How to train a touchy employee

Q. I have a new employee that defends herself and feels attacked every time I try to coach on doing her job better. She is adequate at her job but needs to get better at thinking for herself and noticing details. How do I train her without insulting her?

A. You can train her by validating that new employees often hear coaching as criticism. Before you try to train her in the future, point out some of the problems that her position needs to solve. Get her feedback about what she sees as the solutions. Then offer her some of your good ideas.

If you can engage your touchy employee in a problem-solving conversation where she is already trying to figure out what to do, she'll be much more responsive to your suggestions.

Be aware that new employees are highly anxious because they have no history with you. Every word out of your mouth can and may be heard as the beginning of the end of their new job.

Unfortunately, the period in which a new employee is terrified about losing their new job is the time during which you have to intensively train the employee. If you want them to listen and learn, you'll need to assure them their new job is not at risk. Keep in mind that anxiety makes people stupid, and stupid new employees will be extremely hard to teach.

The more predictable and specific you can be with the directions for your employee's job, the better. Notice what her weaknesses are and work to write down protocols she can repeat that are simple. Keep emphasizing that your end goal is to make her job easier.

The four-step plan you are using with a new employee to train them is:

1. Get her to think about the problem before offering solutions.

2. Reassure her that her job is not at risk and that it is normal to need training.

3. Give her both written and verbal simple instructions on what you want.

4. Make it clear what your end goal is to make her job easier.

As your employee gets more experience and history with you, she will settle down, lose her defensiveness and be easier to teach. Realize that you can always measure someone's level of insecurity in the workplace by noticing how much defensiveness they use. Professionals who feel competent and safe at work are rarely on the defensive.

The last word(s)

Q. I've been in my industry for 30 years and often attempt to give younger people in my field advice. Most of the time, they listen and go off and do exactly what I told them not to do. Is there a way to make sure I'm not wasting my time before I bother trying to mentor a younger professional?

A. Yes, ask if they'd like some ideas about their situation before you take your time mentor. Most people think free advice is worth the price, so make sure they have to ask for help before you offer.

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)


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