How to Give Feedback to Different Kinds of  Employees

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Surrounded by Idiots" by Thomas Erikson. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How would you deliver negative feedback to an extroverted yet combative employee? How would that differ from the feedback you’d give to a meticulous and rules-oriented person?

In his book Surrounded by Idiots, Thomas Erikson says that, when delivering negative feedback, it’s crucial to know the type of person you’re delivering it to. Someone with a Red personality will fight you on every point, while somebody with a Green personality might cry. Preparation is everything.

Here’s how to give feedback to employees with different personality colors.

Delivering Feedback to Different Personalities

Working with others often involves giving negative feedback. To increase their receptivity, Erikson explains how to give feedback to employees based on his or her personality type. 

Giving Feedback to a Red Personality

  • Prepare for battle: Erikson warns that someone with this personality type will argue with you on every point and assign a scapegoat for every criticism. Give the feedback when you’re feeling strong. 
  • Be direct: Red personalities recognize and hate when things are sugar-coated. Instead, Erikson says, tell them exactly what the problem is, using the fewest words possible.
  • Leave feelings out of it: Red personality types are task-driven (not relationship-driven), so Erikson says you’ll have better luck if you explain how his action affected the person’s performance.

(Shortform note: When it comes to criticism, the sooner you give feedback, the better. This is even more true for dominant personalities, because there is less room to argue when the behavior in question is still fresh in everyone’s mind. If you address the issue right away, you also eliminate the argumentative question of, “Why is this an issue now?”)

Giving Feedback to a Yellow Personality

  • Lead the conversation: Because this personality type tends to take over conversations, Erikson suggests you keep the conversation on track by planning your opening and closing and knowing which topics you want to stick to.
  • Use specific examples: Erikson says to prepare for the person to not believe you. He recommends you have specific examples ready to reinforce your argument.
  • Massage her ego: Flattery goes a long way with sensitive Yellow personalities. Erikson suggests you remind them of all the reasons they’re liked and respected.

(Shortform note: Thanks for the Feedback lays out the anatomy of a feedback conversation. The authors recommend using your opening to connect and align with the other person, using the body of the conversation to discuss the issues, and using the closing to clarify future expectations and plan a follow-up.)

Giving Feedback to a Green Personality

  • Use a gentle approach: Receiving negative feedback is torturous for Green personalities, so approach everything softly—use a kind voice and choose your words carefully.
  • Focus on feelings: This personality type cares deeply about how others feel, and Erikson recommends using this as a tool during the feedback session. Don’t exaggerate, however, because a Green personality will already inflate the criticism in his own mind. 
  • Expect an overcorrection: Because Green personalities are so self-critical, Erikson says it’s common for them to dramatically overcorrect when they experience criticism. This behavior will continue only until they feel reassured that you don’t hate them.

(Shortform note: With sensitive employees, it’s also crucial to have your meeting face-to-face. If you deliver a criticism via email, for example, there is a lot of room left for interpretation and amplification. The employee could read more into your comment than is actually there, and he will be less likely to ask for clarification. When you meet in person, on the other hand, you can read his body language and respond accordingly.)

Giving Feedback to a Blue Personality

  • Prepare, prepare, prepare: Have all of your facts straight before approaching with any type of criticism. Review your policies, and be ready to cite them. 
  • Provide everything in writing: Before the meeting, Erikson suggests composing a written document that details the criticisms and includes concrete examples. 
  • Focus on results, not relationships: Stay away from emotional language and instead focus on how their actions affect progress. Be extremely specific.

(Shortform note: One of the most effective ways a manager can prepare for a performance evaluation is to give feedback throughout the year. Your employees should not be surprised by anything they hear at their review. If you address problem behaviors right when they happen, your employees will be less likely to argue with you when you discuss the behaviors in more detail at a formal meeting.)

How to Give Feedback to Different Kinds of Employees

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  • A detailed look at Thomas Erikson's four personality types
  • How to navigate conflicts with coworkers
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Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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