A reader writes: "As a vice president, I supervise several talented managers. I'm having a tough time getting through to one of my managers because he..."

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Q: As a vice president, I supervise several talented managers. I’m having a tough time getting through to one of my managers because he defends himself every time I give him feedback. How do I get him to listen?

A: For answers, I interviewed Gay Hendricks and Kathlyn Hendricks, co-directors of the Hendricks Institute in Ojai, Calif., and experts on defensiveness at work.

“The capacity for learning on the job is a critical factor in business success,” Kathlyn Hendricks pointed out. “Defensiveness costs companies billions of dollars in productivity and results every year. Companies that reward openness to feedback are the same companies we see that remain highly competitive and innovative.”

Gay Hendricks noted that often when employees have trouble listening to feedback it may be because of some emotional issue left over from childhood.

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For instance, as an authority figure, you may remind your subordinate of his critical father or controlling mother. When you talk to your employee about errors, he may react intensely because childhood feelings can surface during your “feedback” sessions.

The Hendrickses recommend the following process to deliver feedback without triggering defensiveness:

• Model the level of openness you want to see around you. Make sure employees have opportunities to see you admitting mistakes, learning from setbacks and being willing to try new approaches.

• Use stories about your own learning curves, rather than directly confronting people. If you tell an employee, “You need to check your weekly reports for errors,” he may get touchy. Instead, you could say, “When I worked as a manager in this company I made many errors on my weekly reports until I discovered (give a solution).”

The Hendrickses point out that even when we’re having trouble getting someone else to listen to us, we can avoid getting defensive ourselves. Asking yourself whether you’ve really listened to your manager, taken responsibility for anything you could change, and expressed appreciation for his talents can encourage him to listen to you.

The last word(s)

Q: I’m interviewing for jobs and get so nervous that I feel sick. Is there a way to stop feeling nervous?

A: No, but learning to behave well while feeling badly anyway will contribute more to your future success than any other talent.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at interpersonaledge@comcast.net; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry, no personal replies. To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to: www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube