giving feedback? don’t make these 10 mistakes

One of the most powerful tools that managers have for developing their staff members is providing direct feedback – both positive and corrective. In fact, simply articulating areas in which you’d like to see a staff member improve or develop can go a surprisingly long way.

But all too often managers neglect to give regular feedback, or deliver it in a way that diminishes its power. Over at the Intuit QuickBase blog, I talk about 10 common mistakes that managers make when it comes to feedback, from avoiding the conversation until they’re frustrated, to being so tactful that their message gets lost, to not giving feedback at all, and much more. You can read it here.

(And if you’re on the receiving end of feedback and it’s making you feel defensive, I’m quoted in this article about how to deal with criticism productively.)

{ 30 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon*

    Ooh, number 2! My boss is very frustrated with my performance on a project. It went, as projects do, with a few glitches but a pretty satisfactory completion. But toward the end he stopped speaking to me. If I spoke to him, he was short and cryptic. He finally called me in and asked if I didn’t think I should report to someone else. But he won’t say what the problem is. I imagine he thinks it’s obvious and he shouldn’t have to explain it, but, well, I need an explanation! I’ve tried guessing. I’ve specified several “lessons learned” so he’d know I was taking my errors seriously and aimed not to repeat them, but he’s belittled that so I know I didn’t guess right yet. My only hope of feedback is that I can schuss out his response in the post-project anonymous survey or it’ll land with a whop in my annual eval in four months. Why couldn’t he have said, “I don’t like how you’re doing this” about something months ago instead of fuming over how I kept doing the same darn thing again and again?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That is really ridiculous of your boss. Can you say this to him: “I can tell that you’re unhappy with my performance on that project. In order to do better, I’d like feedback from you about what you were unhappy with so that I can do better in the future. I’d so appreciate it if we could talk through your assessment of that work.”

    2. Anonymous*

      What is this, middle school? Did he really give you the silent treatment?? I agree with AAM, definitely ask for the feedback politely and informally so his unprofessional bitterness doesn’t somehow hurt you even more in an “official” evaluation.

  2. bob*

    Wow, how the hell does your boss stop speaking to you?

    ” I’d like feedback from you about what you were unhappy with” and could you stop acting like an 8 year old??

    1. bob*

      And I forgot to add that you should absolutely get in front of and/or on top of this issue loooooooooong before your evaluation so you don’t get bushwacked.

  3. jmkenrick*

    I love number 9. Especially when I was new to the workforce, every correction felt to me like they were telling me I was awful. It’s taken some time to learn how to contextualize my feedback on my own, and even then, it’s hard to be sure that I’m getting the right idea.

  4. Kit M.*

    Another thing to consider in regards to #6: At the beginning of my current job I was ready and waiting to get constructive criticism for my work, but my boss never gave any. Now I’ve gone so long without it that I’m pretty sure any criticism would feel very momentous and unusual and I would react horribly.

  5. Anon2*

    #7 — You mean my attendance was within guidelines, never triggered any kind of disciplinary stage but you felt I was late/called in too often so you ding me for it on my review but never mention it once in the 365 days leading up to it? Oh I see, you set the attendance policy but you secretly find it too lenient, so instead of changing the policy you accuse your employees of “taking advantage” and bash them on their reviews.

    Yes, I’m a bit familiar with #7.

  6. Scott M*

    “#5 Not Being Specific” is my favorite. And you are right, it also applies to praise. It’s sort of demoralizing to have all your accomplishments lumped into “thanks for all you do” once a year at a performance review.

    1. Sarah*

      So true! My performance reviews are basically, “You’re doing great.” That’s it. No specifics. Nothing. I don’t think my boss even pays attention to what I do. It’s so de-motivating. It also prevents me from learning anything. I’m sure there are a few areas where I could improve.

    2. KayDay*

      Yes! And when you are new, specific positive feed back is really necessary so you know that what you did was correct!

    3. Anonymous*

      I had one set of management that would call us into a meeting every week or so to say “please follow X procedure we set up not long ago”.

      After the 4th(ish) time in a row I asked them about why they felt they had to keep emphasising this since we believed we were following the procedure in question. No Answer.

      After the next time I asked them where they were aware of us not following procedure as we felt we were and were unaware of failures in this area. No Answer.

      If they’d discussed instances with us where they felt results showed a lack of procedure being used or where expectations were slipping then I would have been happy to have a weekly ish meeting to discuss it. Instead all it did was waste half an hour of my time during which I could have been following those procedures and escalating customers cases according to them.

  7. Jeanne*

    I hate when they throw in some terrible criticism at the end of the year evaluation. It was never mentioned once all year but now it’s a huge problem. And you suspect it was included because without it they’d have to give you a good raise but with it they can say you don’t deserve the raise. I wish they would just be honest.

  8. Vicki*

    Add two:

    #11 – holding on to something that was discussed (and the employee thought was dealt with) months ago and then bringing it back up in the annual review as if it was a continuing problem.

    And my all time favorite, #12 – Making something up. (I had a manager who made things up. They never happened. When I called him on it he said “I need to put _something_ into the “needs improvement” section. And besides, nop one ever reads those things.”

    1. class factotum*

      Ah yes. The self-criticism section. I always felt like I had been arrested by The Party and had to write a confession when I got to the “needs improvement” part, only I didn’t know what my crime was.

      I finally started putting in things like, “I need to improve my technical skills on SAP and plan to take xyz training.”

  9. Kris*

    I recently had my annual review and recieved a meets standards instead of exceeds standards because my supervisor was mad at me for reporting a legal issue to our division director. Like I said it was a legal issue and I had tried to take care of it directly with the supervisor first but I got knocked down because I took care of an issue I was legally obligated to take care of.. yuck.. Don’t know where this would fall in these.

  10. Bonnie*

    #3 We have a manager that is so tactful that there are times when his bad feedback makes staff think they did a good job. I love the kindness he shows but staff can’t fix problems they aren’t told about. Turns out there is such a thing as a manager who is too nice.

  11. S*

    My boss gives zero feedback. He just sticks his head in the sand and avoids everyone. I’ve asked him for feedback, both good and bad. But he seems incapable of thinking through my work and coming up with anything. He avoids all issues big and small and spends most of his time joking with the one person on staff who seems to genuinely like him. It drives me crazy. I’m trying not to become a bitter person, but it’s hard to put your best foot forward day after day when you know that the only person who will ever notice your hard work and dedication is you. So I’ve become a semi-slacker, but that’s so against my personality, it makes me feel rotten.

      1. ChristineH*

        Completely agree. If nothing else, it will be very satisfying when you receive a compliment from a colleague or external contact if you were especially helpful or produced a well-written document (e.g. a report, newsletter article, etc).

  12. ChristineH*

    I’ve had #7 happen to me and it was really humiliating. Even worse, it was over something brought to my supervisor’s attention by my office mate 3-4 MONTHS earlier. No, the office mate didn’t approach me directly and no, I was never told about this relatively minor issue until the performance evaluation.

    1. Esra*

      The exact same thing happened to me at my last performance review. So irritating. The complain was vague at best, so I requested some direction on how I could improve and got nothing. I went back over emails to see where things might have gone wrong, absolutely nothing.

      I think my manager just wanted something bad to say in the review. Because the rest was all “You are great. Super great.” Although I’ve never had a manager look so miserable to say everything is going well.

  13. v*

    I feel like this should be retitled as “the 10 most common ways managers give feedback”

    Also, give feedback when the mistake, or success, is made.

    Manager: We need to have a conversation about your TPS reports
    V: Okay, what’s going on?
    Manager: Supervisor told me that you have been doing them wrong for 3 months.
    V: Oh, I thought I was doing them correctly; this is the first time I’ve heard that there is a problem
    Manager: Well it is very important that they get done correctly
    V: I understand
    Manager: So how can we ensure they get done correctly in the future?
    V: Well I guess someone needs to explain the correct way to do them because I thought I was doing them right all along.

  14. Joe*

    Alison, I’m curious what you think of the feedback sandwich? (For those not familiar with the term, it refers to the practice of always sandwiching critical feedback in between two pieces of positive feedback.) I personally hate it, and I think it detracts from the positive feedback (because then it can feel like the positive is only there because I have to have it to mitigate the negative). Do you like or dislike this practice?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I agree — you end up losing the impact of either the good stuff or the bad stuff or both. If you give enough positive feedback the rest of the time, your employee should be able to deal with hearing something more corrective without having a meltdown.

      On the other hand, anything that gets managers to give feedback is a good thing since not enough of them do it.

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