employee gives me the silent treatment when I give him feedback

A reader writes:

I work for an advertising agency. We’ve had a couple of new staff members join us in the past four months. They’re great workers but with a few personality “quirks.”

I am being promoted to the head of our department, so there is one situation I would like to pick your brain on: One of the guys in our department gives me the silent treatment when I correct him on something or point out if he’s done something wrong. I don’t ever correct him in a mocking way or publicly. In the hours that follow the correction, he will avoid eye contact with me, position his body (language) away from me, and only speak to me if I’m asking him a question. He’s usually over it by the next day and we go back to our usual friendly working arrangement/interaction, but in the hours that the silent treatment is happening, I feel emotionally drained.

The silent treatment makes me think twice about correcting him the next time something happens, which is dangerous because as we are involved in communications and mass media, quality control is very important. He’s essentially training me on some level to not confront him. I don’t need to be best friends with my subordinates, but as a caring human being, I do need to work with people who do not resent me.

I can’t quite tell from your letter if you’re already his boss, or if you’re about to be. If you’re not his boss but are about to be, I’d wait until you are to take this on.

And you’re absolutely right that when people act like this, it makes people hesitant to give them feedback, which — ironically — is bad for the person behaving this way, since it means that they might not get the input they need to do a better job. And then they risk being blindsided by it in a performance evaluation, or wondering why they can’t get raises or promotions, when their own behavior made people stop giving them feedback that could help with all of those things.

Anyway, you need to be straightforward with him. Sit down with him and say something like this: “Bob, I’ve noticed that when I give you feedback on a project, you get quiet and avoid talking to me for the rest of the day. It makes it difficult for me to give you feedback, which I’m always going to need to do. Is there a different way you’d like me to handle these conversations?”

I like phrasing it as a question, because it gives him more of an opening to talk candidly than if you just chastised him and told him to stop.

It’s possible that you’ll hear something you didn’t realize — that he doesn’t mind the feedback itself but he thinks your tone is schoolmarmish, or that he’s frustrated because your feedback contradicts earlier instructions he received, or whatever. But if that’s not the case, then this is the time to say — nicely, but firmly — that you’re going to continue giving him feedback on his work, because that’s your job, and that part of his job is having those conversations with you and handling them professionally.

Of course, this very conversation may make him get silent and upset, and if that’s the case, you need to address it head-on, right then in the moment: “What’s happening right now is an example of what concerns me. I need to be able to give you feedback without you becoming upset. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t, and you’d be denying yourself the chance to get better at what you do.”

If the problem continues after this, then you need to talk to him again. This time, you’ll need to make it clear that there are actually consequences attached here — that being able to take criticism professionally is part of the role, and that it contributes to how his overall performance is evaluated and could impact future performance assessments, raises, etc.

If things don’t change after that, then you’ll need to decide how serious those consequences should be. If he’s a fantastic performer overall, this may just be an annoyance you need to deal with, knowing it’ll always be something that holds him back a bit. And if he’s not fantastic, then you’ll need to take on that larger issue; in that case, this would only be part of your problem.

Overall, though, be to be calm, straightforward, and assertive about what you expect from employees, and committed to holding people to that bar, while simultaneously being open to hearing what might be going on on his side of it.

{ 195 comments… read them below }

  1. Josh S*

    I’ve seen this happen with coworkers (thankfully not with me as the boss). In at least one case, the person who was giving the silent treatment felt extremely chastised–despite every effort by the boss to treat things delicately. Basically, the guy’s response was “Oh. my. god. I’ve screwed up and I’m on the outs,” and he’d shut down communication for the day. It wasn’t that he was intentionally trying to give the silent treatment to the boss, but more that he was just so emotionally upended by being corrected that it messed with his ability to communicate for a while. He had no idea it was expressing as “silent treatment”–it was just his way of dealing with his (outsized) emotional response.

    So consider that perhaps your “silent treatment guy” is not being intentional in his treatment, but that to him it feels like a punch to the gut.

    This is not to say that you shouldn’t give honest feedback (he absolutely needs it and it’s absolutely YOUR job to give it), or that you need to handle him with kid-gloves (be sensitive to his issues, but not to the point that you’re withholding information). Perhaps when you have the sit-down talk about his silent treatment, you could add language along the lines of, “I don’t know if you’re aware of how your response comes across, but it seems like you’re giving me (and your coworkers) the silent treatment. …”

    Good luck.

    1. Anonymous*

      I agree!! I think a discussion regarding how it is coming across would likely help. As I read it I did not feel the person was intentionally giving the silent treatment, but instead taking his/her mistakes really hard and with embarrassment. As an introverted perfectionist, I have definitely struggled with this in the past (reaction is embarrassing, and hard to control despite this knowledge!)! I think letting the person know how their reaction is being perceived will open a productive discussion that will also provide much insight, which will relieve stress and frustration on both ends in this situation.

      1. jmkenrick*

        I agree as well! Especially if the employee is new to the workforce. When I first started, I wasn’t all that used to criticism, and it confused me since it seemed to conflict with the other positive feedback I was getting.

        My boss & I finally had a talk about it, and that was really helpful, and gave me faith that I’m a good performer overall, but that everyone needs feedback.

        1. JohnQPublic*

          It might be that the employee is not hearing enough positive feedback. When all the feedback you hear is negative, it can really weigh you down. But when you’re given both positive and negative, you’re better able to weigh what is and isn’t worth worrying over. I’d recommend listening to http://www.manager-tools.com ‘s podcasts on feedback and implementing their advice.

          1. Anonymous*


            I am in that very situation. The only feedback I ever receive is negative. It has always been that way where I work right now.

            I have tried discussing the issues that come up with my supervisors, but their whole attitude is “You’re just always wrong, and nothing you do is ever going to be good enough,” so I just don’t see any point in responding to them.

            I just do my work, do it well, and go on with my day.

            I’m not saying that’s the case with the guy in the original post, but if he’s come from a background where that’s been the case, he may not feel he has any recourse to respond or that responding will do any good.

    2. Jennifer*

      I thought the same thing. The guy sounds like he feels like absolute shit for the rest of the day when he gets a correction and that he can barely talk when he HAS to…and then it wears off by the next day. And to some degree it’s just not going to matter how “nice” you are about it, he fucked up and he knows it and he feels awful.

      Yes, the manager is uncomfortable, but she can’t be as uncomfortable as this guy is feeling. And yeah, “take it with a smile and like nothing is wrong” is pretty hard to do if you feel that mortified. Speaking as someone who feels like this, if a manager came to me and told me I wasn’t taking my corrections cheerfully enough and was there anything they could do, well…there isn’t anything they can do to make me feel less dumb and like I’m going to screw up again if I talk at all. Other than maybe save the corrections for the end of the day so my mortification could wear off a lot quicker than if you told me at 10 a.m. But that is probably not doable, really.

      For the most part, I think this may be something the manager just has to put up with. He’s not lashing out at her, he’s not stopping doing his job. He just can’t fake talking like he’s a normal person rather than The Bad One Today.

    3. William*

      This sounds a lot like me. Back when I worked in an office setting I know that after receiving criticism I would become withdrawn, especially with supervisors or whoever was giving me the criticism for the rest of the day, and would be back to normal the next day. In my case, this was not a response to the criticism itself, but rather my shyness manifesting itself – I didn’t (still don’t really) have an easy time fitting the criticism into the context of the day’s friendly working interactions, as the OP phrased it, so I would specifically avoid those interactions.
      I think it is important when following up with the employee to address this issue to bear in mind the possibility that this is simple social awkwardness, as opposed to a reflection of how the criticism is being received.

    4. KayDay*

      Well put…I was thinking exactly the same thing. If people care about their work, it’s reasonable that they will be *a little bit* upset and won’t exactly be their happy-go-lucky self when you critique them.

    5. Nethwen*


      My first thought was that the employee is embarrassed and feeling like he made a mistake that he should have been able to avoid and now he feels himself to be a failure. Even if rationally he knows mistakes are normal and is happy for the feedback, these gut instincts can be hard to mask, especially if the person isn’t a natural talker to begin with. In me, the avoidance body language comes from the desire to “hide” until I again prove my worth – if I’m very small and quiet, maybe I’ll see my mistakes and fix them before anyone notices.

    6. Samantha*

      Or maybe the boss could add something like “please know that your job performance is excellent/good/superior/whatever. This criticism is just on this one thing and not everything that you do. This XXXX is what I need you to focus on correcting.” Maybe that would help lessen the embarrassment.

          1. Anony Mouse*

            Actually it’s because of potential sidebars like this that I consciously use AAAA, BBBB, etc.

    7. ruby*

      I think phrasing it as “I’m not sure you”re aware but this is how your behavior is coming off” is a good approach. For those who are saying let him have his reaction etc., he can have whatever feelings he wants about it, but it’s how those feelings translate into his behavior at work that are is issue. If he becomes non-communicative for the rest of the workday, that’s not OK – he needs to be able to maintain what his boss (or soon to be boss) feels is a functional level of communication. At this point, he’s not doing that.

    8. Ellie H.*

      Like many others I’m exactly the same way – I totally withdraw in response to criticism. It makes me feel terrible and I shrink within myself. I just feel totally mortified for the entire rest of the day, and can barely even focus on whatever I’m supposed to be doing because I am so busy dwelling on the criticism and feeling awful. Maybe I wasn’t raised resiliently enough or whatever, but it’s the way I am. I’m not sure the manager can do anything about this. Does it actually interfere with the way this guy does his job? And does he actually enact whatever suggestion the criticism is about? I don’t really see a problem if so. I like Samantha’s suggestion a lot, that maybe if the criticism is given more gently it’ll be taken better, but I guess I do have to concede it’s not the manager’s prerogative to be super hand-holding about all feedback.

      1. Charlie*


        I can be exactly the same. But what really helped me was seeing others in the same position bounce back instantly and get back on it. If you can somehow show him good examples it may help.

        Even if he has to fake it, as I did – a big smile, vigorous nodding and ‘Yes, of course! I’ll get on that straightaway. Thanks for noticing this and pointing it out to me’ – it really helped me be ok about it. I also find that making corrections instantly helps me bounce back more quickly.

        My last boss was good at reassuring me that this was just one mistake and I could put it right and it would be ok – and that he had my back if anyone higher-up noticed, and I had no problem with him pointing things out, although I was still super-embarrassed.

        And if I’m given something to do like a particular project to concentrate on or some work to do with my supervisor I’ll have to get over it more quickly. I think you can learn resilience – seeing other people who have heaps of it and following their lead when something happens is IMO, really helpful.

    9. Anonymous*

      I agree and am one of those people that gets it all the time, that I am giving the silent treatment and making others uncomfortable.

      I love feedback and constantly ask for it as I want to improve. I make a concerted effort to not argue or become defensive while receiving the feedback and thank the person for comming forward and providing me with the information.

      However, I need time to process the information (and yes emotional response) for myself! I need a few moments to sort my thoughts and put them away for review later (in a more appropriate moment).

      Maybe it is an introverted response. I have had a manager that has complimented me on how well I take feedback and the fact that it is nice to see that I use it. (As he had noticed the efforts I was putting in the areas that had been mentioned for improvements).

  2. Louis*

    If the person is just being cold to you after he received negative feedback, but it’s not affecting his performance otherwise, I would just let it go.

    He can be someone that take criticism very personnaly and it’s very hard to change that. You can’t expect everyone to react happily when you tell they did something wrong.

    The way I see it is : You give him negative feedback, he not happy about it but he correct what was wrong without bitching , the next day his mood is better. That seems like relativly low maintenance to me. Asking him to “take it with a smile” might be uncall for.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The problem is that it’s making her uncomfortable at work, and uncomfortable giving feedback. Those aren’t good things, and it’s not reasonable to put her in that position.

      I once worked with someone who got very emotional and upset when she was given feedback. Over time, her manager, who normally was very forthright about sharing his thoughts, stopped giving her input except when he absolutely had to. Her work suffered for it, pretty significantly.

      It’s reasonable to say to an employee, “hey, I need to give you feedback as part of our jobs, and I expect you not to make it an ordeal for us each time.”

      1. Becky*

        Would your answer be different to Josh S’s question above? If not, could you touch on why the manager isn’t expected to be able to deal with the personalities of the people she’s managing (in this case this is known to be a short term thing and they do answer questions if asked, so it’s not really the silent treatment) vs expecting them to change a part of themselves that might be very difficult to adjust?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I do think it’s reasonable for a manager to take the stance that she’s not willing to be made to feel like the bad guy for doing a normal part of her job.

          Being able to take criticism professionally and in a way that doesn’t discourage people from giving it to you in the future is a pretty basic expectation of most roles. So while I’d be very sympathetic to someone whose natural state is to take criticism really hard, I’d still expect them to work on handling it differently.

          1. Jamie*

            This I agree with 100%. I think for me, and some other commenters, it’s not clear if he is taking it in a way that would discourage feedback or if the OP is the one who is overly sensitive to an acceptably professional response to feedback.

            1. Anonymous*

              This! I am wondering how sensitive the OP really is and how sensitive her employee is. If we’re dealing with two sensitive people, then we might have a problem in which both need some sort of talking to. And most people are saying that the OP’s employee needs to take criticism professionally, but in a way, perhaps that employee is, albeit unprofessionally, criticizing the OP’s delivery of the feedback, and she is taking it unprofessionally by taking it too much to heart. I definitely think this is a two way street here.

              Sorry OP. I think you need to realize that you can’t always change the other person but instead you need to change your reactions to it. If he is going to sulk the rest of the day, you have to realize it’s not your problem, especially when he comes back around the next day. You can be a caring human being and address it with him, but you can’t take it personally either.

          2. fposte*

            But I also think it could help to get things out in the open–if the employee says “After a correction, I’m so hideously embarrassed that I can hardly face you for the rest of the day,” it might be possible just to factor that in, correct him toward the end of the day, and ignore him until close that day; meanwhile he promises to work on his behavior now that he knows what impression it gives. Right now there’s silence about the silence, which is making things worse.

            1. jmkenrick*

              I fully agree. Or maybe she thinks she’s giving clear instructions, and she’s not, and that’s why he’s upset when she criticizes. Or she’s demanding things on a fast timeline, so he compromises on quality to produce work faster. There’s other factors that could be at play causing his frustration, and it’s good to establish those.

            2. Anon*

              Agreed. Clearly, both parties feel uncomfortable in this situation – OP’s job is to give feedback, but his reaction makes her uncomfortable doing it; his job is to take feedback, but receiving feedback makes him uncomfortable. It’s not fair to say he’s the only one who needs to change here. Maybe the OP needs to work on feeling comfortable giving feedback regardless of people’s reactions to it because, as previously noted, that’s her job.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Except that it’s reasonable for managers to require that people behave professionally at work. How she feels isn’t at issue here; behavior is. If he’s a pain in the ass to work with, yes, that might have consequences for him.

              2. Anonymous*

                Answering Anon because I can’t answer AAM due to a lack of reply button:

                While I understand that the OP wrote in about the employee’s behavior, she can’t expect everything to be roses and smiles either. I’m not condoning the employee one bit because it sounds like he needs to sulk at home instead at work, but she needs to learn that not everyone acts the same and practice a bit of tough love and not take it personally herself.

              3. Anon*

                @AAM – in response to this:
                Except that it’s reasonable for managers to require that people behave professionally at work. How she feels isn’t at issue here; behavior is. If he’s a pain in the ass to work with, yes, that might have consequences for him.
                I don’t see how being quiet and shy for the rest of the day is “unprofessional,” or makes this guy a PITA. You called his behavior “sulking” a few times, and I just don’t see it. He sounds like he naturally turns inward when he’s feeling beat up. It’s reasonable for managers to accommodate their employees personalities, too, so long as the employees are not crossing the line. I don’t think wanting to keep quietly to yourself when you’ve had a rough day at work is crossing the line. He’s not argumentative or confrontational, and doesn’t hold a grudge because everything’s fine the next day.

              4. Ellie H.*

                I agree, I think “sulking” is overly critical, especially if it only lasts the rest of the day. If he’s generally a good employee, how often does this critique/quiet and avoidant behavior cycle actually have to happen?

              5. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yeah, if it’s not actually sulking, then I’d have a different take. I read what the OP wrote to mean that he’s sulking — won’t make eye contact, etc. If that’s not correct — if instead he’s just a bit quieter than usual — then that’s not something I’d have a problem with. It would help to get clarification from the OP on the behavior specifics.

          3. Charles*

            ” . . . I’d still expect them to work on handling it differently.”

            What, exactly, would you expect this employee to do differently?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I’d expect the person to be professional about it, meaning not sulking and continuing to interact with me normally. Or at least working on being able to respond that way.

              1. Charles*

                I guess that’s where so many folks differ on this – I don’t see “sulking” or any unprofessional behaviour on the employee’s part.

                I really do think the OP is reading a lot into his silence when it is just that – silence. Maybe she is the one who would (and perhaps has done) the “silent treatment” on others? And that is why she reads it that way?

                A mountain is being made out of a molehill here. In my opinion, “Confronting” him on his silence would be poor management.

              2. fposte*

                I agree that it may not be sulking, but a noticeable withdrawal is still a problem, not a prerogative. I don’t think a discussion on the matter has to be adversarial–I think people suggesting out that the OP may be reading this as a more hostile response than it is have a good point–but it’s still problematic even if it’s not intended to be. It doesn’t become okay just because it’s not done to annoy.

              3. khilde*

                @fposte, 2:51pm – this is true. I mention often in my personality style classes that it’s ok to have a certain pattern and style of behavior – that’s just what makes you you. However, it’s also not a crutch or an excuse to behave in ways that are problematic for others in your workplace. That point just sort of became clear to me in this case after reading your post.

      2. Liz T*

        I had this issue with a costume designer once–she was talented, but she got furious if we didn’t find her work perfect the first time. The actors were afraid of her, and I realized that, as director, it was my job to step in, and take it, and do what needed doing. But even I ended up using my stage manager as a go-between; the designer knew she was just the messenger, so it cut down on the aggression.

        I know theater is different, though; when a working relationship is terrible, we usually only have to tough it out for a month or so.

      3. Anonymous*

        Over time, her manager, who normally was very forthright about sharing his thoughts, stopped giving her input except when he absolutely had to

        So how did you address the problem that this manager had chosen to stop doing his job properly?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Her manager was the head of the organization, so I pointed out that it was problematic (which he agreed with), but I didn’t have any authority beyond that.

      4. Student*

        As I see it, there’s a huge difference between acting up when you get negative feedback, and getting embarrassed by negative feedback thus making the manager feel bad about delivering it.

        The former is the employee’s problem, and it’s management’s responsibility to tell the employee to knock it off. It’s the employee’s job not to create a spectacle and whine and argue when he gets negative feedback, but rather implement the suggested change and learn from the experience.

        The latter is the manager’s problem, and it’s the manager’s responsibility to get a spine and realize that delivering negative feedback to employees is an inherently unpleasant part of the job (like firing people, or telling job applicants that they’ve been rejected). Delivering negative feedback is not supposed to be a pleasant part of the job, and for this reason some managers will shy away from it, just like some managers shy away from firing bad performers or sending a form email to rejected job applicants. This hard, unpleasant stuff is part of why you get the big bucks.

        Asking the reprimanded employee to smile more as he’s being criticized will almost certainly be ineffective, and it probably won’t actually make delivering bad news easier on the manager, either. Accept that the employee is unhappy that he screwed something up, and that part of being a manager is occasionally making other people unhappy.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No one is saying the employee needs to “smile more.” I’m the first one to say that managers need to deal with the fact that the job requires having tough conversations and delivering difficult news. But the silent treatment, etc. aren’t professional or appropriate.

          Also, sending a form email to rejected job applicants isn’t bad management. If you interviewed someone in person, it’s nice to personalize it, but in general there’s nothing wrong with form letters for letting people know you won’t be moving them forward in the process!

          1. fposte*

            I actually read Student’s post as saying that people *should* send email rejections and were inappropriately ducking it, not as objecting to the form component.

      5. Ellen M.*

        I agree with AAM here – it is the employee who needs to adapt to what the supervisor wants, re: being communicative during the workday, whether following criticism or not. We have all had bad days at work, and have screwed up and have had negative, even harsh criticism. It is not the supervisor’s job to manage the supervisee’s emotions, esp. to the degree described by the OP (every time there is negative feedback).

        It is part of the manager’s job to give feedback on performance, and part of the employee’s job to take the feedback without sulking/pouting. The OP is wise to want to address this, as it is already affecting the work environment and could possibly affect morale among others in the workplace, whether they are more on the side of the manager or the employee. The “silent treatment” is not appropriate at work.

    2. BCW*

      It sounds to me like she may herself be being too sensitive. If you are a manager, you have to be able to deal with people not liking everything you do or say. It doesn’t sound to me like he is being unprofessional, or even not taking her criticism. He just isn’t being buddy buddy with her, which she seems to want. Its easy to expect thinks to be cheery when you are the one giving the criticism and not giving it. Maybe she isn’t as nice as she thinks she is. Its not fair to expect him to change but let her stay the same.

      1. Anonymous*

        Its not fair to expect him to change but let her stay the same.

        But this is Ask a Manager – you get the other perspective.

        1. Jamie*

          Alison’s genius is at being able to see situations and give advice based on what would be best overall. If she has biases (except against those who live nail clippings) she’s brilliant at hiding them. She is so consistently right because she assesses and advises based on logic and in depth knowledge of how the business world operates – not spouting a party line is precisely why her advice is so valuable.

          Even in this case, I personally agree with everything Alison has said about the give and take of feedback. Her principles and advice are dead on – I think where there is some divergence is that I’m interpreting the situation somewhat differently.

          That could be because I myself have a tendency to get quiet when stressed, and am more sympathetic to the POV of the employee in this case. Unlike Alison, I’m not unbiased – I will take up the cause for introverts and downtrodden ITs alike almost every time.

          I’m not going to apologize for this fangirl post – because it’s true that this is one of the very few places you can read career advice which can be applied to any field or position.

  3. LibKae*

    It’s also possible that this person is painfully introverted, and any criticism of his work (no matter how kindly and tactfully given) feels like a major confrontation. If that’s the case, the silent treatment may not be aimed at you specifically, but just be his way of dealing.

    (This doesn’t change the fact that he needs to be able to understand and accept criticism from a supervisor, but one other possible personality quirk to keep in mind)

      1. Josh S*


        But I think you’re right on the money too. And it doesn’t even have to be someone ‘painfully introverted’–just someone with a certain response that is triggered by criticism.

  4. Janet*

    I agree with Louis. If he needs an afternoon to absorb the criticism and move on, let him do it.

    Also, this is a tough one because I know we’re not pre-school teachers . . . but people can’t only hear what they’re doing wrong or what needs fixing. It’s very easy to look at something and pick out the problems with it. Super easy. It’s harder to look at someone’s work and say “This is good and you need to do more of this.”

    At a past job we had a post-mortem on a big project and the bosses went through a very specific list of everything that didn’t work and then at the end said “But other than that, great job.” and closed the meeting. Everyone walked out with their heads hung low like their dogs had been shot and later one of the bosses pulled me aside and said “Why is everyone so upset? We said you did a great job.” and I said “But you weren’t specific about what was good, you were very specific in what was bad and that’s all we remembered.”

    So I guess my point is, it never hurts to be specific with what people are also doing well. Not saying you have to do this every time but when this employee does something great (and once you are officially his team leader) send a note giving compliments on a job well done when he’s done a good job. I’m sure in time he’ll be more receptive to the help and advice if he feels like his successes are also being acknowledged.

    1. Elizabeth*

      The other value in being specific about what is especially good is that the person will know to keep doing more of that in the future.

  5. Jamie*

    “In the hours that follow the correction, he will avoid eye contact with me, position his body (language) away from me, and only speak to me if I’m asking him a question. He’s usually over it by the next day and we go back to our usual friendly working arrangement/interaction, but in the hours that the silent treatment is happening, I feel emotionally drained”

    I can’t tell from this if it’s the employee with an issue or the OP. I have certainly seen this passive aggressive behavior from people as a result of needed feedback, in which case of course it needs to be addressed. But I can’t tell if facing away from you and avoiding eye contact is passive aggressive or if he’s focused on correcting the error and just doubling down on work.

    Another thing that gives me pause is that until you get back to “friendly interaction” you are “emotionally drained.” That’s a pretty strong emotional response to someone not going out of their way to be friendly to you. I get that it would be irritating, but emotionally draining is a red flag to me…like Louis mentioned above maybe asking him to “take it with a smile” is a little much.

    If you give feedback and it’s taken without combativeness and the employee corrects the issue – I don’t understand how his being less friendly immediately after is affecting you emotionally. Bosses need to give feedback and it’s rarely met with a hug and genuine thanks for pointing out errors…so unless his behavior veers into the unprofessional I wouldn’t make an issue of it.

    On the other hand I’ve had people who burst into tears when asked to retype something and needed emotional support for the disproportionate hit to their self-esteem. That’s manipulation and would need to be addressed immediately.

    1. GWFerg*

      I definitely agree with you and a lot of the other comments as well. I know that when I would receive feedback from a manager (even behind closed doors in a professional setting like how the OP says it is occurring) it is a reality check that that person is superior to me on the food chain and what they say goes. While I may have a great working relationship with them, it isn’t always easy to be casual and friendly when the actual nature of the relationship has just reinforced, and it takes some time to calm the nerves and get back to how things “normally” are.

      I would want to ask the OP if the employee (I’ll go with Bob since AAM dubbed him so) is making changes based on the feedback he is receiving? If Bob is taking the feedback and making the changes that she discussed with him then I think the OP needs to just realize that that is how he handles feedback. If Bob is shutting down communications AND not implementing the corrections/feedback the OP is giving him then there is most definitely cause for concern.

      1. Jaime*

        ” I know that when I would receive feedback from a manager (even behind closed doors in a professional setting like how the OP says it is occurring) it is a reality check that that person is superior to me on the food chain and what they say goes. ”

        This is so true. Sometimes it’s more subconscious than consciously felt, but it can definitely be a factor in how well criticism is taken. I would in a very informal setting and we mix with our managers quite a bit. It can muddy the waters a bit when it comes to all kinds of situations, but especially criticism.

  6. khilde*

    I browsed through the other comments here quickly and I think I’m saying what others have already: I can identify with the employee who just sort of shuts down. When I receive negative feedback from my supervisor, I get sort of pissed and totally shut down (which is a stress reaction for my personality). I’m not mad at my supervisor, actually. More upset with myself that I didn’t know better and feeling stupid that I had to be told something I should have already known. It could simply be this guy’s way of dealing with and processing upsetting or frustrating information. I withdraw, go about my day, and usually get over it and move on. Sounds like your employee does, too.

    I would caution you to not get into his face too much about it (unless of course his behavior in reponse to feedback was explosive, detrimental to others or the customers, etc.) because that could just exacerbate the problem. You said yourself that the employee is back to normal the next day. Does the employee correct the deficiency or act on the feedback you gave him? If so, I think it’s just a style difference. It’s emotionally draining for you – being given negative feedback by your boss is also emotionally draining. We all handle that sort of stuff differently.

    1. Jamie*

      “If so, I think it’s just a style difference. It’s emotionally draining for you – being given negative feedback by your boss is also emotionally draining. We all handle that sort of stuff differently.”

      Brilliantly stated.

      Everyone can have a crappy day at work – and sometimes negative feedback can make it a crappy day. If the behavior doesn’t cross the line I don’t know why the guy isn’t allowed to be quieter for the afternoon.

      I’ll be completely honest and say I wouldn’t be able to function in a work environment where no matter what was going on I had to maintain the same level of cheeriness. It’s not the bosses job to walk on eggshells with negative feedback, but it’s not the employee’s job to make sure the boss feels good emotionally every minute of the work day, either.

      1. Kelly O*

        I am SO dealing with this right now. The plastered on smile is expected constantly, and I’m just not a plastered on smile kind of person.

        To a point I see where the employee is going with this. When I get constructive criticism, I need to internalize it, roll it around in my head, and figure out my response. When I have time to do that, I’m usually fine, but if I’m pushed into a corner (or feel pushed into a corner) that’s when my problem really starts. I just need time to think over things, and I certainly won’t be Miss Merry Sunshine until I get it sussed out in my head.

        I really believe there is a happy medium here, and both sides can make that happen. I guess I’m just saying it’s important to be sure you’re not reading too much into the behavior, and that you’re looking at it objectively (which is sometimes really hard to do when you’re emotionally invested in the outcome.)

    2. khilde*

      To clarify what I meant about getting in the employee’s face: I mean that if the person is in fact someone who needs time and space to process thoughts and respond to the feedback, then continually bringing up his reaction or talking about it will just make the person withdraw even more. For some reason, I have this image as I read this post that the OP is a direct person (and kudos to you, OP, for delivering tough feedback) and the employee may be more indirect. The more a direct person tries to talk about an issue that an indirect person is dealing with internally, it creates a vicious cycle of pulling away/bringing it up/pulling away/bringing it up….etc.

  7. Charles*

    I have a slightly different viewpoint on this AAM.

    The OP describes folks as having personality “quirks.” And she is without any? HA! This manager-to-be had better learn a better way of describing folks who work for her.

    Either she is in the position of correcting coworkers or she isn’t. This is unclear. If she isn’t then she shouldn’t be doing do. Resentment from co-workers in this case would not be surprising.

    Maybe the reason for his “silent treatment” is that he is embarrassed by the mistake? Maybe he is thinking about how to improve? Maybe her suggestion on what needs to be improved is wrong! Maybe he feels like she just jumped on him for no reason and he is trying to avoid another mistake? Or maybe, he is a jerk! Who knows?

    Whatever the case may be, I wouldn’t jump to his quietness being equal to “giving her the silent treatment.” That, perhaps, is her quirkiness showing, not his.

    I would suggest that she not be so invested in folks “liking” her. She gets “emotionally drained” after one of his “silent treatment” episodes?! That’s HER doing, not his. She needs to deal with HER feelings; not blame someone else for them.

    I would suggest that she not make a big deal out of it; especially since it isn’t clear (except in her mind) that this is an intentional slight. Especially, AAM, your suggestion of confronting him head on “What’s happening right now is an example of what concerns me. I need to be able to give you feedback without you becoming upset.” Again, silence does not mean someone is upset – and this will come across as very accusatory!

    If his “silent treatment” is affecting the quality or quantity of their work (which it seems it isn’t) then she could say something; otherwise it comes across as nothing but office drama. Office drama would not be the best way to start out as a supervisor.

    If she is new to being a supervisor (which it sounds like this might be the case) then she will have to ignore such “slights” as folks not being all warm and fuzzy with the boss. Sometimes, that’s the nature of being the boss. Folks will see you differently.

    1. khilde*

      “I would suggest that she not be so invested in folks “liking” her. She gets “emotionally drained” after one of his “silent treatment” episodes?! That’s HER doing, not his. She needs to deal with HER feelings; not blame someone else for them.”

      Excellent point, Charles!! The more I think about it, the more I suspect there is just a very different set of personality styles here.

      1. HighMaintenance*

        I’m on board with Charles. One of the mistakes that new managers make is riding the euphoric cloud of “My job is to make everyone exactly like me in every possible detail.”

        What is this person doing that she spends the rest of her day trying to make eye contact with this guy and profiling his behaviour!? Go back to your desk, do some work! Stop watching so much CSI.

        I completely disagree with confronting him. That’s poking him with a stick. You don’t want to drive away a good employee because the new manager turned-out to be emotionally needy.

        The beatings will continue until morale improves.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Oh come on. There’s nothing to indicate that she’s “trying to make eye contract with him and profiling his behavior.” I assume she’s witnessing his behavior while trying to talk to him as she normally would, presumably (hopefully) about work-related stuff most of the time.

          1. Charles*

            “I assume . . . “

            Ah!, there’s the rub; we are all assuming one thing or another with this post.

            Hopefully, the OP has been following this (actually these, since everyone seems to be going in different directions) discussion and can decide for herself what the best course of actions is (even if the best course is to leave well enough alone)

        2. Charles*

          . . . That’s poking him with a stick.”

          OMG! Yes! This is exactly how I feel this advice is – poking him with a stick. Very well put.

          You’re right in that some (new) managers often think that they way they do things, they way they respond, they way they talk, etc. is the ONLY way.

          The best managers know that folks are different and allow for those differences to help, nor hinder, the team effort.

  8. Nyxalinth*

    I would so rather have feedback than assume things are great and I’m doing fine then two weeks or two months after starting a new job hear “Sorry, you aren’t working out, bye.” That happened to me once before. When I asked how come I’d not been given any feedback or things to work on, they sort of hemmed and hawwed. Either a poor excuse of an employer, or something else was going on.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Exactly. I’ve trained myself to feel “thank god I’m being told this, hurrah, now I know” rather than feel something negative. You CAN train yourself to respond differently to things.

      1. BCW*

        Again though, why is it the employees responsibility to “train” himself to take things better, when in essence the manager could also “train” herself to not take it so personally that the guy doesn’t want to be her best friend after she criticizes him?

          1. BCW*

            Should we not be able to expect professionalism from managers too that they aren’t “emotionally drained” when someone doesn’t want to be best friends with them?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              This isn’t an issue of someone not wanting to be best friends with their manager. It’s an issue of being able to to take feedback professionally and without sulking.

              1. Josh S*

                BCW glances on a good point though:

                Just as it is a mark of professionalism for an employee to take negative feedback without sulking, it is a mark of professionalism for a manager to handle less-than-cheerful/smiley employees without becoming ’emotionally drained.’

                When you are an employee learning the ropes or growing in your role/responsibilities, dealing with constructive criticism–while unpleasant–comes with the territory. When you are a manager, dealing with employee emotional responses–while unpleasant–comes with the territory.

                There is a certain symmetry there, and it is fair to ask the OP to consider the control she has over her own emotional response, just as it is fair to ask the OP’s underling to consider the control he has over his own emotional response.

                (Also, I love the word “underling.”)

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Depends on how good the employee is overall. Like I said at the end of the post, if the person is great overall, this might be an annoying thing you just live with. But if they’re not (which also means that the need for feedback might be more frequent and thus the headaches are more frequent), I’m not too excited about signing on to deal with this kind of thing. I’d rather work with people who take feedback well.

              3. Jane*

                I have to disagree with Josh S. Professionalism is about how you present yourself and interact with your co-workers, not how you feel. If the OP isn’t demonstrating or acting out her emotional drainage (as it were), there is nothing to fault her professionalism on that front.

              4. Anonymous*

                If the OP isn’t demonstrating or acting out her emotional drainage (as it were), there is nothing to fault her professionalism on that front

                Well, we don’t know that, do we?

              5. jmkenrick*

                I just want to second Jane’s comment, because there’s no ‘like’ function on Blogger. :)

                Although, in BCW’s defense, I guess it’s theortically possible that the employee isn’t being that cold, and that the manager is overly sensetive, but I’m really not getting that from the letter.

              6. Jane*

                I stand by my comment: if the OP isn’t demonstrating how her colleague’s behaviour is affecting her, there is nothing to fault her professionalism on that front. (note last three words.)

        1. Lemon Meringue*

          Also, if the employee refuses to talk (except when asked a direct question) for the rest of the day, what is the OP supposed to do if she has a real work need to talk about something else with the employee? What if they have a team meeting later that day?

          1. Anonymous*

            Also, if the employee refuses to talk (except when asked a direct question) for the rest of the day, what is the OP supposed to do if she has a real work need to talk about something else with the employee

            Perhaps she could try asking direct questions?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Of course, and I assume she does. But if he’s giving the minimal answers necessary, avoiding eye contact, etc., that’s unpleasant to deal with.

              1. Anonymous*

                But if he’s giving the minimal answers necessary, avoiding eye contact, etc., that’s unpleasant to deal with.

                But surely that wouldn’t be a reason for the OP not to do her job?

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I’m not sure what you mean by not doing her job — of course she should do her job and continue to give him feedback. But being unpleasant to deal with has consequences, like I described in the post.

              3. Ellen M.*

                ^^others in the office will see this: minimal answers, no eye contact – and may wonder what’s up… which can create a whole other set of (ongoing?) problems

        2. fposte*

          I think it’s misleading to suggest that it’s a competition between the needs of two people. It’s a question of what the basic professional standards are–and they include being able to communicate effectively with your manager and to accept correction. Kind of like it’s not a question of whether the manager minds bare feet more than the employee loves it, it’s that in a professional workplace, the default is to wear shoes.

          I think it’s good for the manager to have more understanding of the employee’s response, but the employee also has to understand that this response is something to work on.

        3. Ellen M.*

          The employee needs to adapt to the supervisor’s preferences, not the other way around. Plus this is not really about the supervisor’s preference, it is about professional behavior in the workplace. Being silent following feedback from a supervisor is unprofessional, no matter what anyone’s “preferences” are.

          1. Another Anon*

            Does the employee know the manager’s preference? When I took my new job 5+ years ago I was open and cheerful with my manager just like I was with the last manager. It took me a long time – longer, I suspect, than the OP and employee have been together – to realize he wanted “just the facts” and as few of them as possible. (He’s very busy.) He’d rather I didn’t disturb his thoughts by saying “good morning” if I pass him in the hall. He’d doesn’t like me to bother him outside of our monthly one on ones. He doesn’t want status reports. The communicative behavior I had thought was “professional,” just as you do, really annoyed him. It took a lot of practice for me to adapt to his preference, keep out of his way, and speak only when asked a direct question. The OP’s employee would be a good fit in my place! Is it possible that this employee is as slow as I was to adapt from a past manager’s style and in being silent thinks he’s on his best behavior?

            1. khilde*

              Good point in general for supervisors to remember! I tell supervisors in my training classes that unless you communicate your preferences to your subordinates, then they will likely keep working for you the way they knew how to work for previous bosses.

              1. Jamie*

                That is such a perfect way to explain that – and so often overlooked.

                At each new job I totally worked the way I would have for my old boss until told otherwise.

              2. khilde*

                Thanks, Jamie. I use it often so I’m glad it makes sense! haha. I used to be in the Air Force and I have a great stories about my pain in learning new commanders’ preferences because people moved around so often! I think it’s an easy thing for supervisors to overlook.

  9. Jamie*

    “I don’t need to be best friends with my subordinates, but as a caring human being, I do need to work with people who do not resent me.”

    I did want to comment on this line from the OPs letter. I am assuming based on the tone of your letter that you are new to management – but a need to work with people who don’t resent you is not compatible with being a boss. Even people who respect you, like you, and think you are a great boss will, at times, resent you. It’s part of the deal.

    Also, you say you are being promoted which seems to indicate that you are not currently their boss – yet you’ve referred to them as workers and subordinates.

    I’m not trying to pick on you, but your tone and verbiage comes off as somewhat condescending and entitled to me – although that’s just my interpretation.

    Few things breed resentment faster than entitlement and condescension from both reports and colleagues.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree that managers will always be resented for one thing or another, but being resented for something as basic as giving feedback? I’d much rather work with someone who isn’t going to give me that headache.

      1. jmkenrick*

        Agreed, but if the OP is currently not a manager and giving feedback as if they are (I can’t really tell from the letter), well, personally, that would drive me bonkers. It woudl be hard to not feel resentful.

        I think if that is the case, they should refrain from talking to the employee until they’ve had a chance to be their manager for awhile. (As I think you mentioned in the response.)

      2. Jamie*

        ITA. Giving and receiving feedback with professionalism is a requirement. I just meant that workplaces will be vacant if the all the resentful were sent home. I’ve been resented for everything from my position to my parking space. I’ve resented the unknown co-worker who took the last half of a coconut donut I was saving the last time we did a marathon work session on a Saturday.

        People resent me for blocking certain websites, people resent me for not blocking all non-business websites. Eh, can’t win – but I don’t lose any sleep over it.

        I think everyone should have to do one turn as an internal auditor. Trust me, you develop a very thick skin.

        And if you think giving feedback to a report is bad, try submitting a negative audit report and issuing corrective actions to your boss. Fortunately mine has a respect for the process and would rather hear bad news from me rather than the external auditors, but I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed it. I know who determines my future…talk about a perfect opportunity to hone feedback giving skills.

      3. moe*

        What I don’t “get” here is why you and OP have attributed the employee’s reaction to resentment or lack of professionalism or some other more negative emotion than simple embarrassment or just discomfort. I see no reason to think the employee resents the manager (seeing as how he is fine the next day), or why you place the onus of feeling comfortable giving feedback on the *employee* and not the manager.

        It seems to be doing the same thing you guys are complaining he does–reacting emotionally, and attributing negative motives, to the other side in an uncomfortable situation. Of course she should bring it up, but the responsibility to give feedback rests solely with her.

        I feel for the employee. The OP’s post is a little “off” to me, but perhaps it’s just how new she is to management.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It doesn’t really matter what the emotions are; it matters what the behavior is (as someone else pointed out too, I think). Silent treatment, refusal to make eye contact, etc. — these are unprofessional.

          1. moe*

            It certainly does impact how one responds to it, though, and seeing as how the manager has started “thinking twice” about giving feedback as a result–it certainly has for OP. I’ve found my professional relationships are much, much happier when I deal simply with the facts and behavior in front of me, and not try to attribute negative motives to it.

            I’m just surprised to see you buy into the resentment angle, is all, when there’s a much kinder explanation that’s just as likely. OP really needs to tone down her own emotional reactions, I think.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I shouldn’t have used the word “resentment” — you’re right. I stand by the substance of my answer, but I shouldn’t have used that word to describe the behavior. There could be all kinds of other reasons that he’s acting this way; it’s still problematic, but it might not have anything to do with resentment.

              1. Anonymouse*

                I have a mental image of the OP elbow-crawling around the office in a ghillie suit, laughing nervously, leaping from behind corners, eyeing the employee’s every respiration, and wondering why the *employee* behaves so strangely after a feedback session.

          2. Student*

            “Silent treatment, refusal to make eye contact, etc. — these are unprofessional.”

            In my current job, and every job I’ve ever had, it’s pretty normal to not talk with or make eye contact with the boss for a day. In the jobs I’ve held, friendly daily chitchat with the boss would be abnormal. In some jobs, it would’ve been considered bizarre, in others, it’s just something done rarely – once a week at happy hour, or less. That said, I can think of jobs where boss-underling interaction is much more frequent, I just have no experience with them. Heck, I can’t even get my current boss to meet with me once a week right now.

            Perhaps it would clarify matters considerably if we knew whether the expectation of friendly chitchat with management is commonplace in the letter writer’s workplace, or simply a side effect of them sharing an office because they are currently co-workers and not boss-employee at the moment. Does the letter writer chitchat with her boss daily and make lots of eye contact? When the promotion is in effect, will daily chitchat with this co-worker still be a reasonable expectation, or will it likely decrease as she starts managing an entire department?

      4. Kimberlee*

        Maybe its just because I haven’t been a manager for 20 years, but I sorta don’t get this whole “you must be hated and resented to be a good manager” bit.

        Granted, its totally possible that when I was managing people, they hated me and I didn’t know it. But I never detected even a hint of dislike or resentment from anyone I supervised, except for one time when it lasted about a minute, and she was totally fine with me the next day.

        I think that if you’re a good manager, you can usually do your job and be respected for the tough calls you have to make. Its just about making sure employees understand why something is happening (which is definitely part of the job of being a manager!)

        This is not to discount anyone else’s experiences, I definitely don’t think that just because its never happened to me, its never happened to anyone! I just wanted to make my personal experience known (and in this case, I think talking to the employee about the problem in a non-threatening, positive way is, as usual, the best solution).

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Kim, if I had to guess, I’d say it’s because your management experience has been confined to fast food (correct me if I’m wrong). I think this comes out more when people are working in environments where they feel the stakes are higher and that their careers are at stake based on your decisions, and generally (not always but generally) you’re less likely to get that in fast food. I’m guessing that there’s also a difference in the complexity of the day-to-day management decisions (more about the day-to-day versus longer-term planning?).

          I wrote about this concept a while back:

          1. Kimberlee*

            You’re totally right. And I hadn’t thought about one aspect of it, that management decisions in food are DEFINITELY day to day rather than long-term. That’s a totally different perspective than I’ve had before!

            Though I was shocked when I got two people in big trouble for something and they were still friends with me afterward. I think I might also be plain lucky. As well as fabulous. :)

          2. Kimberlee*

            And actually, reading that article, I can already think of an instance I was disliked: the policy was that you had to have your uniform shirt tucked in at all times, and there was one cook that hated me because I told her that I was completely ready to fire her if she decided she wanted to be fired over not tucking in her shirt. So I stand corrected. But I do think part of the problem was that she couldn’t speak English… I couldn’t really explain to her that this was the will of the owners and that we all had to be held to their standards.

  10. Lemon Meringue*

    I sympathize with the commenters who suggest it might just be a personality thing (we seem to have a lot of introverts here – myself included!). But I think most of us have aspects of our personality that we have to mediate for the sake of professionalism, whether that’s being overly social – or conversely, wanting to minimize social interaction – being highly emotional, joking too much… the whole gamut. Obviously workplaces vary and ideally you find a job/environment that suits your personality, but ultimately you’ll probably also have to cope with sometimes needing to accommodate your behavior to the situation.

    I actually got the impression that the employee shut down while the feedback was being given as well, which seems to me like it would be especially bad. But either way, it’s not unreasonable to ask that an employee strive not to take feedback personally. I too have struggled with this, but I aim to channel it into thinking about how to do things better “next time,” so maybe the manager and the employee could take that approach. It might be useful for the employee to think of feedback/discussing goals for improvement as something different from “criticism.” Ultimately, though, it sounds like the employee does need to learn how to handle it better.

    1. Kimberlee*

      I’m a crier. I have a really difficult time confronting people, even about minor things, even when I know I’m right, without crying. Its really hard to make this work, and yet, I manage to confront people all the time without bursting into tears. People definitely do have aspects of their personality that they’re expected to mediate for the sake of professionalism (as Lemon so eloquently put it), and I think that its totally reasonable to at least bring this up with the employee. If the person is generally quiet, that’s one thing. But when there is a noticeable bad effect that is tied directly with receiving bad feedback… that’s problematic, even if its not the end of the world. It makes the employee seem petulant, even if that is not really their feeling. It could be really helpful for the employee to know how their actions are being interpreted, regardless of their root cause.

      1. Ellen M.*

        “It makes the employee seem petulant, even if that is not really their feeling. It could be really helpful for the employee to know how their actions are being interpreted, regardless of their root cause.”


  11. Jane*

    This is a bit of a threadjack, but do readers have any advice on how to negotiate salary when both my salary history and the posting for the role are known?

    I aplied and have interviewed for a job that listed a salary of “£30,000 on the posting. I currently make £26,000 but the job is for significantly more responsibility (this was acknowledged in the interview). In the interview the hiring manager said the salary was “starting at £30k”. I’d be happy with £30k but obviously if I can get £33k I’d be even happier. However, I’m not sure how to go about asking for it. Obviously I applied for it when it was posted at £30k, so can I now try to negotiate up?

    1. Josh S*

      You’re getting WAY ahead of yourself here. At this point in the interview process (I’m assuming they have not made an offer, but that the hiring manager was just giving you some information about the salary range), your focus should be on amazing the interviewer with your experience and results. The first stage of “negotiation” is demonstrating that you’re worth it–that they cannot afford NOT to hire you because you’re so awesome. If you get bogged down thinking about eking out a few extra quid before they’ve gotten to the offer stage, you’re likely to not put as much effort into your answers–and that might prevent you from getting the offer in the first place.

      That said…assuming you get through the interview process and they make you an offer:

      No matter what they offer (even if it wildly surpasses your expectations) you should feel free–nay, obligated–to attempt to negotiate a higher salary.

      (Side note: If this is an internal job posting (ie at the company you already work for) then see if you can get a manager or someone you know/trust to fish around for the actual salary range. That will help you in negotiations. If the range is 30-40k, then you could very well reasonably ask for 35k and hope to get 33k. If the range is 30-33k, you would be making a claim that they should max out their budget to hire you…be prepared for some push-back on that.)

      The point is, whenever they make you an offer, that’s a starting point for salary negotiations. The fact that the job posting says £30k doesn’t mean much–it’s helpful for you to tell if the job is even within your range, but relatively meaningless when it comes to negotiating a salary. The fact that you applied for a job posting that clearly says £30k is likewise meaningless–the company knows (or ought to know) that you will negotiate salary & benefits.

      AAM has some good advice on negotiating salary. Here is some of that advice:

      Not AAM, but useful to know nonetheless:

      Also, I highly recommend that you send the email directly to AskAManager. She’s really good about responding quickly (especially if something is time sensitive), and even if she doesn’t post your question, she (almost always) will respond to it.

        1. Jane*

          Sorry, this was my first time posting here after reading for a few months – I’m used to Corporette-style jumping around in post comments and didn’t pick up on how that wasn’t done here. Won’t do it again!

    2. Kimberlee*

      If the interviewer said “starting at 30k” then that is an open invitation to negotiate. Build a case for why you should get 35K and then settle somewhere near 33.

  12. Corey Feldman*

    I’m a little torn on this, without knowing more details. The silent treatment is a but nebulous. Honestly I think the manager needs a bit of a thicker skin. If he is a high performer and takes the feedback seriously, and actually corrects whatever it is, if he is a bit less chatty for a day, I don’t see it as the end of the world. I agree its worth a conversation, for his development. But everyone processes criticism differently. The most important part is he does process it and make the change. Sometimes as manager we have to deal with the awkward with short term fall out of awkward conversations.

    1. Emily*

      I agree. Perhaps the OP can have that discussion about the “silent treatment” response she perceives, but prepare herself to accept the employee’s answer if it’s that he’s not resentful or trying to be passively combative, but processing the criticism so that he can correct his performance and come back to start the next day on a fresh page. Maybe if you have it out in the open, you can meet each other half way—he’ll tone down any behaviors that might seem like pouting and you can allow him a little metaphorical space to regroup.

      1. Kimberlee*

        Exactly!!!! It could well be that the employee is just processing it, and doesn’t even REALIZE that there’s been any external change at all. Knowing how his actions (or lack thereof) are being interpreted by others could be immensely helpful.

  13. Joey*

    I’ve use a slightly different method for addressing it. I’d say something like this” Bob, I’m not sure if you mean it this way, but when I give you criticism I get the impression that you are taking it too personal. I know criticism is tough to hear, but I want to make sure you understand I’m giving it to you so you can improve. Am I misunderstanding your reaction?”

    This way it doesn’t feel like so much of an attack but still communicates the vibes hes sending. If he dismisses it as a misunderstanding you can still address it as an impression he gives that he needs to correct. The difference here is that you’re not making any conclusions about how he actually feels you’re only addressing the signals he’s sending to other people.

    1. Natalie*

      One think I would add to this technique – be ready to provide specific examples of what behaviors make you think he is taking the correction/feedback personally. “Taking it personally” looks different to different people.

      Also, I’ve found that if I have to elaborate on my understanding of someone’s behavior, it helps me sort out what is “really” their behavior versus what I might be over-reacting or misinterpreting.

    2. Bonnie*

      I have to say that after years of being on both sides of feedback, what is not intended as a personal attack by the giver of the feedback almost always feels like a personal attack on the work of the receiver. I think this is especially true of younger or newer employees. I would try to have this conversation with out saying you are taking this too personally. If you are giving feedback on work he did personally it is going to feel personal.

  14. MB*

    I agree with others that the ‘shut down’ is a result of taking things too hard and trying to manage the shame and emotion.

    Two suggestions for the OP: 1) Deliver negative feedback right before the employee leaves for the day. That way he can go home immediately, get over it, and come back in the next day hopefully with a chance to have calmed down somewhat. 2) Any less important negative feedback might be delivered by email? That way the employee is spared some of the humiliation of being corrected face to face. This wouldn’t work for important things, but maybe for smaller less consequential corrections?

    1. Laura L*

      I disagree with giving feedback at the end of the day. Then the employee will be upset when they go home (if they are even upset in the first place) and they might still be upset the next day.

    2. Charles*

      sorry MB; but MY reaction to either of your two suggestions would be:

      WTF?! This boss is a real ass

      What you are suggesting is “drive-by” management; not cool.

    3. khilde*

      I would say the email bit is a no-no. Email is just too easily miscontrued. And especially if you have the type of employee who is sensitive to nuances and feedback, then email feedback (of any level of severity) might just be too much for that person.

      On the other hand, I don’t think your first suggestion is all that terrible. I’d put the caveat on it that – it depends on the employee. I could see myself liking this way of getting feedback. As long as the supervisor took the time to help me truly understand the situation, then I can go home and feel all embarassed and dumb at home. A good night’s sleep does wonders for a perspective. However, you might have some employees that want to try to “make it right” for the supervisor while still at work. In which case, the end of the day might not work for that person. So I still think idea #1 of MB’s has merit.

  15. Cruella Da Boss*

    I get this too. Usually while I am addressing them, they stare off into space (which I chose to consider as “intent listening” but my manager thinks is disrepectful). The moment I walk away from their desk, they call a coworker to tell them all about what I have said. Then I get the silent treatement for the rest of the day.

    Correction can be very uncomfortable for all involved, but shouldn’t be. I am offering correction so they may do their job better. If someone is doing something wrong, I certainly will not stop telling them they need correction just because they aren’t speaking to me.

    I am not a hand-holding, sugar-coating, let’s be friends and braid each other’s hair kind of manager, but I’m also not a crazed, stapler-throwing, yeller either. I am short and to the point and then I move on.

    Yes, I understand that no one likes hearing they are doing something wrong, but there is also no need to act this way.

    But then again, remember, most of them hate me.

    1. Jamie*

      Can I go on record that I would rather have a manager throw a stapler at me than braid my hair?

      Excellent points, all, but the phrasing cracked me up.

      1. Charles*

        . . . would rather have a manager throw a stapler at me than braid my hair.

        I’ve had no stapler throwers, yet.

        But, I did have the owner of one company punch his fist through the wall of my training room as he shouted out his favorite word – F***!

        hehe, I moved the white board from the front of the the room to the sidewall to cover the hole. Clients didn’t seem to think it was odd that the whiteboard was on the side instead of the front of the class.

  16. Anon13*

    “He’s essentially training me on some level to not confront him.”

    This sentence makes me think the OP has some control issues. She’s calling the fact that the guy gets quiet and doesn’t really talk to her much the rest of the day “the silent treatment,” as if he’s acting like a little kid, or going out of his way to shun her. But he responds when he addresses her ~ it sounds like he just gets a bit quiet and down. If she finds being around someone who’s quiet and down “emotionally draining,” she needs a thicker skin.

  17. Anonymous*

    I think this depends a lot on what type of feedback the manager is giving. My point being that the title of the post says feedback – which could be something as casual as, “Hey, Bob, on your article about baby pandas, I noticed you used a picture of baby camels. Can you correct that?” in which case, the silent treatment comes across as unprofessional and immature. However, the OP’s question says she is correcting him, which could be as casual as the example above, or it could be something like, “There are serious problems with your ability to write – you don’t understand punctuation or spelling” in which case I would be much more understanding if the employee was quiet for the rest of the day, either thinking over the criticism or working on improving it.

    If this is a case of someone giving a day-long silent treatment because of a quick correction, then I think it’s way over the top. Of course, as I said, if this is about more significant criticism and feedback, I would probably look at it differently.

  18. SA*

    I actually tend to disagree with most of the commenters here. I think the OP owes the employee a conversation for sure — he deserves a chance to fix this issue, especially when he may not even realize it’s happening. But being able to take constructive criticism is absolutely critical to most jobs, and everyone needs to be able to learn how to do it, introverted/shy/sensitive (which I personally am) or not. I’m a manager, and if I had an employee who was extremely sensitive to criticism (and showed it at work), even after discussion and changing delivery methods, etc., it would be a big deal, possibly a deal breaker on that employee’s continued employment (irreplaceable star performers aside, which most employees are honestly not). I don’t consider the ability to take criticism a certain way to be a personality quirk — I consider it a skill that employees should learn and continuously work on, just like any other.

  19. Jamie*

    “(irreplaceable star performers aside, which most employees are honestly not). ”

    No one is irreplaceable, but this is a good reminder that it takes more to cross the line for top performer, especially a non-fungible top performer, than for most people.

    The more valuable your contributions, the more slack you are cut. That’s just life – the people who will give you an “oh ****” moment if they walk out the door, tend to be given wider berth.

    Where this is unfair isn’t to the average performers (all things are not equal – that’s life) but to the top performer. There can be a deference where negative feedback isn’t mentioned, because in the grand scheme of things the bad:good ratio is so weighted toward good that opportunities for improvement aren’t mentioned. Don’t want to anger them, hurt their ego, whatever…

    It’s also true that the higher you climb on the career ladder the fewer people are there to give you honest feedback. It’s really important in these instances to self-assess.

    1. Liz T*

      Sigh. I know way too many people who think they’re so good that people have to cut them slack on their terrible attitudes. These people are almost without exception wrong, and need to watch less House.

  20. BCW*

    I’m curious at all the people defending the OP as to what you honestly think is unprofessional. I honestly can go entire days without speaking to my manager. I’m the type of employee who doesn’t need to be micromanaged. I know what I need to do and do it. If she has something to add, she does, but otherwise we don’t “need” to speak constantly. From how I see this, he isn’t being rude, disrespectful, or anything. He just isn’t talking to her as much as she seems to want. It doesn’t say he won’t answer or even elaborate on questions, just that he won’t initiate conversation unless he is asked something specific. If he fully explains things, will answer questions, and does his work, just doesn’t go out of his way to chat with her, that doesn’t seem unprofessional. Not to make this sexist, but a lot (not all) of women tend to use the silent treatment to punish people (many times men) for something. Men don’t tend to do this as much. Once again, not saying no men do it, but the majority of guys I know don’t. So maybe she is taking his quietness or reflection as giving the silent treatment. I get that she is now his manager, so he should probably change a bit for her, but I am having a hard time understanding what is so unprofessional. And again, to say you are emotionally drained? If you are using that terminology, chances are you are just too sensitive. I can honestly say in my 10+ years working, I have never said I was emotionally drained by something at work. If someone not speaking to you is enough to make you “emotionally drained” how will you be able to handle firing people or giving a bad performance evaluation. I’m not saying be a robot and have no feelings, but if something this small emotionally effects you this much, should you really be managing people. It sounds like you may be emotionally unstable.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There’s nothing here that indicates the OP is emotionally unstable, and we’re not going to insult people like that here. (BCW, this isn’t the first time you’ve made something unnecessarily personal. Please stop.)

      1. Charles*

        Agreed. While I agree with most of what BCW is saying; that last sentence is a bit much and uncalled for.

        I do feel that the OP is in for a bit of a shock if she is new to management and is having trouble with this employee’s silence. This could be something that she will need to work on; however, that hardly makes her “emotionally unstable.” (Just as the employee’s silence does not mean he is sulking either. Also, not making eye contact could be a sign of embarrassment; not a sign of disrespect.)

        If reading things wrong is a sign of being emotionally unstable, whew, then, I think we are all need to see a shrink! So many folks are reading so many different ways into this blog post. And for the most part, we are all reading it from our own experiences, naturally.

        I’ll share one last “experience” then shut up.

        This was in a contract training position where my cubicle was set in the middle of a group of help-desk type folks. To say that their job was stressful would be an understatement; they were facing quality and quantity issues. The work that they did was critical – engineering mistakes and buildings could fall down, or in the very least not get occupancy permits. I really didn’t need to be there; but my boss felt that it was important that I be with this group of staff as they were the SME (subject matter experts) that I would be looking to for help with setting up training.

        Personally, I found the environment too noisy as one way that the staff “let off steam” was to banter back and forth all day, shouting over the cubicle walls all the time. Anyone ever play whack-a-mole? That’s what it was like – whack-a-mole – I could’ve scored a lot of points with that rubber mallet!

        Although, it was quite entertaining (quite hilarious actually), it was also distracting to the point that I had trouble doing my work. Except when one of them made a mistake the whole group would become silent; and I mean silent – you could hear a pin drop. The bantering (is that a word – bantering?) would stop for about a day, then start up the next morning as if nothing happened.

        This was the group’s way of dealing with errors and trying to make sure that errors wouldn’t happen. (remember, errors could cause buildings to fall down!) I called it the “let’s try to act professional” routine. Nice try; but, it never really lasted long.

        Maybe that is one reason why the OP’s employee is silent; he is trying to act more “professional” thinking that will prevent him from making more mistakes? But falls back into old habits the next day. Just something to consider instead of “he’s giving me the silent treatment.”

        P.S. I did hear from several of these co-workers when I had the time to talk during lunch; many of them thought I was “stuck up” because I didn’t join in their “comraderie.” I guess they didn’t realize that I was paid for what I produced, not by the hour. So, different folks will view the same situation differently.

      2. BCW*

        I’ll give you that maybe my wording was a bit harsh. Maybe I should’ve said not emotionally ready to be a manager.

        1. Charles*

          ” . . . not emotionally ready to be a manager.”

          That sounds like it could very well be true. Hopefully, the OP will get someone to help mentor her in being a manager.

    2. AX*

      To my reading, it’s not that the employee is quiet (I work in a quiet office and often don’t end up needing to speak to my boss for a whole day or two, no biggie) It’s that he appears to be punishing his manager for making him “feel bad” by giving criticism. Not that he is just “not friendly” but is undeniably moody. There is an important distinction between “quiet/shy” and “irritable/moody”.

      There are some extenuating factors that could be at work, maybe the OP is over-reacting, maybe the OP is super-rude in her delivery of criticism or is otherwise over the line, sure that would make things different. But there’s no reason to think that is the case from the OP’s letter. Taking OP at her word that employee is being “moody” and not just “quiet” is the only reasonable thing to do here.

      It *is* emotionally draining to be trying to work around someone else’s bad mood. Especially if you’re trying to do so professionally.

      I have learned to LOVE feedback, ESPECIALLY when it’s something I can do better. I definitely didn’t start that way and I can sometimes still feel the prickle of shame when I’m being corrected. If the OP can successfully help this staff person develop that trait she will be doing him one of the biggest favors of his career.

      It’s not about smiling and saying thank you, it’s about being a mature professional who takes responsibility for their actions (not emotions, but actions) and tries to constantly improve.

    3. Liz T*

      “Not to make this sexist, but…”

      Can we just acknowledge that this is a bad beginning to a sentence? On the subway on Sunday I met lovely young conspiracy theorist who at one point said, “I don’t want to make a racial statement, but–” and I cut him off. If you’re putting a “but” after a statement like that, you’re about to say something prejudiced. If you’re not, you don’t need to preface it that way.

      1. BCW*

        No, it just means people will take things a way that they aren’t meant, and since you don’t know me, you may think the wrong way. For example, I’m a black man. If some of my white friends I know said something referring to black people, but I know its not racist, thats fine because I know him. However if he prefaced it among others, I don’t think there is a problem with it.

        And do you disagree with anything I said? If not, this is completely off topic and you just seemed to want to call attention to something I said that was pertaining to the post.

        1. Charles*

          . . . it just means people will take things a way that they aren’t meant.”

          I was going to say that! We all tend to “read into ” what things are said or not said.

        2. jmkenrick*

          I don’t think Liz T is getting off-topic – she’s responding to something that you brought up.

          It doesn’t indicate in the letter what gender either party is, so brining up perceieved differences in men & women seems totally irrelevant.

          1. BCW*

            She refers to the employee as “he” and “him” multiple times. So while that could just be a general pronoun chosen, its done so many times I believe its a male. And you are right, it doesn’t say that the original poster is a woman, but if I were a betting man, I’d bet its a woman, just by the tone of the letter.

            But she didn’t respond to what the point of my post was. She chose 5 words that had I left out, the point of my post would’ve been the same.

  21. ^_^*

    While reading the OP’s description, I was initially thinking the same thing as many commenters here that the OP was over-reacting. Then I remembered a friend of mine from early adulthood who gave people the silent treatment, and how awful that was. This friend was normally very social and talkative, and during the “silent treatment” she would make it a point of excluding you from any plans or conversations, make it very obvious she was spending time with other friends and not you, slam doors, scoff, only respond to questions with yes, no, or extremely terse answers, not say hi/bye/thank you or any other polite social pleasantries, and just in general contribute to an atmosphere of hostile awkwardness.

    Only the OP is there, and therefore only the OP knows if it is just shy embarrassment or hostility. If the former, the OP should either let it go or have a very gentle CONVERSATION (not scolding) with the employee about this. If it’s actual hostile “silent treatment” the OP should be very direct that it is not acceptable behavior.

    1. Eva*

      “Only the OP is there, and therefore only the OP knows if it is just shy embarrassment or hostility.”

      +1. Where is the OP?!

      This is a fantastic thread.

      Regardless of whether the employee is giving the silent treatment out of innocent embarrassment or as passive-aggressive manipulation, I think raising this issue is too advanced an exercise for a new manager. I’m positive that AAM could give the employee a heads up that the silent treatment is unacceptable in a way that would let the employee save face and grow as a human being, but I think at least part of that success would stem from her personal authority as an experienced and highly regarded manager. A new manager starting out, trying to have this conversation? Even if she somehow managed to handle it *exactly* as AAM would have done, I can see an employee reacting differently simply because the manager has not yet built up a track record of good managerial judgment. It’s too easy for the employee to write off the new manager as someone who is just eager to (ab)use her new powers to make everyone dance to her tune.

      So I would recommend for the OP to tread lightly and wait until she has proven herself before taking it upon herself to edify this guy about how it’s unprofessional for him to ‘be less friendly following feedback’. There’s a real risk that it will make things worse and start her off on the wrong foot, not just with him, but with everyone who hears about how the new manager needs her employees to pretend to be her buddies.

  22. mj*

    I share a cubicle with someone who quits speaking to me and others for unknown reasons. We know that we offended him in some way, but we are never quite sure what it was. The longest he ever went without speaking to me was about two weeks which was really awkward since we share a small workspace. But there are other people in the building who he hasn’t spoken to in a year or more. We have the same direct supervisor (who has also received the silent treatment) so management is well aware of this issue. I am told it is a cultural issue and to just live with it. Other than this he is a very nice guy.

    1. Kimberlee*

      This is weird. I have no idea how I would respond to this if I were a manager. I mean, some kind of conversation is obviously necessary… but its soooo weird…

  23. ChristineH*

    Like many others here, I can relate to the OP’s reaction. I too tend to shut down and/or get upset when given criticism (although I still make every effort to remain professional). I take it to heart because I want to do the best job I can and treat coworkers or outside colleagues appropriately. I’ll admit that I’ve sometimes had managers tell me it is difficult to give me feedback as a result. I am incredibly sensitive, but I know that I need to toughen up.

    That being said, I think Alison’s advice is spot on. I love her principle of giving employees a safe place to openly respond to the criticism (within reason of course). The employee may not even be aware that his silence is noticed and that it’s off-putting to the OP. Open communication is key to good employer-employee relations.

    As for the responses about her being “emotionally drained”: I see her as being new to management, and overwhelmed by the additional responsibilities that come with it.

  24. Anonymous*

    All these suggestions that perhaps the OP may be being a little thin skinned seem wide of the mark. As the boss, it is the OP’s prerogative to decide that
    a) something is an issue
    b) that the issue is entirely the fault of the employee
    The OP in this question has obviously taken both of these options. The extent of the employee’s choices are to do as the OP instructs, or to quit. AaM’s advice simply reflects this reality.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm, that may be true in practice in many organizations, but in this context I’d certainly point it out if I thought the OP was being unreasonable, not just work from the premise that she’s entitled to require whatever she wants.

  25. Kelly O*

    On a personal and lighter note, there are times I really wish for the silent treatment. I get lots more work done.

    That said, when the OP finally has this conversation (and honestly just go ahead and have it sooner rather than later, because that will not make things any better) there are a couple of suggestions I’d make to be sure this goes as smoothly as it can.

    1. Be sure this is totally out of earshot of any other members of the office staff. There is very little worse than having a difficult discussion where other people can hear you.

    2. Framing it in the context of “we need to be able to work together effectively, how can we do that?” is a good start. Don’t bust in with “I’m the manager and I need to be able to manage you and you’re not being cooperative” (again, not that you would but you know, people do.) “I’m your manager and part of that job is helping you do the best job possible. Sometimes I’m going to have to tell you things you may not want to hear, or that may make you uncomfortable. How can we deal with this professionally and prevent this reaction in the future?”

    The employee might be clueless that he’s coming across so cold – my earlier comment about how I need to internalize and think things through is an example – and so he might be surprised to find you think he shuts you down. Then again, he might be very cognizant of it, and that’s when you can have the deeper conversation. Why does this seem like the best course of action? Would it be helpful for you to take a walk and think about this before coming back?

    It’s definitely a Meaningful Learning Experience for all involved.

  26. Jamie*

    Great advice – although she said in the letter that she’s “being made the head of her department” – if this is as it sounds, that she’s not yet his manager and still a co-worker – having this conversation prematurely could make it much worse.

    If the OP is new to management, as it seems, hopefully she has someone in her company to mentor her. Negotiating the new boundaries where you’re now managing former co-workers can be filled with landmines…if she has someone there who can be a sounding board as she finds her footing it can make it a much smoother transition.

    1. Jamie*

      That was in response to Kelly @ 3:54. I just can’t click correctly to save my life today.

  27. $.02*

    Wow, wow, wow, this is me too – I had a manager who would give bad feedback or criticize me in front of other associates, then turn around and try to be nice and bubbly (which suggest to me she knew what she was doing). If we all want to stay professional why can’t she give feedback then back-off not try to come up and offer me some ice cream sandwich?

    If he is back to normal tomorrow you have an exceptional employee, it takes some the whole week :(

  28. The Other Dawn*

    I used to take negative feedback very personally. I’d dwell on it for days and it was always a huge hit to my self-confidence, even for little things (I’m a high achiever so it’s the end of the world if things aren’t perfect the first time, or I don’t learn something from start to finish on the first shot). One day I overheard our EVP talking to another employee. I don’t know to what he was referring, but he said, “It’s not personal. It’s business.” That clicked with me. It isn’t a personal attack. It’s business. I’m expected to do my best to help the business run smoothly. Period. Ever since then I just let it roll off my back.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      I meant to add that OP should mention this to her employee when she addresses the issue of the silent treatment. Also, I agree with others that being “emotionally drained” because an employee ignores her is a little extreme. She should address that within herself.

  29. Diane*

    I think this thread would look a lot different if the employee had written in:

    “I work with a manager who reacts oddly after she gives me negative feedback. I need time to process the feedback quietly, but today she told me I was making her feel bad and she doesn’t want to give me feedback any more. She said that being quiet and keeping to myself for a few hours is unprofessional, and that I need to behave more professionally, but honestly, I don’t know what she expects; I thought being low-key WAS professional.”

    I could fill in more blanks: Maybe the employee has responded in the past with apologies (not sincere enough / too contrite), has tried to discuss causes and alternatives (taking the blame implies you screwed up / explaining causes implies you can’t take responsibility), is himself emotionally drained and feels the best response is low key, etc.

    There might be more to this, but from the OP’s language, she seems to be reacting too strongly without allowing for the same in her employee. If there’s no right response, maybe the employee is doing the only possible thing he can to get through the day. A sincere conversation is a good start, but it must be aimed at finding a constructive, specific way to given and receive feedback; it’s not therapy.

    1. BCW*

      That is a great way to put it. That person may think they are being professional by not arguing about it.

      And I agree, there are many times where if someone tries to explain something, people look it as though you can’t take criticism, so you really have no choice but to just take it and be quiet.

    2. Jane*

      In that case I think there would be a lot of comments encouraging the OP to communicate with his manager. “Honestly, I don’t know what she expects” is a communication issue, and it’s also not really true. It’s actually pretty clear what she expects: that receiving constructive criticism doesn’t change the employee’s whole demeanor for the rest of the day.

    3. Ellie H.*

      I think this is a great take on the situation, Diane.

      Sure, it is clear what the manager expects – no change in demeanor. But is this a *reasonable* expectation? Maybe not.

  30. Anonymous*

    My question would be whether his subsequent actions show that he has accepted and integrated the feedback, regardless of his initial reaction. If they do, the OP might be best to just continue to give feedback in as fair and neutral a manner as possible, and then leave him to process it. If the message is not getting through, and mistakes are repeated, this may be someone who has learned to use this tactic to repel feedback.

  31. Ann*

    This post has blown up so much I couldn’t get through all the comments, but I’ll add that in addition to the possibility that the employee may just be withdrawn and quiet as a result of embarrassment or upset, I know that I sometimes have difficulty returning to “normal” with my boss after a significant correction. Our normal relationship is very friendly, with lots of joking and chitchat unrelated to work about our families/weekend plans/etc., smiles all around. To return to that kind of laughing and joking after she’s delivered a significant piece of criticism, I worry it would come across like I didn’t take seriously the earlier criticism–that I was just brushing it off and going about my oblivious, cheerful way. Animals do this too, you know. When your dog knows you’re mad at him he avoids eye contact, positions his body away from you, makes himself small, and makes smaller/quieter noises. It’s showing submissiveness to a dominant pack member (your boss) so they don’t throw you out of the pack (fire you) and though I am very suspicious of evo psych, I think part of this really is a fairly evolutionarily hard-wired instinctive response. Not to say it can’t be overcome, but just to underscore that I’d find that a more likely explanation than him “giving the silent treatment” to punish her.

  32. Lindsay H.*

    Two pieces of “Food for Thought”:

    1. Is the employee in question fixing the issues you’ve addressed or is he being silent and still repeating the mistakes?

    2. Whether or not you bring up his silent treatment is up to you. However, if you choose not to then I don’t feel it would be fair to bring it up in any further disputes, performance reviews that warrants a merit increase, or during an exit interview. Give him a chance to “fix it” or let it go.

  33. Just Me*

    I do believe that the OP should talk to the employee to see why he gives her the “silent” treatment and all that. It bothers her so it is fair that she ask.
    I do think that the OP is overreacting. And although maybe the employee is wrong for reacting that way, she really needs to pick her fights. If she is going to be “emotionally drained” every time an employee reacts a way that she deems “quirky” (to use her own word) she will not make it.
    All employees are different. They react differently to situations. I am not defending any behavior and of course some will have to be approached. But in this scenario the OP admitted it doesn’t even last.
    Is the OP trying to hard? Are you expecting people to just not be the way they are if you don’t like it? If this bothers you and leaves you drained (especially given the fact that it is such a short time frame) what are you going to do when you write someone up? Or give bad news to the group about whatever that will undoubtly tick them off and they grumble off.
    I think as well as talking to him, take a look at yourself and ask what you are going to expect from your group? This is certainly no indication that you will be a bad manager, the fact you are asking gives a great impression you want to do a good job. But I would really read up and maybe get a mentor on how to handle employee situations. Good luck….

  34. Another Anon*

    “The silent treatment” seems like a bit of a judgment call. Is it possible that the OP is reading too much into his embarrassment over being corrected than should be there? What more was expected from him than that he go on with his work (doing it better, perhaps) and answer when someone asks him a question? If it’s just that he isn’t chatty at the moment, maybe it’s understandable.

  35. Cassie*

    I get the feeling that it’s a personality thing. I’m a fairly quiet person to begin with and if I’m given negative feedback, I am not going to show any emotion. I’ve gotten yelled at before by someone who can be very ruthless, and I avoided eye contact the whole time because I didn’t want to let him see the tears welling up in my eyes. Heck, even if you complimented me for an awesome job, I probably would just say thank you and not show emotion. That’s just the way I am. But I can see where someone might take it the wrong way.

    The letter reminds me of my stint as a dance teacher – there’s a belief that if you get corrections in class, it’s because the teacher likes you. The teacher obviously sees potential; If you’re hopeless, the teacher will just ignore you.

    If a student doesn’t react well to corrections, you can bet the teacher will be less inclined to correct them, no matter how talented they are. And by “not react well”, I mean the student stomps off, rolls his/her eyes, blatently continues doing incorrect movements, etc (I taught mostly teens and kids). Anything short of that – even if the student seems to shrink inside herself – I wouldn’t consider it “reacting badly”.

    For me, though – I didn’t care whether the student reacted badly to corrections or not. I’m not there to make friends. If you’re doing something wrong, I’ll tell you. You can listen to me or not, but I’m going to continue doing it. And that is something that I think the OP should learn – shouldn’t matter if the employee shuts down for the rest of the day. Assuming that the employee is still productive (and at least attempts to make corrections), don’t stop giving feedback just because it’s “emotionally draining”. Just give the feedback and move on.

    It’s funny because the usual reaction we see in our office when mistakes are pointed out is uber-defensive mode. Or the “oh, it’s not that big of a deal, I’ll just fix it”. I would much rather prefer someone who understands the gravity of making mistakes (and ends up withdrawing when getting negative feedback) than someone who acts like it’s no big deal or that it’s someone else’s fault. And I would be mortified if someone questioned why I shut down – I would be thinking “isn’t it obvious?” You made a mistake and it’s noticed by someone else. I’d be trying to keep a low profile for the rest of the day too.

  36. Anonymous*

    I agree that that the employee’s response may be a part of his personality. I also think that it may have a lot to do with our culture. We live in a culture where it’s not okay to tell someone they are doing bad because it will hurt their feelings. People can no longer receive constructive criticism without needing to see a therapist(I am being dramatic, not offensive). The employee may have had a history of being constantly told what they are doing wrong that negatively affected them, but that is not the supervisors problem. You get paid to do a job and if you do it wrong the supervisor will tell you. You have to be able to operate after you make mistakes.

    1. Ellie H.*

      For what it’s worth, you can’t just declare that you are not being offensive. I’m speaking generally, not just about your comment, but in my experience if one is ever compelled to precede a statement “No offense,” instead he or she just shouldn’t say whatever he was going to.

  37. KellyK*

    From the OP’s description, I can’t tell if the employee’s reaction is unprofessional or not. I think there’s a difference between blatantly giving someone the silent treatment and just being quiet or reserved and not making conversation. I also think that what’s a reasonable or professional reaction depends on the magnitude of the criticism. You shouldn’t need a whole afternoon to emotionally process, “Hey, I found a typo in your TPS report.”

    It might be worth thinking about what the actual observable behavior is, without attributing motive, before deciding whether to say anything, as well as considering what you think an appropriate reaction to criticism looks like. Also, is it causing problems that the OP can’t fix just by changing her own attitude or deciding not to take it personally? For example, if he’s giving short, less than helpful answers to work-related questions, that obviously needs to be addressed.

    I like the idea of having a straightforward, private conversation about it, based on observable behavior, and being very clear about what your expectations are.

  38. Bonnie*

    I agree that the manager needs to have a discussion with the employee about his behavior. I also agree that the behavior being described could be the way the employee reacts to negative feedback. What I didn’t see here was a suggestion of what is going to happen if the employee has trouble making that change quickly. I would suggest that if the company has a coaching or mentoring program that the manager makes sure that the employee is included. If the organization doesn’t have one, then it might be useful to suggest that the employee find one outside the organization. If the employee’s personality is causing him to react this way, I believe that he is going to need help adapting to what his manager wants. If the manager doesn’t have time to take on the role maybe she can find a way to getting him some professional coaching to help him adapt to the role more quickly.

  39. Jill*

    I tend to be quiet/silent after being criticized by my manager. But it’s because I’m so stunned and baffled that I never know what to say. I’m sure my manager sees herself as “corecting” or “pointing out something I did wrong” as the OP does.

    But in reality her tone is “how can you be so stupid!!” and her corrections are just criticisms without any kind of feedback that enables me to improve. She also contradicts herself a lot to the point where no matter how I do it, I’m doing it wrong.

    Perhaps the employee is being silent for the same reasons, OP. Is your correction constructive and helpful or do you just criticize for the sake of criticizing. When you point out something wrong, do you follow it up by clarifying your directions or offering helpful suggestions? Mabye the employee is being silent because of YOU, not because they are being a childish pouter.

  40. khilde*

    Is the OP giving US the silent treatment now?! Admittedly, there is some somewhat negative feedback to the OP on this thread. :)

    But seriously, OP we want to hear from you! Commentors have pretty well fallen into two camps here and you are the only one who can give us some more context!

    1. Listmonkey*

      Honestly if I were the OP I would have stayed away as well, given such downright hostile comments here. Many people were simply jumping to conclusion and filling in the blanks themselves. It’s unfair to judge the OP in such strong terms before knowing more.

      1. Anonymous*

        Even though it is very flat, there are two sides to a sheet of paper. We are only getting one person’s perspective on this employee’s alleged silent treatment towards the OP. While she is entitled to her own opinion of the situation, we still need to be objective in weighing in as to whether the OP is herself being too insensitive and reading too much into the employee’s actions or if the employee is really being an unprofessional jerk. We have seen from time to time how the OP is not always right. And by now when people write to AAM, they should know to give enough details to remain anonymous yet to not leave holes (or at least answer to clarify things he or she didn’t realize beforehand). But then again, I have seen OPs be real jerks in the comments too.

  41. Kristin*

    I’m facing a similar situation as the OP. I’m a new supervisor, and when I gave one of my employees some feedback about the work she was doing on a research report, she looked like she was about to cry. The feedback was by no means tear-worthy, and was more of a “you did A and B well, but C needs more work”. I was dumbfounded! She did burst into tears when I told her vacation time needs to be booked in advanced and approved to ensure her job is covered while she’s away. I have no idea how to handle emotional employees. It makes me very hesitant to give her more feedback, because I can’t deal with unwarranted crying. I almost feel like I have to now put any feedback in email form, so that I don’t have to deal with the crying. One of my other employees saw her crying and said “oh don’t worry, she’s always been a crier”.

    1. Anonymous*

      I think that situation is a bit different from the OP’s because you can physically see the person’s reaction – the tears. That’s the sort of situation where I would sit down with her and ask why these things bother her. Particularly with the feedback as you are actually supplementing bad feedback with good feedback so not to make the whole thing negative. In regards to the vacation, unless something drastic came up last minute, I don’t see why anyone would be upset with giving notice as to when you want to go on vacation and making sure everything is good to go. That’s just professional and respectful.

      But if that’s what another employee says, then maybe the next time you should just bring the Kleenex, give the box to her, and then commence on the feedback.

    2. Cassie*

      My sister is a bit of a crier herself so I’m pretty sure any sort of feedback (unless positive) would be upsetting to her. Even if it was something miniscule.

      As for the comment about vacation time, maybe it depends on the situation or the manner it was said. I would feel differently if I asked for time off and my boss replies “you *need* to request time off at least two weeks in advance”, as opposed to if my boss replied “usually time off should be approved two weeks in advance”. One sounds more critical whereas the other doesn’t (or maybe just more passive-aggressive). I know people don’t have time to choose their words carefully, but I do try to choose my words carefully when I’m giving corrections or criticism.

  42. Spiny*

    I find it telling that when the OP states Bob “will avoid eye contact with me, position his body (language) away from me, and only speak to me if I’m asking him a question” it becomes in the comments that Bob is quiet for the rest of the day.

    If the OP said that after giving feedback Bob turns away when she walks by, ignores greetings and avoids eye contact when asked questions, that behavior is clearly inappropriate and disrespectful.

    Have a conversation. Some feedback may be as effective by email or at the end the day, but I second that disruptive behaviors need to be openly addressed.

    That said, I identify with the desire for introspection after a correction- as clearly do many others here- so the OP should respect this reaction. Nod in greeting, hold off sharing that funny anecdote and give Bob time to process.

  43. hey now*

    It depends on the reasons for the silent treatment. Is the employee giving the silent treatment and body language because he is ashamed and sad OR more likely doing it to be disrepectful and challenging. More likely they are doing it to challenge someone they sense is weak, I would get in their face in a passive but agressive way. And then really be a jerk to them until they submit and comply. Or keep needling them until they quit or you fire them. Its your way or the highway but be calm about conveying this don’t lose your cool.

  44. Wannabe a good manager*

    I have been a manager for 3 years and I wish I had discovered AAM a lot earlier. I’m made so many of the classic mistakes! Please excuse me, this is the first time I’ve contributed to the discussion and I hope I’m not too late to contribute. Plus OP hasn’t spoken up yet! I’d like to share my experiences on both sides.

    As the report, I do tend to withdraw after serious criticism, both because I am upset with myself and because I don’t want to give the impression that I am not taking the criticism seriously. I think my manager’s method of criticism helps me not withdraw as much. First he asks me all sorts of questions about why I did X until I figure out that my reasons for doing X weren’t sufficient cause for doing X. Once I’ve realized that my reasons were excuses, I’m feeling pretty stupid and ashamed of myself. Fortunately, my manager does not end the conversation at this point. Once I get the message, he changes the subject and he asks me about a project he knows I am excited about or we chit-chat about personal matters. So, I have calmed down by the time I leave his office and I can function. Even so, I will have several sleepless nights afterwards! It also helps if he drops by a day later to just chit chat for a few minutes. The positive interactions afterwards reassure me that he is not criticizing me as a person. However, I’m talking about serious criticsm which doesn’t tend to happen more than once or twice a year.

    All other mistakes I simply fix, then consider how I came to make the mistake, so I can avoid making it again. However, as a manager, I have experienced that many people deal badly with even minor mistakes. They do not admit mistakes, delay fixing them, and refuse to consider how the mistake could have happened. How do I reassure her that I’m fine with her as a person when she won’t admit or fix her mistake? A minor performance issue turns into both an attitude problem and a major performance issue. How people deal with mistakes and criticism is now a major criteria for me when hiring. During interviews, I ask how people deal with mistakes and avoid people who tell me stories about mistakes which are not their fault.

    So, I think OP’s report’s behavior would be very acceptable if the criticism was substantial and infrequent, but very disruptive if the critisism is minor and frequent.

    I’ve not only made the classic new manager mistakes; I realize I still have issues, so please correct me if you see things differently.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I love your point about how the manager can help the person deal with criticism by making a point of helping them see they’re not “in the doghouse” afterwards, by behaving normally, etc.

      And I totally agree with you about how many people handle mistakes badly! I think all you can do is talk to your staff members about how you want mistakes handled, and why, and consistently reinforce that when they happen. There’s some language that you could borrow in this column I wrote about it:

  45. Value add*

    I’m just wondering if you respect this Person? Because if you do you would have appropriate behaviors already established. Your post sound like you are some what authoritarian to this person. Remember he is a person with probably a family and kids, goals and hopes. Do you ever talk to him about that? If you have not taken the time to build a positive relationship with him you are just facilitator and not a leader. Leaders care about the people they lead and want to help others have value and high esteem. If you only use critisism and then get u

  46. Anonymous*

    My boss gave me some feedback which is good, however he delivered it in a mockingly manner, and it hurt. I am very disappointed and discouraged and angry!. I want to talk to him but I don’t know what to say

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