Employees in Denial

The employee who refuses to believe anything that might be remotely negative about their performance or behavior can be frustrating to say the least. That unwillingness to listen and accept something that could actually help them improve no doubt partially explains why their performance may be less than acceptable.

If denial is a pattern for an employee, it can be next to impossible to get through to them. When conducting their performance review, there is a strong likelihood they will become argumentative and try their best to confuse the issue.

The inability or unwillingness to see one’s own weaknesses and skill gaps is not uncommon. Employees who fall into this category are distinctly different from those employees who take feedback well and use it to grow and achieve at new level.

The challenge with these employees is that because they are not able to get past insecurities or whatever is causing them to be in denial, it may be difficult to get them to change their behavior enough to remain on the team. This also points out why documentation of performance on an ongoing basis is so important. When employees default to denial as a defense mechanism, it’s critical for the manager to have readily at hand specific examples or even a complete list of those performance “events” that relate to the ratings and comments the employee is questioning. Having these close at hand provides the opportunity to present factual supporting information that the employee may still dispute, but will have a difficult time proving to the contrary.

When an employee has a tendency toward denial, the manager should be focused on being as clear as possible and choose words carefully. Also, employees in this category often can’t consume large doses of coaching in one sitting. Incremental coaching using smaller bites of information is often more effective with this type of employee. In other words, give them a tidbit to think about and then revisit that point in a follow up to determine if the employee is positively assimilating the feedback and accepting it in a way that could lead to behavioral change.

No performance review should be a surprise to an employee. But with an employee with a leaning toward denial, it is even more important to provide ongoing feedback and coaching so there is not “feedback overload” when the performance review is conducted.

Yes, employees in denial can be challenging. But with proper ongoing documentation, feedback and coaching along with a well done and well supported performance review, there is a chance that something will click with the employee and performance will improve.