructively and providing support – you can help them overcome their obstinate attitude and become a valuable member of your business.

With the right approach and support, even the most troublesome employees can learn and grow. So, as an employer, never shy away from situations that may on the surface appear insoluble. With a style couched in empathy and understanding, you can bring that one difficult staff member back into the fold and help your company as a whole.

Always remember that a little patience and understanding can go a long way in creating positive change – more often than not, it’s all people really need.

James Dawson

James is our resident wordsmith and has many years of experience in writing about a huge variety of topics from HR to Occupational Health and beyond. He has been published in numerous magazines and news outlets, and especially enjoys researching and analysing the current trends in the modern business world.