"That's just not true."

"I've never said that!"

"Does anyone realize how hard my job is? If they did, nobody would say this about me."

We've all been in a situation where we've given someone feedback, and they just couldn't--or wouldn't--hear it. The sting of learning how other people experience them was so hurtful, discouraging, or disorienting that their natural defensive and protective instincts kicked in and shut them down.

Whether you're the big boss, the human resources leader, or someone else who has been charged with helping an employee learn, grow, and develop, you're likely to feel stuck.

How do you get someone who doesn't want to hear the feedback to actually consider the feedback? How will you get them to make positive changes if they are fighting the data about the changes that need to be made?

As an executive coach, I face this challenge regularly. Every week, I deliver interview- or instrument-based 360 feedback reviews to the leaders I work with. In most cases, my clients are, at best, eager to learn where they can improve, and, at worst, willing to consider that they might have some blind spots.

But in some cases, the leaders I work with flat out refuse to take in the feedback. I've had clients tell me that the time-tested, scientifically valid, and reliable assessment instrument that I used was fundamentally flawed. I've had leaders ask me if I used their correct name in the interviews--implying that perhaps I was gathering feedback about the wrong person. I even had a leader tell me that they planned to call a team meeting and demand that their direct reports change their responses so that I could gather new, "better" feedback.

I know I'm not alone. So I asked three leading executive coaches--people who give feedback every single day--for their best approaches in helping professionals consider the feedback that may be causing them considerable discomfort.

Leadership coach Mark Zumwalt starts by validating the fact that receiving feedback can be hard. "Even minor feedback given in the most loving way still stings a little," he shares with his clients.

Then ask them to name how they're feeling--all the feelings. David Rock, co-founder and CEO of the NeuroLeadership Institute, writes, "When you experience significant internal tension and anxiety, you can reduce stress by up to 50 percent by simply noticing and naming your state."

If they're stuck, offer a few for them to consider: "I imagine you might be feeling hurt, anxious, angry, disappointed, rejected ... Did I get any of those right?" And then, really listen for what they share.

Once you've supported them in expressing how they're feeling, suggests Priya Nalkur, president of the RoundTable Institute, "ask them what they typically need when they feel that way. Who helps them? What works to feel better? How long do these feelings typically last? And how do these feelings typically resolve in the end?" 

This accomplishes two objectives: It reminds them that they have felt (and survived) challenging emotions like this in the past, and that they have strategies and resources they can draw on to manage them.

Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David suggests that there's much to gain from facing our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors willingly, with curiosity and kindness. So, use this conversation to dig into those feelings. 

As Ben Olds, managing partner at Haven Human Asset Ventures, commented, "Perhaps there's a part of them that worries that some part of the feedback might be true. So get curious about those worries, or their previous experience with feedback, or a need to feel safe, liked, right ... or whatever it may be."

In addition to talking about feelings, it can also help to talk about facts with someone denying the validity of the feedback. "I don't think there's such a thing as feedback that isn't true," says Olds. Zumwalt shares a response he uses: "Well, this may not ring true for you. And yet, this is how your colleagues experience you ... "

Zumwalt also suggests a process to give the employee more agency over the feedback overall. He recommends that the feedback recipient print out the report and grab three different-color highlighters. Using a different color for each, they should highlight the things that: 1) they think their colleagues got wrong about them; 2) they agree with (even if only a tiny bit); and 3) don't sit well with them but that they're curious to look into.

This will give them some time to consider the information, and make some decisions about what they might be willing to do next.

And, at the end of the day, you may not be able to "make" someone take feedback they don't want. As Zumwalt put it, "Some people just aren't open to receiving feedback. There's only so much you can do."