my employee asked me not to give him any feedback

A reader writes:

I’m a relatively new manager and trying to do my best to tailor my style for each of my team members. This week I asked my team members what they’d like to me to do more/less/differently in our one-on-ones. I got some great feedback from most of my folks, but one has me slightly stumped.

One of the standard things we talk about are work expectations. Our role has very specific levels we expect people to hit at different stages of their development. Management has standard forms for these conversations and a breakdown of meeting expectations, exceeding them, and excelling. For each topic, you have a table of examples at each level and questions to get to what’s going well and isn’t. These are typically less than 5 minutes of a half hour meeting, just a moment for us to pause and consider big picture thoughts.

The problem is – my team member’s feedback was for me to stop talking about them. Specifically, he doesn’t want to discuss expectations or feedback. I tried to probe to find out why he doesn’t like the conversations and explained that we do this so he’ll know how he’s doing, how raises are decided and how/why other conversations happen but he says he just doesn’t like talking about it. I asked if there’s another method he’d prefer – written vs talking, separate meetings for expectations outside of our check-ins, etc. but he just doesn’t like any of it. I said I’d brainstorm and asked him to come up with ways to get the info as well. Obviously I’ll be giving feedback whether he likes it and I’m open to other conversations, but I don’t want to entirely disregard the request.

Have you ever heard something like this? Do you have any other ideas of how I can make sure he understands his expectations and work progress without overtly communicating about it?

Wha?!

It’s pretty outrageous to tell your manager, “Stop giving me feedback. I don’t want to hear it.”

It’s outrageous enough that I’m curious about how he’s doing in his job aside from this, because you don’t normally see something like that from someone who’s excelling and easy to work with. So I suspect you actually have a bigger issue on your hands than just how to respond to this one request and that you might need to look at his performance overall.

But as for his request … no. He doesn’t get to opt out of getting feedback.

You need to frame it for him differently though. You told him that you’re doing it “so he’ll know how he’s doing, how raises are decided and how/why other conversations happen,” but that’s missing a key part of the actual rationale: You give feedback because it’s part of managing his performance; it lets him know where you need him to do something differently, where something might be going off-course, and what you’d like to see more of. That’s a key part of managing anyone, and you’re misleading him by portraying it as just being for his personal benefit. It does have personal benefits to him, of course (the ones you described, plus the assistance in getting better at what he does professionally), but if it’s truly just for his personal benefit, that makes it easier for him to argue that he’d rather opt out. It’s not just for his personal benefit; it’s primarily for yours and the organization’s, and that’s how you need to frame it.

Say this: “I’ve given some thought to your request not to continue to have feedback conversations with me. Feedback is a pretty key way that we manage performance here. It’s how you know where you’re doing well and where we’d like you to focus on doing something differently or better. Feedback is an inherent part of how we operate and what we value, and it’s something we’re committed to doing.”

Frankly, I would also add, “I’m surprised that you don’t want to receive feedback. To excel in this role, we need to have pretty direct conversations about your performance. I’m actually alarmed that you don’t want that, because it points to a fundamental disconnect about how we operate here.”

Also, I’m seeing a theme in your letter that’s pretty common with new managers: You want to be fair and kind, which is great, but you’re not exercising enough judgment in what is and isn’t reasonable. It’s great that you want to adapt your style to fit each team member, and that you want to take input from your staff seriously. But some requests are off-base enough that entertaining them actually sends the wrong message. There are some requests where it’s okay — even necessary — to simply say, “No, we’re not going to do that, because of ___.”

Don’t let your desire to be accommodating make you lose sight of what’s reasonable, and don’t let it lead you to try to accommodate anyone and everything. You can be nice without being a pushover.

{ 314 comments… read them below }

  1. Celeste

    He’s taking the attitude that it isn’t important to him so he’d like to opt out. But, it’s important to the employer so it’s going to happen. Maybe all you can do is offer to get it out of the way first and move on to the rest of stuff you want to cover in your one-on-one meetings.

    1. Laurel Gray

      Or, another option is for the OP to continue on how she has been doing with this ongoing feedback style that works for the rest of her staff and is in line with the company’s goals and if MrOptOut doesn’t like it he can opt out of this job and give his notice.

      1. esra

        Yea, I’m with Laurel Gray here. There were many things I accommodated when I was managing a team, but not wanting to deal with feedback at all would’ve been an instant no-go.

      2. OP

        This was my internal response but I was honestly proud of myself for not saying it during the meeting.

    2. OP

      I always try to do them last so that if there are more pressing topics we’ll have time for those instead but maybe I’ll try moving it to the front so it isn’t floating over his head.

  2. Future Analyst

    I would have had a hard time taking this employee seriously after he said this. One of the biggest complaints many people have about their managers (new and experienced) is that they do not provide enough or useful feedback. But the thought that someone just wouldn’t want ANY is mind-boggling.

    OP, did you get the sense that he simply doesn’t like the way you’re giving feedback? If his communication is unclear, it could be that he said that he doesn’t want any, but meant that he doesn’t want feedback in a specific way. Sometimes, especially for people who struggle with communcation in the moment, it can really be helpful to give them something in writing in advance, and then allow them to address the feedback and ask questions later (could be as simple as emailing him the feedback 30 mins before the meeting).

    Good luck with this!!

    1. AdAgencyChick

      I was going to say — this is such an outrageous request that I wonder whether it’s not a miscommunication. Maybe he’s just responding badly to the standard forms OP is talking about, is not good at communicating “I don’t like this format,” and is simply shutting down and saying “I don’t want to talk about it”?

      I’d definitely try to get to the bottom of this and see whether this guy is really so out of touch that he can’t see the value of any feedback (in which case, frankly, I’d proceed straight to the “This needs to be something we can do if you want to continue working here” conversation), or if he’s simply inarticulate in expressing the fact that this particular kind of feedback doesn’t work for him. (Which the OP may or may not want to accommodate — it’s her prerogative as a manager.)

    2. OP

      I don’t think it’s the way I communicate – I’ve gotten him to open up far more than his previous managers. He just… doesn’t like to. I asked for what would make it easier – written, warning, etc – we discussed how he liked feedback weeks ago and have brought it up several time since.

      1. Celeste

        This is the point where you can no longer care if he likes it or not. It’s happening, and he can get on board or get out. I say since he wouldn’t work with you on accepting it, do it the way that works for you and go forward.

      2. Amy

        If he finds it emotionally distressing, you can refer him to EAP. He may have issues that are way beyond your pay grade (low self-esteem, narcissism, anxiety disorder, etc.)

        1. Cactus

          Yeah, I think this might not be a bad idea. I also hate feedback. When I was in school, I dreaded getting my graded papers/tests returned. I dreaded report cards. Didn’t matter how well I thought I did or how easy the class was, I have been an anxious mess about these things since at least 5th grade and it has translated to work. (Now, of course, I realize that this can’t actually be avoided, and I definitely wouldn’t say what the OP’s employee said. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be wishing for it.)

      3. Artemesia

        Time to stop treating him like your own sweet toddler. And definitely time to watch his productivity very very closely and the quality of his work very very closely. It is reasonable to adapt the style of feedback as you have suggested doing; it is not for him to tell you ‘I don’t want to be managed’ by you, which is what he is doing. You are in fact ‘the boss of him’ and need to make it very clear that not meeting expectations is not an option and that a part of that is assessing how he is doing and asking him to improve.

      4. AMT

        I’m insanely curious about this. Exactly how did he phrase it? Like, what were his actual words? Did he just shut you down when you asked how he wanted to receive feedback? Is it the feedback process that’s the problem (i.e. he doesn’t want to feel like he’s being criticized) or does he genuinely think that he shouldn’t be held to any performance standards?

        1. OP

          The exact wording was something like
          me: did you think about the things you’d like me to do differently that I asked for last week?
          him: I wish we’d stop doing this.
          me: One-on-ones?
          him: just going over feedback and the expectations
          me: is it the way we discuss them or the topics
          him: I just don’t like talking about that stuff
          me: would it be easier if we did them in writing?
          him: I don’t like thinking about it

            1. AMT

              I’m almost thinking a PIP might be appropriate at that point. “I wish we’d stop doing this” is extremely inappropriate.

              1. AndersonDarling

                It would be awful to ask someone their opinion then put them on a PIP because you didn’t like the answer.
                I don’t get the vibe that this was meant to be confrontational. I’m hearing that the employee doesn’t want to be micromanaged. I’m actually hearing it in a quiet, moaning kind of voice.
                The employee isn’t refusing to listen to feedback, or demanding it to stop, they just don’t like doing it.
                After reading the OP’s comments, I’m really thinking that this is being blown out of proportion. The employee doesn’t like doing one on ones. Okay. He needs to do them to comply with company policy. Okay. So the OP keeps doing the one-on-ones and understands that the employee finds them uncomfortable. One day there will be a situation where the employee needs the one-on-ones to work through a difficult situation or a new project and then he will find the value in them.

          1. AdAgencyChick

            WAT.

            Okay, yeah, so much for this being a miscommunication. Good luck, OP. Something tells me this is going to end in your having to fire him.

      5. RandomNameHere

        Why does your giving him feedback entail him “opening up”? That may be why he doesn’t welcome feedback, if you are asking him to discuss it as you give it.

        1. Sadsack

          I also found that confusing. Shouldn’t the employee be doing more listening than talking if he is receiving feedback on his performance? I mean, you’d expect some conversation and for him to share is reasons for doings things when asked about them, but mostly, shouldn’t it be more of the OP explaining to the employee what he wants him to do more or less of?

          1. OP

            He fills in how he thinks he’s doing with topics meant to open up the thoughts. I say where I think he is and what should be worked on to excel. If there’s anything that’s a problem I would talk about that before these generic topics or when it comes up

            1. OP

              Sorry, I should have explained “what should be worked on” – I mean, “you’re doing this really well, if you want to hit the next level then you could try rolling that process out to a larger group”

      6. Stranger than fiction

        Op, did his last manager let him get away with this? Not that it matters now, since you want to do things right, just curious

        1. Person

          I do not like being asked to open up. I hate it. It’s very demeaning to us introverts. It makes me feel like you think I’m a child and you’re going to fix me because I’m private. I’m great with objectives and taking feedback, truly appreciate the opportunities to grow and refine myself, but as soon as someone in a position of authority wants me to ‘open up’ or ‘come out of my shell’ that’s a big can of Nope.

          1. nona

            I’m not super introverted, but I agree on “come out of your shell.” I’m not in a shell! :)

            I think being asked to open up, though, is being asked to be honest.

          2. fposte

            I think the OP’s not using that term the way you’re interpreting it, though. It sounds like she’s talking about getting him to communicate on work matters and discuss his challenges. And that, of course, is something introverts have to do in the workplace same as anybody else.

          3. OP

            I’m an introvert as well, I’m not asking for hopes/dreams. It’s more like
            me: how did the X project go?
            him: okay
            me: what happened with Y (massive problem that he complained about in a large meeting)
            him: *shrug*

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I feel like I’m all over this thread asking you this, but I haven’t seen you address it yet: Why aren’t you moving toward replacing him?

              1. OP

                My current (and his previous) managers feel that since he has all of the other skills needed that I should be coaching on the communication issues. They want to give more time to see if that feedback (you have to tell me if something goes wrong) sinks in before we talk about further action.

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Aha. Okay, there’s your issue. Have you told them explicitly that he is flat-out requesting no feedback, refusing to engage, and shrugging when you try to elicit responses from him?

                  “Coaching on communication issues” can be “this isn’t optional, here’s why we do it, I need you to participate, it’s a requirement of the job, and here’s what that should look like from you.” Seriously — that’s not mean. You’re at the point where it’s actually meaner to not be direct with him in that way. He needs to know how outrageous this is. Otherwise he’s eventually going to lose his job over it (if your managers have any sense), and/or he’ll try it at his next job and get fired quickly over it.

                2. fposte

                  On the one hand, I think ultimately this is a math question. 1: How much time do you think it will take you to coach him to the necessary communication level? 2: What level of employee do you think he’ll be at that point? 3: How much time would it take for you to find a new employee who’s already at that level or higher? Is 3 more than 1?

                  On the other, I manage students and I feel a little for somebody who’s only 8 months into his first real job and is having difficulty getting the hang of it. Has he been told specifically what good communication is at this office? Not just that he’s not doing it and that he needs to be better, but that you expect at least a full sentence and context when you ask a question? If not, time to do that now. If yes, have you asked why he’s not performing according to your direction? (And if so, what does he say? “I don’t know” suggests he’s not likely to improve.)

                3. AW

                  My Theory: This boy put the roots on them and that’s why they don’t want to fire him.

                  Allison had a thread recently about surprising things on this site and my new one is people somehow not getting fired when anyone else would have been let go a long time ago.

                4. Not So NewReader

                  @AW- yeah, really. I would have been canned awhile ago. I cannot picture a workplace where you could say “no, thanks”, to an eval/review and still keep a job.

                  I was lucky. I had no idea what to expect in a workplace. One of the first jobs I had the boss asked if I had ever had any kind of a review and what did I know about reviews. I intuitively knew to let him say what he was going to say.
                  1) Everyone gets one. NO exceptions.
                  2) It’s to develop the employee and grow the company.
                  3) We will be discussing my productivity. (not optional) If changes are necessary those will be noted and my progress on those changes will be discussed at the next review.
                  4) There maybe updates to discuss.
                  5) I was told that I could ask questions/clarification as we go along. Not participating (i.e. not being interactive) was not an option. I had to participate in the conversation. Failure to participate in the conversation would result in further review of that particular problem, left untended, failure to participate could result in dismissal.

                  He said more- but this gives you the general idea. Since the conversation started this way, I thought the review would not go well. I mean, that does sound like a sledge hammer method for approaching something that is supposed to be a conversation. It went fine- we chatted back and forth and all went well.
                  What I liked about this explanation was I knew BEFORE the conversation started what was expected from me. (Don’t give me critical information on a process AFTER the process is done. That is useless to me.) Although strongly worded, it did set the tone of “hey, this is serious, follow along here.” I had to thank the boss for that. I don’t think it was easy for him to do. I think he felt he was saying things that were out of character for him to say.

            2. A Non

              Oof, yeah. That’s not being reserved, that’s failing to communicate. Answering questions is a job requirement.

            3. AndersonDarling

              Playing devil’s advocate: OP, could the employee sit in during other one-on-one sessions to understand what kind of communication is shared? I keep reading the comments and wondering if he even knows what he is supposed to do during these sessions. He may have the totally wrong impression.

          4. Cactus

            I’m glad the OP said he/she isn’t doing this, but I have to agree with you here. I am also super-introverted, and got that treatment all the time as a kid…and then a similarly totally-introverted person at a previous job was actually subject to our boss (who was terrible for many reasons) patting a seat next to her and forcing the introverted co-worker to sit by her during meetings. As though she were a toddler or a puppy. It was so weird and uncomfortable.

          5. KS

            “It’s very demeaning to us introverts.” I’m an introvert, and I know I don’t get to sit there like a bump on a log in a one on one. It’s a discussion. If a manager is just talking at you, that’s what I’d call demeaning and indicating that they don’t care what you think. That would be more micromanaging to me than a scenario where you get to have a say in your own job.

      7. fposte

        Though now I’m curious about the previous managers, plural, since he’s only been there eight months. Is he being handed off?

        1. OP

          I became a manager so they gave me several of the newest people (that’s typically how we handle it). His previous manager had the same issues but just let the meetings end at 5 minutes and the employee came to me with a pretty… loose interpretation of our requirements.

          1. AdAgencyChick

            UGH, it’s always worse when a previous manager refused to, well, be a manager.

            I’d get your own boss in the loop about what’s happening, so you have her full support in the likely event that you need to fire him.

            And then I think you take the steps Alison has suggested, augmented by any good advice you get from your own boss (she may have some good company-specific ideas about what you need to do re: a formal PIP, etc.) and with a very clear statement of “If you aren’t willing to receive constructive feedback, you can’t continue working here.”

            If you get pushback of “well, it was fine with Old Boss!” that’s when the support of your own manager is critical. That’s when you can say, “Old Boss may have been okay with that, but it’s not okay any more. Big Boss is with me on this, and this is what you need to do in order to move forward.” If you think the employee might turn combative, it may help to have your boss in the room for this conversation.

            Again, I wish you good luck, OP! I’ve had to fire someone who didn’t take constructive criticism well, and it wasn’t pretty. Fortunately, my boss had my back and we got it done, but oh boy was it not a fun process.

            1. Not So NewReader

              You can add that almost any place he works he will be expected to deal with feedback in a professional manner.

          2. AW

            let the meetings end at 5 minutes

            OMG, WTF

            I have a feeling that I’m going to want to say that a lot as I read the comments here. Pretend this applies to any comment where you give more detail on what’s going on because…this is ridiculous.

          3. Not So NewReader

            That sucks that you have to clean up another boss’ mess. Well, I know first hand it can be done. You will get through this. The hardest part is finding your own voice, such as hearing yourself say, “This is mandatory. It’s a requirement that is necessary for you to do in order for you to keep your job.”
            It’s rough the first time you say that. It gets easier. Especially when you start thinking about, your job is to make sure they are doing their jobs. The way I framed this that helped me went something like this: “Which is worse? Telling an employee that they have to beef up x or y, or letting the employee do whatever and then they get fired for it?”
            Of the two, the thought that someone could get fired because I did not guide them in the requirements of their job was enough to make me speak right up. They can chose not to listen to me, if they wish. That is on them, not on me.

      8. Erin

        It may be his satisfaction levels. I once was at a job that I hated so much, but felt stuck at, and I was not interested at ALL in my own development, including receiving feedback. One on ones were just another shitty chore in a terrible job, you know? Why did I care about improving myself when I hated my job so much? (Granted, I was young, and it was a shitty, defeatist attitude to have.)

        Does he seem otherwise happy in his job? OR could it maybe be a fear of feedback? Even years later, liking (for the most part) my job and wanting to advance my career, my stomach still knots if my boss calls me into his office. I’ve never quite gotten over that “sent to the principal’s office” feeling.

        1. OP

          At his six month review he said he loved the job and loved our company. Seems to genuinely like the work he’s doing, especially when I can give him the projects he’s inclined towards (there are fewer of these so it can’t be the only work he has). He just hates communicating, in any form.

          1. Erin

            Huh. In that case, I think he’s gonna have to suck it up. I get being introverted, but feedback is a requirement for all jobs. He can’t just continue to accept new projects without ever hearing feedback.

          2. Chriama

            I suspect he just doesn’t understand it. I was tutoring someone in English, and it wasn’t that he couldn’t recognize good writing, just that he couldn’t reproduce it. I bet he “hates communicating” because he’s not sure what to say. Open-ended questions like “what did you think of x aspect of the project” are miserable for him.

            I feel a lot of sympathy for this guy because I feel like I’m hearing a lot of condemnation for the commenters who are ascribing his actions to deliberate antagonism instead of inexperience and uncertainty. And as someone who’s less than a year into his first job, that’s a very uncharitable interpretation.

            Overall, I would say that this is as much your failure (and that of his previous managers) than it is his.
            So what would I recommend going forward?

            1) Explain that feedback is nom-optional going forward, for the reasons Alison mentioned above. It’s how you make sure that you’re on the same page about expectations and performance, and that the work he’s doing is contributing to the company’s bigger picture strategic direction. It’s valuable for him, but also necessary for the company.

            2) Get better at prompting him. Instead of asking general open-ended questions, get specific. “How did you find the project” becomes “do you think the finished product met the project specifications? Were there any changes in scope? Did it go over budget? What caused those overruns? How will you plan for them in your next project?” And suggest some answers for him in the beginning, until he gets the hang of it. E.g. if there were scope overruns and he doesn’t know how to plan for that, give him suggestions for implementing a formal change managemanagement process or scheduling checkpoints with key client contacts at regular intervals.

            To me, it sounds like you’ve got a typical ‘technical’ guy on your hands who thinks that as long as he does the calculations (or writes the code, whatever) asked of him, he’s doing q good job. I doubt school taught him any ‘soft’ skills, but if you’re going to be hiring new grads then you need to acknowledge that you’ll be responsible for a lot of that personal developmen. And if his technical skills are good, then I think it’s hasty to label him as someone who “hates communicating” or start drafting a PIP or posting his job description. As his manager, it’s your job to help him grow in his position and it’s doing you both a disservice to write him off like that.

      9. Vicki

        “I’ve gotten him to open up far more than his previous managers.”

        I think it’s time to close a door, tell him he can speak freely, don;t take notes, and ask what he disliked about those previous managers.

        I’m betting you will learn that they used “feedback” as a club, didn’t understand what the employee did, tried to micromanage him, fed him so-called “feedback sandwiches” until he choked, and believe criticism was good for you.

        I’ve been in the situation where I did NOT want “feedback” and it’s always been because I had stopped trusting managers to be rational.

        1. Snoskred

          I’ve got to agree with Vicki here, but for slightly different reasons..

          I found myself in a similar situation with a manager who came from the bottled drinks industry. Our call centre dealt with slightly more important things than drinks delivery. She had no idea what I did at work, she did not care to learn what I did at work, even though I offered to let her sit with me she always refused to do it, and so all of a sudden, here is someone who has no idea how to do my job listening to my calls and making “judgments” on them.

          I was deeply offended by this concept and the hilarious thing is, any feedback she gave me was totally from outer space and not in any way useful. I told her that I wanted to receive feedback from fellow operators instead of from her.

          I’ll give you one specific example – when someone gave us a street or suburb name, we were meant to spell it out to the caller to double check we had it right. The manager told me I was wasting time doing this and I should just “assume” the correct spelling. Little did she know, a couple of months before she arrived, all staff had been retrained to spell things out and check the correct spelling – and this direction came from the CEO.

          The CEO did regular one on ones with us and I mentioned this feedback. The CEO asked me to provide the feedback I had been given. Said CEO still took calls when things got busy and they agreed with me that the feedback was ridiculous and laughable and went against everything we had been taught.

          We talked about what would be a better way to handle it. I said I deeply respect my fellow colleagues who have all been doing this same job that I do and any feedback on calls should come from senior staff who actually do the job they are feeding back on, instead of someone who has never done this job. So a week or so later a new system was introduced so feedback came from colleagues rather than from that – very clueless – manager.

          When a manager is flat out determined not to learn anything about the job roles of the people they are managing, claiming “it does not matter what the staff are doing because all management is the same regardless of industry” – that was a sign to me from the get-go that this manager would not work out long term. It took work a little longer to figure that out and when they did, this manager was shuffled sideways into a role that had no staff to manage at all. But not before she had lost multiple clients for the company, plus several long term staff – including myself – left as a result of her “efforts”.

          1. Snoskred

            All that to say, it is possible one of his previous managers was another such clueless manager, and in the past the feedback they received was idiotic and laughable. :)

        2. Anonymous Coward

          I held a long-term temp position that ended up not becoming permanent (the original goal of the placement). Honestly, when the HR manager (who was really an engineer who had to take on HR duties on top of technical work) told me that they would be letting me go in [X] days, I was relieved (and kind of annoyed that she spun the conversation out for as long as she did before getting to the point). When she asked me if I wanted to receive feedback about their reasons, I just said, “No, thanks.” or “That’s okay.” She was unsettled… but I didn’t really see the point! I knew I wouldn’t have the opportunity to change anyone’s mind, and I just wanted out.

        3. OP

          His old manager was also my old manager and really he’s very good with people who have specific issues and will fix them. He’s great with high performers (finding new things for them, arranging different work, etc) but I think the employee was intimidated by him so just didn’t admit to any issues/questions.

          If it helps in the feedback – our company only hires entry level and everyone who becomes management comes there from that entry level position. We don’t consider management to be a promotion (it’s just a different workload) and very few people are offered it. As a general rule you have to excel in your role and other management that you work with have to agree you’ll do well. It’s not even something we talk about as a career growth option because most people in the company won’t have the option.

  3. 1 2 3 6 11 23 47 106 235

    Yeah, that’s a rather odd response. Not sure what the job is, but if the employee is doing any kind of STEM work, they should be fully aware of the value of feedback.

    Purely a guess: is the employee young and / or perhaps from a different culture? I can’t / won’t point to anything specific, but some people are raised with values that are somewhat different than mainstream America.

      1. Karowen

        Thank you. Trying to find a pattern was going to drive me crazy (and because I don’t know what you said I never would’ve found it!)

        1. Mike C.

          Dirty secret: I just threw the sequence into Google and got the reference number in OEIS pretty quickly. :)

  4. Boo

    I would guess that this employee has some anxiety issues about performance appraisals (I hate them, as I had way too many managers who’d save up stuff I’d done wrong for my appraisal six months later and then give me an earbashing) but this since this employee hasn’t been backwards in coming forwards in his desire to skip this part of job, and he’s not willing to compromise or help you come up with alternative ways of giving him feedback (like I request rolling feedback and regular meetings with my current managers, so nothing in the official appraisal will be an unpleasant surprise), it sounds like he either doesn’t care about his performance, or doesn’t care what you think about it. Both of these are huge red flags. It’s easier said than done, but you’re going to have to take a very firm line with him. Feedback is not optional, he must receive it and he must take it on board.

    1. BethRA

      This was my initial thought as well – according to OP, he said he “doesn’t like talking about it” which to me sounds like there may be some anxiety involved.

      Doesn’t mean he gets to opt out, but rational or not, some people just find those situations really stressful.

    2. Mephyle

      It could be due to past traumatic experiences with a bad boss/bad workplace. He may be stuck on the idea of feedback necessarily being a certain specific anxiety-inducing experience of a certain type or a certain format, or his past experiences (or anxiety from other causes) may extend that to all feedback.
      It would be expecting too much for you to be like a workplace therapist, but if you can find out without excessive effort if there are certain things (format, key words, etc.) to avoid with him, and these things are readily avoidable, it might help for getting him on board.

      1. Mimi

        I was thinking he may operate this way in his personal life (refusing to talk about it, “I wish we could stop doing this”) and doesn’t understand that he can’t do the same thing at work. Maybe general emotional immaturity going on here.

        1. Erin

          Maybe some lack of knowing how to discuss things well, too. (Which could count as emotional immaturity, I guess.) I grew up with parents who fought all the time; as a result, when a conversation gets heated, I shut it down. “I’m just going to stop talking about this right now.” It’s the only way I can try to later discuss something reasonably and rationally, because I didn’t grow up learning how to do anything but scream at someone (and I don’t want to scream).

    3. sam

      This was my thought as well. I get pretty good feedback from my boss/superiors, but I still have what is probably an unreasonable amount of anxiety leading up to performance reviews. It actually helps me to have regular 1:1s, because it takes some of the buildup out of the 6-month reviews (my boss doesn’t hold things back for the sake of springing things on me at mid-year!), but still – I really, really dread them.

      But I’d never ask to not get feedback – it’s part of the performance evaluation structure at our Company, if nothing else – it’s not optional.

  5. Helka

    Wow. That’s pretty unbelievable of him – how on earth did he honestly think he could just opt out of having management tell him how he’s doing?

    I want to be sympathetic. I went through a period of pretty fierce depression, which was hell on wheels for me personally, did terrible things to my work output, and made it very hard for me to take criticism. But I wouldn’t have dreamed of telling my boss not to give me feedback! Even at my worst, I recognized that my difficulty with taking criticism was my problem to manage, not something my boss had to tiptoe around!

    As for your employee, I’d be really curious about whether he can give you a good, coherent reason why he just doesn’t want to receive feedback. And really, you shouldn’t be brainstorming here — it’s honestly not your job to coddle him that much. If he can’t take hearing feedback via any of the fairly reasonable methods out there, then I think it’s up to him to give you a workable alternative — and ‘workable’ should be in your estimation, not just his.

  6. C Average

    I have so many questions about this! Like, how is feedback normally delivered? And how is he framing up this request?

    Is it coming from a place of “I really hate these sessions because it’s hard to hear myself critiqued” or from a place of “I’m already doing everything I’m supposed to do and everyone says I’m great, so why do we have to go through this pointless routine week after week?”

    I’ve worked in a few places where feedback delivery was this super-regimented process with forms and checklists, and it really did feel like an awful, time-sucking charade, especially when I was doing a good job by all measurable metrics and the feedback session was just a line-by-line way for my manager to say “good job” and take a half-hour to do so. Looking back, I realize it was an effort at the corporate level to ensure that every employee was being graded “fairly” and that some of my less conscientious colleagues probably did get actionable feedback out of these sessions. I never verbally objected to these meetings, but boy did I want to!

    If we’re talking thoughtful, individual, actionable feedback, though, I really want to know why he’d want to opt out. Is it a matter of ego, do you think? Or maybe just a failure to understand that this is how, you know, being managed works? (I’d wonder about this if he was particularly young or inexperienced and had never gotten routine feedback as part of a job.)

    1. Alex

      This is an interesting comment and helps me to see it from the employee’s side a little (not that there is any situation where his request should ever have been verbalized). Another thing to add – if you’re providing feedback on a scheduled basis, I’d be willing to bet you’re providing “things to improve” upon every time as well. This can be really draining on some people. Not that is should really make a difference on how you manage, but maybe observe if your reports are the type to take everything you ask of them as urgent actionable items, and if you’re noticing the “to be improved upon” items are being addressed from week to week. If so, maybe the report is just getting exhausted of feeling like they’re doing everything right each week but constantly being told they’re still getting things wrong?

      I know that I have some maturing to do in this regard, but this is just my two cents. I was the top performer by a long shot at a previous job, but the manager always felt the need to have something for me to improve on, and like C Average suggests, it came down to personality style critiques and judgments (Ex. You’re doing so great in your job metrics, you’re making strides above and beyond with xyz, but for something to improve on, I’d like you to try and engage in more small talk while you work on fixing things). I dreaded the feedback reviews because sometimes I’d really just want to hear a (deserved) “Great job! Keep on keepin’ on!”.

      1. Manders

        This is something I hadn’t even considered when I read the letter, but it could indeed be what’s happening. Managers who do this think they’re helping their employees to constantly think about improvement, but to the employee, it can feel like the goalposts are constantly being moved.

        Is this employee already performing at a high level, or does he need this feedback to get his performance up to the department’s standard?

      2. Shortie

        Alex, this was my first thought as well…that the weekly to-be-improved list could be getting to the employee. Obviously, I don’t know the OP’s situation, so can only respond from my own, but at my workplace, we are completely overloaded with work, have been downsized multiple times, and people are working as furiously and as well as they can but still failing. Hearing that we are doing a great job and thank you for meeting those 26 deadlines last week is a lot more motivating than thanks for everything you’re doing, but you missed 2 deadlines. We already know we missed 2 deadlines, thanks.

        Also, depending on the improvement needed, sometimes an employee may want a few months to work on it independently without feeling like they constantly have to talk about it. So, along with other posters, I wonder whether it’s the format as opposed to the feedback itself.

        1. Elizabeth West

          Agreed–how you frame it really does make a difference. In your situation, if you have 28 deadlines and you met 26, that’s fan-f*cking-tastic. They should be buying you doughnuts.

    2. OP

      We have similar cultural backgrounds though I’m about 10 years older. It’s his first real job and he’s been with the company for about 8 months and is an average performer with some obvious areas from coaching. His previous manager and I have both been working on communication. He has most of the inherent skills for the job but often doesn’t do as well as he could because he won’t talk to people (takes a long time to get things done, doesn’t let me know when things have gone wrong right away, etc.). I imagine there’s a level of social anxiety and I think part of the desire to avoid feedback is thinking he’s going to get in trouble. I work in software so awkwardness is normal but this is hitting a level that makes basic management difficult. I worry that entirely ignoring the request will make it even harder to get feedback later on.

      FWIW – his other request was “I don’t like when you ask me where I am in projects but I guess you have to”. For that one I basically said “yep, that’s not changing.”

      1. Amy

        Or he could be somewhere on the autism spectrum, in which case he doesn’t get why communication would be necessary. But if it’s not obvious, then he can probably learn to get along with the rules of the workplace.

        1. Laurel Gray

          Obvious or not, whatever is going on in the employee’s mental state is actually not the employer’s responsibility particularly if the employee never disclosed. The employee just has a style that is unacceptable, they haven’t provided any real context where a reasonable manager should have to spend additional time accommodating them.

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        Have you considered that he’s not the right person for the job and that you could replace him with someone far better?

        What I’m hearing from your letter and follow-up comments is a sense that this is just who you’re stuck with and you’re trying to figure out how to make it work. But you’re not stuck with him, and in fact part of your role is to assess whether you have the right people in place or need to make changes. It sounds like you need to have a clear conversation with him about what you need from him, what is and isn’t realistic for him to expect from you, and the fact that you need him to be meeting a particular bar for performance and behavior in order to remain in the role.

        1. Laurel Gray

          Good advice here. I feel like this employee is someone who as a newbie in the workforce has been catered to. New manager and old manager have both been working on communication with him. That’s a red flag. I don’t think it is a manager’s job to hand hold with these types of things. I think the expectations should be set and then met by him. This seems like a great example of “bad fit”.

      3. Shortie

        Ah, okay, then I don’t think my comment above really fits. Sounds like he has difficulty communicating more than anything. For what it’s worth, I am not a great oral communicator and also hate that “where are you in the project” question. :-) I know my boss has to ask it, but we have very different approaches to tackling projects, so it always ends up with me trying unsuccessfully to explain the reason for my approach. Email saves me here because I can proactively send my reasoning instead of having to try to explain it on the spot. Interesting that your employee doesn’t even want to do it via email!

        That said, for smaller projects, progress reporting (whether by meeting or email) can be a waste of time that is better spent actually working on the project. Depends on the project and how good the employee is.

        Good luck! I thought Alison gave good advice here, as usual!

      4. Meg Murry

        Could you teach him to make status update documents instead? I’m the kind of person who thinks better in written communication rather than verbal, and in graphs rather than words, so what if you asked him to prepare an update on his projects before each 1-on-1, or at the end of each week and then the meeting can be about you going over his status updates rather than you just firing questions at him? You could either do something Gannt chart style, or list style with: what has been accomplished, what is in progress, what are the challenges/concerns/unexpected results/roadblocks and what is the plan for next week.

        Is part of the problem with him being in software that he gets in a “zone” when working and resents having to pull out of it for your 1-on-1 meetings?

        1. Cassie

          My boss is pretty hands-off, but the times he asks me the status of tasks does irk me a little bit from time to time (maybe because he doesn’t ask about major projects, but about small, non-urgent tasks?). I wish I could get him to use something like Trello which I’ve just started playing around to keep track of my own tasks. That way, he can go look there to see what the status is and we don’t have to email back and forth.

      5. Laurel Gray

        OP, I been reading your other replies to as you provide context and I think you have been doing what you should and even more to accommodate this employee. You sound like a reasonable manager. I think much of this has to do with this employee’s fit. Eight months into his first job and he’s looking to negotiate non-negotiables. Maybe a straightforward conversation about expectations from you and then possible a PIP are in order now…and if that doesn’t lead to improvement, termination as Alison suggested above.

        1. C Average

          This. You seem like an eminently reasonable person who’s made a sincere effort to work with this guy’s idiosyncrasies. Sometimes work involves things people would rather not do. That’s why we have to be incentivized with money and perks to keep on showing up and performing even when it’s not awesome. Snowflake needs to learn to suck it up.

      6. Nobody

        Wow… This is all so puzzling! I have one coworker I can imagine doing something like this, but he is an old-timer whose knowledge is well-respected. He is a bit resentful/disrespectful of the younger managers and sometimes has an attitude of, “Who cares what you think? I’ve been working here for longer than you’ve been alive.” (He doesn’t explicitly say this, at least not to the managers’ faces, but it comes across in his attitude.) I am really surprised that someone at the beginning of his career would act this way, especially someone who claims to love the job and otherwise has a good attitude.

        I think you would be doing him a huge favor to have this discussion with him and be very firm about how feedback is an important and required part of any job, and if he wants to stay employed, he’s going to have to get used to it.

  7. KT

    I don’t mean this disrespectfully , but is there perhaps a gender or cultural issue at play?

    I was managing one employee who said something similar, but more pointedly hinted that he wouldn’t take feedback from ME. When he was pressed by my manager, he admitted he thought it was inappropriate that he had to get feedback from a woman. Obviously that’s not okay, but he was a recent immigrant from a very male-dominant culture, and the idea of a woman critiquing his performance was utterly bizarre to him.

    It still has to be addressed very directly, but might shed some different perspective on the situation.

    1. Cordelia Naismith

      Uh, wow. How did that play out, if I may ask? Did he get used to the idea of having a female manager?

      1. KT

        It did work out, but it did take a few talks and some time. After I made no headway, my manager had a fireball of truth meeting with him, where he explained that I was his manager, he reported to me, took feedback from me, and his salary/bonus was dependent on me. My manager told him if he couldn’t handle that, he would have to look for another job.

        The employee tried once or twice to go around me to go to my manager for feedback or approval on projects, in which my boss would say “remember that conversation we had? You report to KT” and would send him shamed back to me :)

        That was last year, and now he’s doing much better. He is a very good employee, and while he does still seem slightly uncomfortable taking direction from women, he does listen to the feedback I give, incorporate it appropriately, and has been perfectly respectful to me ever since.

        1. Cordelia Naismith

          Interesting. It’s really good you had support from your manager. I’m glad it’s working out.

    2. OP

      I mentioned above but we have a similar cultural background and I’ve actually gotten him to open up far more than his previous (male) boss.

  8. Mike C.

    I’m simply baffled by this employee. Maybe I’m weird, but I work for a paycheck – a paycheck which hopefully grows over time. A necessary (but not always sufficient) requirement for this to happen is to keep your boss happy. Having one’s boss tell you directly what you can do to make them more happy is incredibly helpful.

    What in the hell is going on here?

    1. LBK

      Seriously…I can’t even envision ever saying something like that to my manager. And I can’t envision not wanting to know how I was doing at my job. Mind boggling.

    2. NickelandDime

      I’m waiting for the OP to come back and fill in the blanks too. I can’t imagine a top-notch performer saying something like this. Most people WANT honesty on how they’re doing at work. Those that don’t…there’s a reason why. And it isn’t a good reason.

    3. Adam

      While it would suck for the OP’s report, best case scenario is he has some anxiety around evaluations.

      All other possibilities I can think of don’t reflect well on him at all ranging from early career stumbling (young and inexperienced) to straight up disrespectful (one foot out the door and don’t care anymore, no respect for manager, etc.).

    4. Joey

      I could see it if:

      1. the feedback isn’t useful.
      2. He has little respect for his manager.
      3. The feedback is given out of context. For example problems are always mountains and the good stuff is always made into molehills.

      1. Laurel Gray

        I agree with 1 and 3 but I have a question about number 2. If he has little respect for his manager, doesn’t he still have to suck it up and do what is asked of him? Doesn’t a paycheck and ability to pay his bills far outweigh a possible lack of respect for his direct manager? I’ve had managers I didn’t really care for and I did the work and stayed out their way as little as possible. I had basic professional respect for them and I definitely wasn’t making waves with issues like this.

    5. OP

      I think that’s what bothers me most – I’m the kind of person who always wants to hear what I could do better and what I should be working on. I’ve had jobs where it was constantly nebulous and I love that our company, especially my role, focuses intensely on feedback.

      1. JanetInSC

        I would just tell him, “Sorry, John, that’s part of the job.” None of us like every aspect of our jobs. That’s life.

    6. Not So NewReader

      It’s his first job. He’s been at it eight months.

      I don’t think anyone has told him this is not going to go away– in terms that HE understands.
      His answer to all OP’s questions is, “Well you can’t tailor it to fit me, therefore you must stop doing these feedbacks.” Because OP keeps asking about this or that, he feels he has options and one of the options is to decline any feedback.

      There are some people that you cannot make them feel comfy, this is called giving an inch. What happens next is they take a mile. Sometimes you just have to be instructive. “Okay, now we are going to do X. In order to be considered as participating successfully, you must do a, b and c. We are going to do this right now.” Leave them no time to think about it.

  9. Big Toast

    I don’t find this all that crazy. While I prefer good communication on task instructions, and expectations, feedback is another matter. I have ignored my previous three appraisals and simply signed them off. I have been told verbally I do a good job, and I know I am valued at my job. But, some of these appraisals and feedback sessions become about personality quirks and working styles. I have a lot of experience. So, being and working this way has helped me succeed. I am not going to change. A manager can bring these issues up. But, it’s a waste of time.

    1. fposte

      Being told verbally you’re doing a good job *is* feedback, though.

      But overall, if you’re committed to never changing, no matter how your job wants you to be, that would be important information to me, even if it meant you couldn’t stay employed here.

    2. MK

      It isn’t a waste of time for the majority of people, who cannot afford to say to their boss “this is who I am, take it or leave it”. If you are in a position to do that and stay employed, good for you. But, it might also be not a waste of time for your manager, because then they will be able to say “I gave Big Toast feedback on matters X and Z repeatedly and seen no improvement, that’s why they were fired/not promoted/first to be laid off”.

    3. TCO

      I think it’s important, actually, to have those conversations about “personality quirks and working styles” with your boss. I always do my best to know and accommodate my bosses’ preferences even if I don’t agree with them. It’s true that a self-aware boss will own up to these being their personal quirks and accept respectful pushback when they’re really ridiculous. But usually there’s no harm done by trying to meet them halfway. Keeping your boss happy is really important.

      As an example, I had a boss who hated it when a paragraph only had one word on the last line–she’d rather have that “overhang” be at least two words long. Important? No. Quirky? Yes. But it wasn’t hard to get in the habit of making the last line longer when I was working on any document that was really important to her. If it takes little to no effort for me to listen and respond to that “personality and working style” feedback, why try to so hard avoid it by completely ignoring performance reviews? (Not that this particular preference ever rose to the level of being mentioned in anything as significant as a performance review.)

      1. Laurel Gray

        I had a boss who hated post-it notes. The whole office used them. They are great for reminders or notes to yourself or to coworkers without always sending emails, phone calls or bothering on messaging. Anyway, I complied and got a notebook and notepad and started keeping track of things like that. Ya know, gotta pick your battles and why annoy your boss with something so trivial. When she gave her notice I ordered the Post-it family pack and handed them out like like bumper stickers at an election rally the day after her last day.

    4. Observer

      The others have made good points. In addition, it’s one thing to ignore feedback that you have solid reason to believe is irrelevant. It’s another, altogether, to try to opt out of any sort of feedback.

    5. AW

      Unfortunately, the OP has said (it was after you left this comment I think) that this guy’s refusal to communicate IS related to task instructions and expectations. The exact example they gave was them asking what happened with [big problem] and the guy just shrugging.

      SHRUGGING

      If I tried that they’d* throw me out so fast my ass would leave skid marks on the pavement.

      *They = any employer I have ever had

  10. LBK

    How does he react to on-the-spot feedback or discussions on how to do things? Like, if he’s not sure about something and comes to you with a question, does directing him on how to do it go over fine? Or if you notice an error or have a concern and bring it up in the moment, is he fine with that? I’d really want to know that because if on-the-spot corrections are fine, maybe it’s the format that’s the issue…but I don’t know what format you could use to have longer term performance conversations other than sitting down and talking about it. If he just doesn’t react well to any feedback at all, then that’s a completely different issue.

    1. OP

      He typically handles feedback well in person – accepts responsibility and works at it. Well, all feedback except trying to get better communication but since that’s more of a personality trait than a knowledge/skills issue it’s obviously taking more time.

      1. Mephyle

        This suggests that he has a fixed idea of what “feedback” is. The good news is that you can continue shaping his performance via in-person interactions. It is not the worst-case scenario of being unable to direct and manage his performance at all.

      2. Laurel Gray

        Communication is a skill that is important in him being a good employee. If it wasn’t you wouldn’t have wrote to AAM. Fixing the copier is a skill that every employee doesn’t need to possess and it is good if they do but I think good communication is a reasonable expectation of an employee working a job that requires these kinds of meetings.

      3. Ultraviolet

        Have you spelled out for him explicitly that good communication is a job skill and his struggles with it prevent him from being good at his job? You mentioned that this is his first real job, so maybe he truly doesn’t appreciate yet that “soft skills” are as critical as his technical software skills. If that’s the case, then maybe feedback about soft skills like communication feels unnecessary and even overly personal to him. It might help if you tell him directly that this is part of his job performance and he’ll never be a good performer and contributor if he doesn’t improve, and that’s why it’s part of the feedback his manager gives him.

        (And yes, he should already know these things, but I think that trying to teach him with a direct conversation 8 months into his first real job is at least as reasonable an option as teaching him with a pink slip.)

  11. Katie the Fed

    Oh man. Look, nobody likes to summoned for a 1-on-1 with the boss. I get that. I know some of my employees get nervous. Hell, I get nervous when it’s time for my annual review. But, we still do it.

    So yeah – this isn’t optional. Maybe more frequent discussions would lesson the painfulness of the more formal ones, but it’s not on you to make him more comfortable with receiving feedback. That’s just not an acceptable request.

    I know you’re trying to moderate your style for everyone, but when you’re new to leadership it can be hard to strike the right balance. You actually don’t have to take everything under advisement – there is some stuff you can shut down right there. To give you an example, my very first day being a supervisor I had someone tell me that she didn’t take well to being managed and we’d get along best if I just let her do what she want. I totally did get flustered because I never expected someone to actually say that, but I just said “no, that’s not my style and that’s not going to be possible. If you need a work environment like that you’re going to have to look elsewhere.” Some things you HAVE to shut down immediately.

    1. Laurel Gray

      WOW – to even say “I don’t take well to being managed” to a manager seems like it would do permanent damage to the manager-employee relationship. It’s interesting to know that some people can get to a comfort level in their roles where they almost seem delusional about realities and workplace norms. Telling a manager to not manage you and let you do your thing, or in the OP’s case her employee declining feedback is delusion wrapped entitlement steak.

      1. Katie the Fed

        The thing is – I already knew this person well, so none of this actually surprised me. Well, no, it did surprise me that she actually said it out loud. She’s one of those people you need to frequently ask “did you actually just listen to the words that came out of your mouth?”

        She actually moved on within a couple months, because as I mentioned – I wasn’t going to let her do whatever she wanted. She actually had worked with several managers who didn’t really manage her because she just wore them down. And she’s smart and capable so a lot of people just let her run roughshod over everything.

        1. AW

          She actually had worked with several managers who didn’t really manage her

          I hate the fact that every time someone’s asked “How/Why did they think they could get away with that?” in this thread the answer has been, “Because they did get away with it with someone else.”

          I actually shouldn’t be surprised by it though. I used to haunt the CustomersSuck forums and it seemed like half the horror stories involved “Spineless Managers”.

          1. Elizabeth West

            I remember being on the Etiquette Hell forums and it was the same way. Someone would complain about someone else’s behavior but they never said anything, and the rest of the forum would post, “GROW A SPINE.”

    2. Adam

      “I don’t take well to being managed.”

      Well I don’t take well to being MICRO-managed (turns me into a nervous wreck), but telling your manager that she works best as an undisturbed free-range employee takes a lot of gall.

      1. Laurel Gray

        I actually think “I don’t take well to being micromanaged” while still inappropriate, is employee to manager feedback that can actually be useful in the long run (depending on a few factors) but being managed period? That’s ridiculous. Open a lemonade stand.

        1. fposte

          And sometimes an employee is micromanaged because that’s what that employee needs. It’s not automatically a managerial error.

          1. Laurel Gray

            I agree and would like to assume that anyone who would have this kind of feedback for their boss (including the gall to voice it!) would also have a few strong bullet points for why they do not feel they should be micromanaged. Of course, this may not change anything and I think outside of an employee being a high performer it may be a battle not worth fighting and just putting up with the micromanaging.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian

          Ha. Did you write in and ask what to do about her, or did you just browse the existing columns for advice?

      2. Ninnoc

        Oh my gosh a “free-range employee” made me think of free range chickens that just wander around the office pecking and delivering tps reports. I’m trying not to crack up.

          1. AW

            I wish I was an artist because I would draw that. In fact, I have a friend who’s an artist. I might pay him to draw it.

            1. Jessa

              I want to really thank you for saying “I might pay him to draw it,” I do side work (research and inventory stuff,) for a company that manages comic book artists and writers, and you cannot believe the number of friends/relatives who expect people to work for free. Thank you so much for being the good kind of friend to artists.

      3. Not So NewReader

        “I don’t take well to being managed.”

        Then conduct yourself in a manner that does not require a lot of managing. grrr.

        I have had bosses let me go “free range” but it is because I knew were the boundaries were. And I do well with applying general ideas to varied situations. I also ask for rules of thumb for recurring issues, if necessary.

        If you don’t like being managed then mold yourself into an employee that does not need constant inputs and doesn’t require emergency teams to clean up your messes. grrr. Okay said much nicer, “If you want to work more independently you must earn that right. It is not just an automatic given.”

    3. Fuzzy

      Woooooow.

      To be fair I do best when given a to-do list and left alone, but that doesn’t mean my work is going to be gold, or even what my manager wants? That’s why EVERYONE(hopefully) has a checks and balance system. Your managers have managers. The big boss has a board. Etc.

      This Swanson-ian attitude doesn’t work well in the real world.

      1. Katie the Fed

        at the same time – she was right. She didn’t take well to being managed. So I guess in that regard it was nice she gave me a heads up :)

        SHe only lasted a couple months.

        1. Jen S. 2.0

          Well, as is so often mentioned here, we all have choices. It’s fine if she doesn’t like being managed, but that doesn’t mean she’s entitled to remain employed while not being managed. She resolved this issue for you, but…

          (Note that I’m a fed as well; I know it’s easier said than done to get rid of a poor performer or combative or just plain lazy employee. But she still doesn’t have to remain your problem.)

      2. Mallory Janis Ian

        I like to be given a to-do list and be left alone, but sometimes feedback is a blessing! For example, my new boss would ask me for reports during the first couple months or so of my job, and I would spend a long time putting them together just so. Turns out, she just wanted a simple, quick, broad strokes overview, and I was painstakingly compiling a document with every detail I could think of that might be relevant. After several times of mismatched expectations in that regard, now whenever she assigns me a task, I tell her (broadly) how I plan to go about it. Often as not, she tells me that I’m over-thinking what she’s requested; she wants the five-minutes-worth-of-work version, and left to my own devices I’d provide the three-hours-worth-of-work version.

        1. Elizabeth West

          My boss is the same way. Now that I’ve been here for a while, I know to edit it down and answer just what she wants to know. Once you get used to each other, it becomes easier.

    4. OP

      They’re our weekly meetings – not formal reviews. I’ve been trying to do them like this rather than have big picture “serious” meetings because I thought they’d be less upsetting since I assume a level of social anxiety in dealing with him.

      1. Amy

        Good thinking. If he won’t initiate communication it’s up to you and it has to be frequent. If he doesn’t stay on target with projects you can pull him back.

      2. Meg Murry

        But maybe this is actually causing the opposite problem, because he is getting anxious about the meetings every week instead of just once a month or once a quarter. When I am going through an especially anxious spot, every single time my boss says “hey, I want to talk to you, step into my office” my first thought is “oh god, where did I screw up, is he going to fire me?” when actually he just wants me to proofread something he wrote, do some math on his whiteboard or look at a graph on his monitor.

        I think its worth talking about whether having smaller weekly reviews are helpful or whether he gets so anxious about them he can’t do the rest of the 1-on-1 stuff like ask questions about his ongoing projects and it would be better to have regular 1-on-1 project reviews 3x a month and 1x a month the more formal feedback. I also think what Katie the Fed mentions of sending him the feedback in advance so he can read it over is a good idea, so he can come into the meeting knowing he isn’t in trouble or where he is doing well and where he needs to improve.

        1. fposte

          Right, but some of this has to come from the employee. Right now, the OP is running around trying to placate the employee and he’s not contributing in this process.

      3. Lanya

        If you’re doing feedback in weekly meetings, maybe your employee is just tired of talking about the feedback in the same way over and over and over again.

        Not saying your feedback to him isn’t helpful…but what if you could talk about it once a month instead of once every week? Would that make a difference?

      4. looking forward

        Have you tried starting the meeting by just saying, “Tell me what is going on.”?

  12. Adam

    I’m scrambling my brain trying to figure out what sort of mindset prompts this response that isn’t completely off base. The only and most understanding thing I can come up with is that he might have some anxiety issues that pertain to being evaluated that really spark his worry response whenever the issue comes up. But I have a hard time going there as people with high anxiety usually know their fears are irrational even while they are still bothered by them, and he would know that in any job he’s going to be subjected to feedback on his work. It’s not something he can avoid.

    I think there’s room to be compassionate depending on the real reason this is happening, whatever it is, but it definitely is not something you can let slide.

    1. Judy

      I’m not sure I can figure out a mindset that it was ok to say, but the one thing I’m wondering is if this is feedback every week in their one on ones? I’d certainly think of some pushback if in the 30 dedicated minutes I get to talk with my manager each week, we have to spend “just 5 minutes” going over the same form we went over last week. If there is new information, great. Maybe even a monthly refresh. I couldn’t tell how often the one on one conversations happened, but I’ve generally always had them weekly.

      1. Meg Murry

        Yes, I think this is fair, especially if as Joey says it really doesn’t change from week to week.

        Maybe the employee really doesn’t like being ranked numerically, or maybe they have maxed out their pay at the top of their range and therefore won’t be getting a raise no matter how good the review is. That was an issue one place I worked – people could top out at the technician payscale and receive all “exceeds expectations” reviews, but without at least an associates’ degree they couldn’t move up, and those with an associates also could max out at their pay grade – the only way to keep moving up was with a bachelor’s degree in certain fields, or a bachelor’s degree in math or science plus a certain number of college courses in our specific field. Some people sucked it up, took the 4 college courses and got their promotions. Others didn’t and stayed at the level they were left in, and were generally ok with that all the time except at raise/promotion time.

      2. OP

        I go over a different topic each week (rotating through 15) . FWIW, our meetings rarely take more than 10 minutes because he never wants to go in depth in any discussion and as long as I don’t have any worries I don’t want to force the conversation.

        1. Meg Murry

          Well, have you asked him what he WOULD like to talk about during the one on ones? Maybe instead of 5 minutes per week you could schedule 1/2 an hour per month to go over 5 of the points, and save the one-on-ones for questions about specific projects he is working on?

          1. Laurel Gray

            Or, the employee can suck it up and do what is asked/expected of him in those 10 minutes or put in his notice.

          2. OP

            The rest of the time is “how are your projects” and “What you would like to talk about”. He’s got a form that he fills out each week of his current to do list which has an area for projects, anything going well, anything going poorly, any hot topics we need to talk about. I’ve also gone through the form and asked if he wanted any of it changed. I never talk about my expectation tasks until he says he has nothing else to say.

            1. bridget

              You know the needs of your workplace best, but this seems really … structured for a weekly meeting. Forms, rotating topics, etc.? I (and I’m sure many other people as well) much prefer one on one meetings that are a little more freewheeling. Mine have always been general “how’s it going?” chats, with specific discussions of where projects are, expected timelines, any issues that have arisen on either side, and the like. I’m in law, though, so YMMV.

              It’s possible that this is what this employee is trying to get at (although it seems incredibly unhelpful to just say “I don’t like this thing happening right now” with no elaboration).

              1. bridget

                Upon re-reading, it looks like a lot of this structure is company policy and not originating from you. That’s probably a good reason to deny his request (if it is in fact a reasonable request in disguise). But to the extent you have control over it, it may be worth considering whether the level of form-filling and specificity is useful or just creating forced and unnatural conversations without a clear benefit.

                1. OP

                  They’re just a place to make notes – nothing is required but it helps get people’s thoughts flowing. We typically start with a chat (he is visibly uncomfortable with that) and then I go through and see if he’s listed anything for us to talk about. If yes, we talk about that. If not, I check in on projects that he hasn’t listed to see why it’s not listed (are you not working on that this week or is it done type conversation).

                  It’s working for all of my other folks and they’ve expressed that they like going over the topics so they can ask questions.

          3. nona

            The buildup to that monthly meeting might produce the same or worse anxiety. Avoidance can make anxiety worse sometimes.

            Example here: I have an anxiety disorder and it’s included social anxiety. High school classes required speaking in front of the class once a semester. It was terrible. A college class required speaking once a week. The first time was terrible, but I liked it by the end of the course.

            Anyway, I think it’s good that OP’s considerate of his possible social anxiety, but it’s really not her job to manage it.

            1. Anon for this

              I agree here. Early in my career I had a job I struggled with – never bad enough that my job was in danger, but I was also that employee that was never able to progress from basic to advanced proficiency, so I continued needing a higher level of coaching/correction into the third year and I struggled with the workload. When I hadn’t finished everything on my to-do list I dreaded my weekly check-in and got a ton of anxiety about it. But on the other hand, the anxiety of that meeting was one of the only things that kept me from falling even further behind, because I’d pull all-nighters or buy some Adderall from a friend in college so that I could work intensely for an entire day without any breaks to catch up.

              If those meetings had been monthly instead of weekly and I’d had 4 weeks to let things start to fall behind, I can only imagine how much anxiety I would have had, and what I would have felt compelled to do to try to avoid that anxiety. It was better for me that it came in small weekly doses. If this employee has this much anxiety around talking about problems with his projects, OP should absolutely not give him a month for the problem to get bigger and worse before they check in.

    2. Katie the Fed

      So I have an employee who actually told me she does have an anxiety disorder, and it’s taken a little work on my part to figure out how to communicate with her without stressing her out too much. I’m glad she told me though so I could come up with some solutions. One thing I’ll do is tell her before a meeting exactly what we’ll cover. So if I’m going over her performance review I’ll send it to her in advance so she’s had time to read and absorb first. It’s helped a lot.

      1. Adam

        That’s the thing: anxiety orders are hell but there are things you can do to mitigate the effects and people can help you navigate things. But it’s an invisible affliction so you do have to let them know there is an issue first.

        If this guy does have some sort of anxiety issue (which we don’t know; his behavior could be for any of a number of other reasons that don’t inspire much sympathy) he is going to have to come forward with that so they can figure out some reasonable accommodations.

        1. fposte

          Right. Katie’s example is great because it’s a demonstration of working with the disorder but still achieving what needs to be achieved. There’s no “Oh, never mind” option.

      2. KJR

        Kudos to you for working with her! Anxiety can be so debilitating, and often isn’t taken seriously. You have probably created a very loyal employee because of your compassion!

      3. hayling

        That’s great that you’re trying to accommodate the employee. However, I hope that she is also working on her own coping skills.

        (Performance reviews give me a ton of anxiety and I cope by taking a tiny bit of anxiety meds so I can calm down enough to listen during them!)

        1. Maxwell Edison

          In my last few months at Toxic Job, I had to take anxiety meds before every weekly 1:1 with my manager. Strangely enough, I’ve been completely off the meds since I resigned.

  13. Jen S. 2.0

    In addition to adding my amazement to those above — really? — I want to echo Alison’s point that as a manager, it’s nice to try to adjust to your staff, but it’s not necessary.

    You’re in charge.

    It’s fine to expect your staff to adjust to you and/or to the company culture. Sometimes you will have to tell them that, no, X thing won’t be possible; or yes, you ARE expected to do Y thing that you don’t love. Sometimes they won’t be thrilled about that. It’s part of your job to be fair and reasonable…but it’s not part of your job to make sure each individual gets their way all the time or is thrilled all the time. Feedback is fair and reasonable…so it’s just too bad if this employee isn’t getting his way and isn’t thrilled.

    No one loves performance reviews. This dude needs to suck it up.

  14. jlv

    Take a step back and think about this for a moment. The biggest issue here is that your employee doesn’t feel engaged. Why is this? Has he been previously excluded from projects that are important to him at work? Has he lost any of his work territory and/or visibility? He sounds jaded and that he may be tired of being taken advantage of and wants to distance himself emotionally from becoming attached to his work – especially if he’s not doing what he truly wants to do professionally. Time to dig deeper and maybe take a look at his responsibilities and his actual professional strengths.

    This is going on at my existing workplace. People are pulling out from projects because peers and managers dismiss their opinions and views. They’d rather not take part than deal with the dramatic back and forth and take a backseat whilst everyone irons out their differences and drives each other crazy in the chaos.

    Maybe he wanted the manager position and you took it. Maybe he doesn’t respect you enough or feel you know enough about his job to warrant feedback. Good luck finding out!

    1. JB

      He doesn’t sound disengaged from doing his job (or at least, there’s nothing in the letter that suggest that), he sounds like he just doesn’t want his manager to talk to him about it. It sounds more like he either has anxiety about getting direct feedback or he doesn’t want to be managed. The stuff you mention could be involved–so could a long list of problems that show up in various workplaces. But I don’t see anything in the letter to draw the conclusions you’re drawing here. There’s just nothing for us to go on here to make firm statements about what’s going on.

    2. fposte

      But if those are the reasons, you don’t really need to find out; you’re not his therapist. You just need to make it clear that this is an expected part of his job, and while you’re happy to give feedback in one of the acceptable ways that he finds most suitable, there’s no “no feedback” option.

      And if it turns out in the future that he really won’t take feedback, then you’d set him free to find that magical job where nobody ever gives you feedback.

      1. jamlady

        Ahhh, “that magical job where nobody ever gives you feedback” is my nightmare. It’s dark magic.

        1. Jessa

          This. There was one job I was in (it was temp,) where the permanent workers had stats and stuff given out to them. We got zip. I finally went to the temp rep and looked her in the eye and said “Lack of negative feedback does not mean we’re doing the job the way they want us to, how’m I doing?” Because there’s a lot of space between “you suck at this job, you’re fired,” and “you’re number 20 out of 30 people and you’re okay but if we run low of money you’re on the top of the temps to leave list. But it’s still technically acceptable work here.”

          She went (mind you this company served up hundreds of temps to this company over the years, so she was specifically assigned to be in the building when we were,) and talked to management, and by the next week we got the stat sheets and actual real feedback.

          But OMG my anxiety disorder was so ramped up because we heard NOTHING. Not “you stink,” not “you’re amazing don’t worry.” Zip.

      2. Joey

        Eh, isn’t it natural to find out why someone isn’t engaged, especially a green employee who may not be seeing things clearly. Most people I know aren’t the my way or the highway type with this stuff until they have a good understanding of the problem.

        1. fposte

          I think there are situations where it’s useful to find out somebody’s disengaged; I was speaking to jlv’s hypothetical about somebody who doesn’t feel you’re qualified to give him feedback or who is jealous. I don’t need to know the details on those, because those are reasons that make you a poor employee who I’m not likely to want to invest any more time in.

          Going back to the OP, it doesn’t sound like he’s situationally disengaged; it just sounds like he’s an average performer without a lot of understanding of the requirements of his position.

    3. Jennifer

      Or alternately, it doesn’t matter what feedback he gets because he’s unlikely to be affected–like if he does well he’ll never get a raise, maybe he’s unlikely to be fired at this particular job.

    4. Not So NewReader

      But if he’s only been there eight months, he may have never been engaged to begin with.

  15. pucksmuse

    Of all the asinine things I have ever heard, this is by far the most asinine.

    You can’t just decide that your boss doesn’t get to tell you how you’re performing because “judgement” gives you anxiety. That would be like telling the boss, “I really don’t want you telling me what to do anymore. I’ll run the department how I see fit because not being in control makes me ‘anxious.'” Feedback is an essential part of doing a good job. And I’m guessing that when this person is eventually fired, they’ll claim they have no idea why.

    1. JB

      Yeah, this is crazy! I have expressed more than once to my boss that I don’t want to do our annual performance review, and she feels the same. But that’s because the way it’s handled takes up time but doesn’t end up providing us any benefits. I won’t get into it, but it’s not actually helpful the way that it’s done. But even though I get anxious about discussions of my performance (good or bad), I would *love* to get more specific feedback more often. There really isn’t another way to know whether you are doing what your boss wants you to do than for them to tell you that. For example, sometimes I have 3 or 4 things that my boss wants me to handle “immediately” or as soon as possible, but she won’t prioritize even when I ask her “which of these things do you want me to get done first?” So I just have to guess which one I should do first and hope I’m right. And sometimes, I’m not. It feels like she wants me to have magical abilities to accomplish several time-consuming things all at the same time, which is frustrating. Actual conversations that are clear and direct would be so, so helpful to me, even though I’d be very uncomfortable.

      1. Jaune Desprez

        My husband’s favorite saying is, “When everything’s a priority, then nothing’s a priority.” I actually find this kind of calming when I’m in a situation with too many deadlines and no one willing to make the decisions. If they can’t be bothered to do it, then I get to choose!

        For fundament-covering purposes, I usually shoot the boss an email saying, “Here’s an update on my projects. Unless I hear otherwise from you, I’ll plan to do B and D this week and then focus on C and A.” If they don’t get back to me with a different order, then they’ve just tacitly agreed to my plan.

        1. JB

          Your husband is smart–and I like that his (true) saying is like the professional world’s version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “if everybody’s somebody, then no one’s anybody.”

  16. John

    Alison, wanted you to know that I currently have three ads on the page that are auto-playing.

  17. J-nonymous

    I’m going to raise my hand as saying the employee’s request may have *some* merit to it! When I read the OP’s letter, it sounds to me like scripted conversations about feedback and performance are happening in each one-on-one meeting (since her question to her direct reports was specifically what she could improve in her one-on-one meetings). Perhaps what the employee is chafing over is the frequency and canned nature of the conversations? I know I’m inferring when we don’t have much to go on from the employee’s perspective, but I can easily conjure a situation in which this request is somewhat reasonable.

    For instance, OP: Is it possible you have been following the scripts maybe a little too closely so that the conversations have a perfunctory vibe? How frequent are your one-on-ones? If they are frequent (or at least substantially more frequent than the previous manager’s check-in meetings), even the best intended feedback conversations *may* give the impression that the employee is being bird-dogged.

    I think it’s great that you asked what it was about the feedback that the employee didn’t want to discuss. Perhaps also ask, “What would you like to talk about in our check-ins?” Maybe your employee wants to discuss other issues or concerns with you. Or maybe the employee just wants some more time to get comfortable with you.

    I’m not saying you should simply acquiesce to this employee’s request to opt out of the feedback process; as Alison and others say, that’s just not going to happen. That said, there may be something very non-ridiculous about this request and your employee may just be articulating it poorly.

    1. misspiggy

      Yes. If I got feedback in every one to one, rather than say six monthly or quarterly, my neurotic jerkbrain couldn’t handle it. I’d be second-guessing the positives and devastated by the negatives, to the extent that I’d lose focus on getting the work done. Informal feedback in the moment is often an unavoidable necessity, but a lot of people struggle with direct formal feedback, and would rather keep the focus on what to do moving forward.

    2. AndersonDarling

      This. I was wondering if the feedback was scripted, if the same feedback was given each time, or if it wasn’t relevant feedback.
      Is the OP giving feedback that isn’t actionable? Is it negative feedback about issues that the employee cannot control or stem from another employee?
      Is the feedback fluff? “I want you to be better friends with your co-workers,” sort of thing?
      If this is all I ever heard during rounding sessions, I’d get sick of hearing it too. Especially if I wasn’t comfortable talking openly.
      My best bet is that there are problems and the employee does not feel like they can bring them to the OP’s attention. So the feedback is essentially worthless to the employee.

    3. A Non

      This is what I’m thinking too. It seems likely that there’s a miscommunication about what constitutes feedback or how it needs to be delivered. Letting your employees know when things are going well or when they need to be done differently isn’t optional, but is that really what this employee is objecting to? Or are they objecting to the trappings of how it’s currently happening? Are they aware that there’s a difference?

    4. LBK

      Re-reading the letter, it sounds like the part he objected to specifically was the discussion of the structured development plan that everyone in the department uses/has to follow. I think the meetings are talking place weekly, so that could be overkill, but even so I’d be really concerned if he didn’t want to know where he stood on what sounds like a required rubric.

      OP, for our sake, how is he doing on this rubric? Is he where he needs to be? It sounds like this is a strict enough plan that termination could be a possibility if he doesn’t meet it – is that accurate? Just trying to grasp how serious it is that he do well on this system and ergo how important it is for him to know his status.

      1. OP

        His work is average for tenure now, there were some concerns earlier but recently he’s cleaned most of that up. If he wasn’t meeting the base level of expectations there would be termination if not pulled up. If only meeting base expectations after more than a year it’s typically a discussion on “you need to find areas to excel in or think about whether you want to be here”.

        It’s a company of high achievers who expect high achievement from the president down.

    5. OP

      Our one-on-ones are weekly which is the standard for our company and what he had recently. When we started meeting I explained the expectations would be reviewed (we do it for all new hires once they’re fully out of training and getting full work loads). Typically I have him fill out his answers to the questions (how do you feel you do at X? When was the last time you were really happy with your work at Y?) and then I highlight where I think he is in the table of expectations (here’s where you meet expectations, here’s where you exceed them). During our meeting I look over his responses and chat about them “Oh, I didn’t realize you’d done Y. What about that stuck with you?”

      1. Laurel Gray

        “Our one-on-ones are weekly which is the standard for our company.”

        OP, beyond this sentence of explanation to the employee about why his “no feedback” expectation is a bunch of malarkey, you owe him no further explanations of accommodations. In being a good manager you are trying to find some middle ground but it seems like he does not want to. I say you retreat and let him work within the meeting parameters the other workers do and if he doesn’t like it, you can give him options like a PIP for him to work on it or giving his notice and moving on to work and a company that does things differently.

      2. misspiggy

        Those are quite searching questions, and it does sound like the OP’s company expects a lot of self-reflection from staff. But all that can be done is to explain that this is essential for the company, and let him decide whether he’s willing to go along with it or move/be moved out.

      3. J-nonymous

        Interesting! Personally, I would hate this kind of company culture (as an employee and as a manager). You say it’s required for all new hires after training has completed – does that mean that it does, in fact, end at some point in the future (i.e., after a certain term of service has passed)?

        Also curious – how long do your weekly one-on-ones last? And how much of that scheduled time is consumed by going through the Q&A for these feedback items? This could still be a case of your employee not feeling like they’re getting to know you personally/as a manager, and you them – which could be addressed if there’s a way to streamline the Q&A process. What’s changed from one week to the next? What is coming up for them as an issue? Maybe just spending a few minutes chit-chatting about things before jumping in to the answers?

        I don’t mean to imply that you’re doing none of those things because it sounds like you’re working hard to tailor your approach. But some people do get rather turned off by repetitive tasks (which, frankly, is what this questionnaire feels like), particularly when the answers / questions don’t change much over time or spark much additional discussion.

        1. OP

          They’re 30 minutes and topics vary by employee. My other meetings are typically fully 30 minutes (sometimes over) and they all come in with what they want to talk about ready – project struggles, questions, concerns, whatever. For this guy, any conversation is pulling teeth even if he likes the projects.

          Before I became his manager I was already working closely with him as a non-management leader so we already knew each other but with less close conversations. He cringes during any sort of chit-chat at all.

          1. Not So NewReader

            So it is part of his job to be forthcoming about the projects he has. And he needs to do this every week.
            It seems to me if he can’t do this, then he can’t do the job. You need to be able to check in with him and know where his work is at. He is effectively cutting you off from managing him.

      4. J-nonymous

        I should have added, it may be appropriate to ask the employee if this is the right company for them to work in. This is the expectation that the company sets for its employees and managers — it’s as much a part of the fabric of that culture as anything related to work/life balance, or the way in which meetings are conducted would be.

        Maybe this employee just doesn’t like that kind of culture. I’m pretty sure if it was your employee writing in about this, that would have come up by now – and there’s nothing wrong with asking them about it!

  18. Van Wilder

    Very important question: how often are these meetings?
    Are they the semi-annual or annual performance meetings (in which case this would make no sense because feedback would be the only topic) or are they like a weekly check-in-on-how-your-workload-is-going type meeting?
    Because, yeah, if these meetings were more often than, at most, quarterly, then yeah, I would get annoyed at having the expectations repeated because give me some time to work on them.

    1. J-nonymous

      Exactly. The OP says that she was asking what she could do differently in the one-on-one meetings, so these aren’t just annual (or semi-annual) performance evaluations.

    2. JB

      But expectations change from project to project. Some things, like “be here on time, get your work done on time” don’t change. But other things do. Do X project first before Z project. Get me the data on Y by Date, etc. This new thing happened that’s going to change how we finalize this other thing. Your last project had this problem with it. Stuff like that should be told as it comes up. And if you are hearing about problems with your performance for the first time at a review, your manager isn’t doing a good job.

      1. Judy

        Our role has very specific levels we expect people to hit at different stages of their development. Management has standard forms for these conversations and a breakdown of meeting expectations, exceeding them, and excelling. For each topic, you have a table of examples at each level and questions to get to what’s going well and isn’t.

        It sounds like there are standard forms that possibly may be reviewed for 5 minutes a week. If there is not new information, it seems like that could be a little to0 often.

          1. Meg Murry

            True. But if nothing has changed from last week, it could easily just be skipped, or mentioned as – everything seems the same as last week, so let’s move on. How is project XYZ going?

            I’d also ask how often the manager sees the employee outside of these 1-on-1 meetings. If the only times I saw/interacted with my manager was when we were having a 1-on-1 and they spent time every week giving me new rankings, I would think “based on what? our 30 minute conversation last week and the 2 emails we exchanged?”

            I think a request not to do it every week, or to touch on different sections each time so they all get hit over a month or quarter makes more sense than giving them lip service for 5 minutes every week.

            1. fposte

              And that would be a fine request, though the answer might be “Sorry, it’s requisite.”

              But the OP talked about different ways to do it, and all she got was “Nope, don’t want to.”

              1. Van Wilder

                Yeah I’m just trying to get some clarifying information because I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around what these meetings actually are. I might have micromanagement baggage.

            2. LBK

              Then the conversation just has to be “Looks like everything is the same as last week.” But you still have to have that conversation, even if it’s just one sentence. You can’t refuse to have it, especially because presumably it will be a different conversation at some point.

            3. OP

              Sorry it wasn’t clear – they’re different expectations every week. For example, five minutes of Time Management – when did you miss due dates, where do you feel you do best at time management and then I’d say where they are hitting or exceeding expectations. Then next week, five minutes of Teapot Coloring and Maintenance.

              1. Van Wilder

                That’s actually really interesting. Kind of spreading out the performance evaluation. And I assume he knows which topic is this week so he can prepare. I’m good with that. Everyone can proceed with thinking this employee needs to suck it up.

          2. Laurel Gray

            THIS! Suck it up, employee. Bottom line.

            5-10 minutes really? Maybe employee needs a lesson on picking his workplace battles too. And to echo: projects change. When many people are responsible with different areas of one, it’s a good idea to stay on the same page with everything – particularly to keep said project successful. I have a hard problem with suggesting the manager restructure how these meetings are when they are a measly 10 minutes a week.

            Now if these meetings were 2 hours a week, and it was always the same info…

        1. OP

          I mentioned above but it’s a different topic each week – not the same one. Time management, Tea Pot Coloring, etc, etc.

      2. Van Wilder

        Right, but does the company really have a set rubric for each project week to week or is there manager/employee discretion? Maybe I’m confused because my company only has set expectations for each level, not every step of every project. If that’s the case, sounds like it might be overkill. But to each company their own culture.

        1. JB

          Well, it would vary depending on what kind of work you do. At my (law-related) job, there are some things that are like that, but we also have work where you need to have discussions every step of the way, because we don’t know all the details, issues, parameters until we get into it. There’s just no way to not check in on each case as it progresses and new stuff happens.

  19. Kimberlee, Esq.

    Not that it necessarily makes it better, but is it possible the employee means, literally, that they don’t like *talking* about it? Like, they don’t have a problem with you telling them where they need to improve and where they’re doing well, but that they hate having a whole conversation about it?

    Of course, the conversations are necessary, but I could see an employee not wanting to have a five minute conversation and have to answer the standard questions (“This is a problem. What happened?”) when the real take away is “You did that wrong and you should do it differently next time” or “you’re doing well, keep it up.”

    1. fposte

      But I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect never to have to talk about it, and it sounds like the OP tried pretty hard to find out if there were ways to do it that would work for the employee.

      I mean, I get the employee may be anxious or irritated or bored or other things people have suggested, but it sounds like the OP tried pretty hard to work with the employee to sort this out, and that his bottom line was just “Nope.” And that’s not an appropriate bottom line.

      1. jamlady

        Agreed. I have some questions for the OP, but the basic message from this is that the employee is just like “no feedback ever”… and that’s ridiculous.

  20. Kelly O

    The short answer is “no.”

    You do not get to opt-out of feedback. Particularly in the context presented by the OP.

    I am going to go have a cup of tea right now and try to suss out how this is an option, or how you could perceive this as an option.

    /end snap judgment.

    1. The Other Dawn

      I’m right there with you.

      Sounds to me like the employee is just uncomfortable with any conversation around performance (not that that’s an excuse!) and phrasing it as a way to benefit him just gives him the idea that he can either take the feedback or leave it.

    2. Laurel Gray

      “The short answer is ‘no’.”

      Man oh man does this apply here and is it something I am still trying to master in parenthood. I can’t imagine if I got push back and was trying to compromise with the regular requests for juice or pretzels at bed time.

  21. weael007

    I’d also like no feedback, a larger paycheck, company car and unlimited vacation days. But…

    1. Kelly O

      Could I get my full paycheck but only work half-days? Because that would be great for me.

  22. Jaune Desprez

    I have to admit that I’ve worked in places where some of the feedback was useless enough to leave me feeling hot and itchy. “Others have noticed that you wear a lot of green, which contributes to a perception that you’re a compassionate and ecologically conscious person. On the other hand, one coworker felt that you might be a Celtics fan, which left a more negative feeling about your interactions.” But even then, it never even crossed my mind that I could actually ask to opt out.

      1. Jaune Desprez

        It was more than a decade ago, so the wording may not be exact, but that’s actual feedback!

        I think a couple of my coworkers were pranking that manager when the 360 evaluations went out. She was very earnest and good-natured, but a little dim.

        1. fposte

          That at least makes some sense. I wish you’d told her that it’s because you’re Robin Hood.

          1. Jaune Desprez

            That would have been AMAZING!

            My goodly manager, wilt thou stay with me and join my merry band? Three suits of Lincoln green shalt thou have each year, beside forty marks in fee, and share with us whatsoever good shall befall us. Thou shalt eat sweet venison and quaff the stoutest ale! Speak! Wilt thou be one of my good merry men?

          2. LBK

            I’m going to have to start billing you for keyboard repairs from all the coffee you’ve made me spit out on mine.

    1. Maxwell Edison

      I completely buy that this is serious feedback, but then in my last performance review at Toxic Job, my manager brought up the fact that I tilt my head when I walk around as a performance negative. I had to spend the rest of my time there pretending I was balancing a book on my head.

      1. ThursdaysGeek

        Has Alison done a post about the most ridiculous feedback you’ve ever received? If not, perhaps she should.

      2. Emily, admin extraordinaire

        You’re not by chance William T. Riker, are you? He totally does the head-tilt thing (along with the Riker Lean and the Riker Maneuver).

        1. Maxwell Edison

          Nope, not Riker. :)

          What made that feedback even more hilarious was that my manager refused to believe me when I told her the Horrible Head Tilt was not a conscious thing and that I was totally unaware I was even doing it. I pretty much went back to my desk and moved up my resignation date by a couple months.

    2. Allison

      Been there. One time my manager told me I needed to start offering to get people water when I went to the kitchen, and another time he told me that when I greeted the team in the morning, it needed to be cheerful and longer than one word (“morning” wasn’t enough, it had to be at least “good morning”). Sometimes I wonder if managers who do this find themselves in a position where they need to give feedback, but can’t find anything performance-related to say, so they say something random like “you wear too much green.” Or they say it because they’re too chicken to address any real issues.

      1. Laurel Gray

        So your manager wanted a Niles the Butler/Fran the Nanny hybrid in an office environment? Interesting.

        1. Allison

          He wanted us all to be super enthusiastic and help each other out. Which is a nice idea, really, but not something you require of people. I was there to do a job.

          1. Laurel Gray

            I can understand that but offering to get water every time you go to the kitchen is becoming “the help”. Boss had poor execution of what probably was a pretty decent intention.

  23. jamlady

    “I asked if there’s another method he’d prefer – written vs talking, separate meetings for expectations outside of our check-ins, etc. but he just doesn’t like any of it.”

    Does this mean the OP is giving individual feedback in a group setting? Group feedback in a group is fine, but individual feedback should be given one-on-one. Or is the OP only giving group feedback and the employee just doesn’t want to be apart of it?

    His request is ridiculous, but maybe (like others have said) there is some miscommunication there.

    1. fposte

      I thought the OP said these one-on-ones, and only a 5-minute portion of those one-on-ones at that; her suggestion seemed to be having a different meeting outside the one on ones but still only with the two of them. Are you seeing something to make you think this is a group situation?

    2. OP

      I’ve only ever given him feedback one-on-one or written – we very rarely do group work unless there’s a big crunch and we have to help someone else out. The “separate meetings” meant asking if he’d rather have big picture/expectation/feedback meetings separate to our one-on-ones rather than bundling them.

  24. Lally

    Note about the following: I’m not defending the person who said told the OP he didn’t want feedback.

    I’ve gotten feedback from some managers that I don’t agree with.

    More importantly, I’ve gotten some specific feedback that I do agree with but just don’t want to work on improving.

    I’ve continually advanced at my job, make good money, and am doing well enough at other aspects of my job that I have about as much job security as is possible nowadays. I’m not worried about losing my own job specifically – and had two bosses lose there due to layoffs while I was kept on – though I have worries about the financial health of the organization as a whole. It’s not worth the psychic cost of dealing with some things they’ve want me to change.

    1. Kelly O

      Can I ask a question, because I’m genuinely curious.

      What do you mean that there is feedback you agree with but don’t want to work on improving? And I ask because most jobs I have had involved some degree of feedback I may not have personally thought was important, but was important to the company or position or supervisor, which in my mind made it important for me.

      I may be the dim corporate drone, but I guess I just don’t understand the concept of choosing to not improve in an area of whatever level of concern.

        1. Not So NewReader

          I can see this in some situations. I had a job where I was supposed to work on using ladders. I don’t do ladders. I will quit before I will climb a ladder. However, I had top sales, I would come in at anytime, and I did work that the bosses could not do. I did everything else that was asked. Except the @#$% ladders. I had already been told that I was not going anywhere in the company because of being married. My ladder usage never improved.

      1. voyager1

        I am not Lally, but I get where she is coming from. I had a manager very recently at Old Job tell me I needed to change the way I communicate. That I needed to give bullet points and less details. I listened to her, but I am not changing how I talk. I am sorry she needed to have things broken down to short enough sentences that she wouldn’t forget what the topic was about. She gave me some other feedback that I didn’t agree with it, but there isn’t a nice way of telling your boss that they didn’t know what they were talking about. I left the job for a better job, so it all worked out.

        1. a

          But it seems like you didn’t agree with that feedback. It sounds like you think it was your boss’ problem for not understanding you, rather than it being something that you needed to work on.

          Like Kelly, I’m having a hard time imagining a situation where my manager and I both agreed that I needed to improve in some area, and I still didn’t want to improve. I have disagreed with managers before when it comes to feedback, but whenever they told me there was something I could do better and I agreed, I always wanted to get better at my job.
          (I don’t mean for this to sound judgmental, I just genuinely am confused.)

          1. Marxamod

            Maybe something like public speaking? I know I’m not great at it but since I do it rarely and it’s not a major part of my job I don’t care enough to work at it.

          2. voyager1

            a,

            That is because good managers know the diffeence between things that they should give feedback vs things that they shouldn’t. Bad managers try to change people.

            1. voyager1

              that last sentence should have been, you can’t change people but you can modify behaviors.

    2. Long Time Reader First Time Poster

      Just FYI — sometimes the bosses lose jobs at layoff time when their reports don’t simply because the bosses make more money than the reports do. I certainly wouldn’t use that as evidence of being bulletproof.

  25. A Non

    Wow, that’s impressive.

    Story time: I once had a boss who liked to spend 1:1 sessions picking apart my mistakes in detail. It regularly went into areas that only a qualified counselor should touch. He wanted to know _why_ I was making those mistakes, and wouldn’t accept “because I’m new at this job and didn’t know you wanted something else” as an answer. It usually had to come back to something about personality type or lack of confidence. I wasn’t making the same mistakes repeatedly – I hadn’t had time to do that yet! It was excruciating. I was a nervous wreck within six months.

    At one point I tried to address this with him directly. I asked that we not spend so much time hashing out my mistakes – that he just say what he observed, and what he’d prefer that I do next time. He didn’t get it. It made no sense to him, and he wanted to dissect why I was making this request. “Because it’s incredibly painful and not helpful” wasn’t an acceptable answer. I didn’t last much longer there.

    If he’d written in to AAM, it might have looked something like this letter. “Why doesn’t my employee want to improve?!” It doesn’t sound like this LW is that badly out of touch, but I have to wonder if there’s a disconnect between what the employee’s trying to ask for and what the LW’s hearing. Feedback isn’t optional, but are you sure you’re working with the same definition of “feedback”?

    1. Jaune Desprez

      Wow, this would make me want to hit someone over the head with a blunt instrument. Myself, even, if that was the only way to end the discussion.

      Congratulations for getting out of that environment!

    2. AndersonDarling

      I may also be thinking something different by “feedback.” I’m assuming the employee in question wants to know if they are making tragic mistakes that will get them fired. But this “feedback” could be noting more than required, weekly nit-picking.
      I didn’t see the letter as shocking. The manager asked what could change and the employee answered. In my mind, the manager may have been shocked at the response and that came through to the employee who then felt shut down.

    3. Van Wilder

      I already commented below but I meant to comment this here. Sorry I don’t know how to delete.

      Well said. As someone said above and as my former toxic manager used to say, “If the first time you’re hearing about performance issues is at your review, your manager isn’t doing her job.” Which is true.
      Except that my manager’s version of giving frequent feedback was criticizing everything all the time. I made mistakes, sure, but also just if anything wasn’t done exactly the way she would have done it, or if I didn’t read her mind and create her vision. I was also a nervous wreck and it killed any intellectual curiosity I might have had; I was too afraid to ask questions or take initiative because it might lead to more criticism.

  26. 1 2 3 6 11 23 47 106 235

    I was thinking about this, and – there was one time in the rather distant past where I was in the employee’s shoes and didn’t want any feedback from my manager.

    My manager at the time – I’ll call him Krishna – was a truly terrible manager. One day we met with a group of external people and afterwards Krishna told me that he was impressed at how much my people skills had progressed. I just said “thanks” and walked away. The point being that Krishna had many flaws, but his interpersonal communication skills were far & away just Absolutely Shit (ex: I once saw him tell a somewhat overweight customer that he knew the customer was “a man who liked to eat”). I had less than zero respect for his ‘feedback’ on the topic of “people skills”. If he’d insisted on giving me this kind of feedback on a regular basis, I might well have started out nicely by asking him to stop giving me feedback.

    It pains me, but in the interest of examining all of the possibilities in the ‘mystery’ of The Employee Who Doesn’t Want Feedback, I wonder if it might be a case of the employee – justifiably or not – not respecting his manager?

    1. Laurel Gray

      You could be very right and it could be about respect. The thing is, you can still have no respect for a boss and do your job. Especially since it is the job itself that is tied to a paycheck, benefits, raises etc. I’ve had bosses that I did not like and didn’t quite respect them professionally but I still gave them the basic respect they deserved as humans and as my manager. I found that in jobs where I didn’t respect my boss, my productivity was higher and I was less social as my goal was to go in, do work, hope the POS didn’t speak to me and get the heck outta there at closing time!

      1. fposte

        Yup, agreed. And honestly, he’s never had a real job before, he’s only eight months at this one, and he’s been managed for the OP for less. He has no basis for knowing what is and isn’t worthy of respect, professionally speaking (meaning not, like, socially and legally speaking), and he has no standing to opt out of a regular obligation based on whether he does or doesn’t respect anybody.

  27. Van Wilder

    Well said. As someone said above and as my former toxic manager used to say, “If the first time you’re hearing about performance issues is at your review, your manager isn’t doing her job.” Which is true.
    Except that my manager’s version of giving frequent feedback was criticizing everything all the time. I made mistakes, sure, but also just if anything wasn’t done exactly the way she would have done it, or if I didn’t read her mind and create her vision. I was also a nervous wreck and it killed any intellectual curiosity I might have had; I was too afraid to ask questions or take initiative because it might lead to more criticism.

  28. Allison

    I get that feedback isn’t always the best thing to hear, and I could understand if an employee felt that they were being excessively criticized to the point of nitpicking, or if the employee didn’t want to hear feedback from a colleague, but neither seems to be the case here. Everyone, regardless of seniority or level of self-confidence, needs to be open to feedback about their performance from their manager.

  29. Anonymous Educator

    I can understand a dislike for performance reviews. I’ve always hated them and found them, frankly, useless. The worst part is goal setting. I don’t work in sales or anything else that has hard metrics. In my last four jobs, I’ve done an amazing job (one hiring manager said I was the best hire at the company ever; another former manager of mine said if I ever get to the reference stage, and he’s my reference, I definitely have the job). But I don’t like setting goals. Goals are meaningless in my line of work (in-house tech support in either a small office or a school). I’m constantly just pushing myself, refining processes, trying to make things more efficient, providing top-notch customer service. I don’t need to set lofty goals. More importantly, a lot of people do set goals at every performance review… and then just stay pretty much the same (same working style, same performance level).

    That said, this part made me lose all sympathy for the OP’s employee:
    I asked if there’s another method he’d prefer – written vs talking, separate meetings for expectations outside of our check-ins, etc. but he just doesn’t like any of it. I said I’d brainstorm and asked him to come up with ways to get the info as well.

    If it’s not an annual review or some other kind of formal check-in, it has to be some kind of expectations check-in. I love my managers giving me feedback—I just don’t want a formal meeting around it. Just tell me when I’ve done something wrong… or done something well. Tell me in the moment, not six months or a year later.

    1. Laurel Gray

      I agree with your sentiments regarding the bolded. The employee needs to be taken aside and explained that sometimes in our working life we will have to do things we do not like or care for much. Part of doing these things is the professionalism to suck it up and do it vs. bluntly stating he doesn’t like it. I find this employee somewhat appalling.

    2. Melly

      YES to all of this. I never had performance reviews, really, but I had a great boss who always told me in the moment if I effed something up or did something awesome and I loved that about her. I am constantly wishing everyone was like that in their approaches.

  30. Ask a Manager Post author

    So, OP: I totally appreciate you weighing back in here and answering people’s questions, but I’m eager to know your reaction to the advice I gave you in the post. Does that resonate with you? Do you plan to try it?

    1. OP

      Yes, your advice helped a lot, thank you. Honestly, my gut reaction to “I don’t want feedback” was “so you don’t want a job?” but thankfully I didn’t let it out. I’m meeting with him tomorrow to go over my job as his manager and the expectations of our company. Maybe he’ll shock us all with reasonable suggestions and it will all come down to a misunderstanding/awkwardly worded request. I’m worried over your second suggestion (I’m shocked to hear it) because it’s been so hard to get him to say when things bothered him/ask for help. I think if I go to far in that direction he’ll end up unhappy but unwilling to say it. I’d rather he not work at the company than be miserable but with someone I can’t read it may not be obvious until it’s too late.

      I met with my boss again today (we also discussed it last week) and told him I’m worried it’s a company fit issue rather than a misunderstanding. He wants me to focus on the request for now – why don’t you want to talk about it, is it just the expectations or is it feedback, etc. After a few weeks if I’m still worried then we can go back to the fit discussion.

  31. moodygirl86

    Wow OP, can I come and work for you? So many managers either don’t bother which sets you up for failure, or as others have mentioned, save feedback for your one-to-one so you’re bombarded with “You did this/that/the other” – two months on so you can’t remember it! This guy doesn’t realise how lucky he is.

    1. Allison

      Right? And I often find myself telling managers to please let me know if there’s a problem with my performance, so I can work to nip any issues in the bud before they get really bad. I hate nitpicking or petty criticism, but I hate when people hold back on telling me about problems until it’s too late to fix them.

      1. moodygirl86

        Exactly. There’s no middle ground with some bosses. I’m glad to see OP isn’t one of those and I hope he/she can get it through to Awkward Employee why feedback is important.

        1. OP

          Thanks :) I’m genuinely trying to be helpful but this conversation has me utterly flabbergasted.

          1. Not So NewReader

            I am wondering if it supposed to leave you stymied.

            I can’t explain this in total detail but just today we had a person come into work who needed to do X. Pretty straightforward: Do X. This process involves four people. He told EACH of the four people and ENTIRELY different story(four stories all total). Good thing the four of us work well together because we were not going to let his smoke and mirrors throw us off course. This guy wanted to stymie our process and thought he had found a way to do that. Nope. Nope. Nope. He ended up doing X. It took us a couple hours to get through it. Did I mention X was supposed to be done a year and a half ago????

            Watch out for smoke and mirror people. These are the folks that want to throw a monkey wrench into things because it benefits them in some manner. And they are very creative folks, I can tell you that from experience.

  32. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

    I did something similar to this when I was a new manager. Basically, I was asking questions that I didn’t necessarily want to know the answers to, and I was giving the impression that I was turning over control of certain things to staff. Even though that wasn’t my intention, people were sometimes surprised when I asked for feedback but then didn’t follow through with what they suggested. I’ve learned to:

    Be really clear about what I’m asking, and what I’m looking for. Not, for example, for employees to make all decisions about how I manage or interact with them

    Be really clear about what I’m going to do with their feedback. Am I going to read over all if it and take it into account as I make decisions for how we do x next year? Am I taking a vote and letting the staff decide? Am I simply gauging how people feel about a change I am making so that I can manage the change process?

    I used to work with a manager who would ask all her new staff on their first day how they wanted to be managed. Lots of them said they wanted to be totally independent and just ask for help when they needed it. She wanted to accommodate their personal requests, so she did whatever they asked. She had the least effective team and the most turnover.

    Also, it might be worth asking yourself if you were asking that question because you wanted to find a way to be more liked by your employees. It’s your job as a manager to be effective. Work on that first, and people will like you.

    1. C Average

      I love this comment so much I’d marry it if such a thing were legal in the state of Oregon.

      When a manager asks her direct reports to weigh in on topics far above their pay grade, it can go one of two ways:

      1) The manager then proceeds with a different course of action, appearing to disregard the feedback and leaving the employees to wonder, “Okay, why did we even have that whole discussion if she’d already made up her mind?”

      or

      2) The manager proceeds based on the employees’ suggestions, leading the employees to wonder, “Why is she making the big bucks when she leaves the decision-making to her minions?”

      I realize this is pretty black-and-white and that the happy medium is somewhere between ruling with an iron fist and outsourcing all major decisions to your team. But seeing this kind of management-by-committee behavior really does lead direct reports to wonder “we have a manager why?”

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

        Thanks for your reply. For some reason, this was a REALLY difficult lesson for me to learn.

        In what I felt was an ironic turn, I got feedback from my board that my employees said that I didn’t give them opportunities for input, and/or didn’t listen to their feedback. The former, at least, was ridiculous. I was giving people massive opportunities for feedback – way more than normal. The problem, however, was managing their expectations about what I was going to do with that feedback.

        I feel really confident that people like me much better now that I focus less on being nice and inclusive and focus more on leading and making solid decisions. It somehow seemed very counter-intuitive to me.

      2. fposte

        Upvote for visibility! Okay, I know that doesn’t really work here, but that’s a really great comment. I think sometimes as managers we’re overreacting to what we hear people hate about managers–micromanagement, overbearing management–without realizing we’ve fallen into a new management pit.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

          YES YES YES! This is what I struggled with – not wanting to be the boss I didn’t like, and not wanting to do the things bosses do that annoy me. But you know what? There’s a reason they do those things. And it’s way more important to imitate the effective things bosses do well than just trying to eliminate the things you don’t like. As it turns out, I did not start my management career with the secret key to doing all things management perfectly.

    2. OP

      Honestly, I asked the question because it was suggested in one of our management classes. I’m really happy I did because all of my other employees gave me great feedback (set specific deadlines rather than “next week”, give me more big picture feedback, etc.)

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

        Sure – it’s not a bad question. But you can prevent the kind of situation here, where you didn’t know how to respond, by being clear about your intentions and expectations ahead of time.

  33. PizzaSquared

    So, obviously it’s totally off-base to say you don’t want feedback. But I will say I have been in a few positions where I really wished I could say “I don’t want to talk about advancement.” A slightly different thing, but similar I think. I was smart enough to know it would be career suicide to actually say it, but I definitely thought it. Why?

    Well, I feel like some companies have a perception that every employee needs to be constantly growing and moving up. “Up or out.” But at some point, if I’m happy doing the job I’m doing, and my boss agrees that I’m doing the current job really well, WHY do I need to move up? I’m happy to have conversations about things I can do better in my current job, but I don’t want to waste time talking about how to get promoted or move to the next level, because I’m happy where I am. Again, I’m not foolish enough to actually express that, because I know the “up or out” culture would quickly shift to “out.” But it’s also resulted in me being given more responsibility than I really want, which sometimes almost feels like a punishment for doing too good of a job…..

    1. AW

      I’d argue that it’s very different thing, because it’s more specific than just “feedback” and it doesn’t necessarily hurt the company to have you stay in your current position.

      “I don’t want to move into management” is very different from “I don’t want to hear about how I’m doing at my job”. Your job/company is an example where the former won’t fly (actually, this might be a good question for Allison) but I can’t see a company where the latter would work.

      1. OP

        There are plenty of people here who will not ever be management and have been here for decades. The growth is rarely management type work – it’s more complicated projects or knowledge ownership.

  34. Mabel

    Regarding this part —

    “Also, I’m seeing a theme in your letter that’s pretty common with new managers: You want to be fair and kind, which is great, but you’re not exercising enough judgment in what is and isn’t reasonable. It’s great that you want to adapt your style to fit each team member, and that you want to take input from your staff seriously. But some requests are off-base enough that entertaining them actually sends the wrong message. There are some requests where it’s okay — even necessary — to simply say, “No, we’re not going to do that, because of ___.”

    Don’t let your desire to be accommodating make you lose sight of what’s reasonable, and don’t let it lead you to try to accommodate anyone and everything. You can be nice without being a pushover.

    So here’s my question: If you’re a new manager and still figuring everything out, does it convey the wrong message if you need time to think about a team member’s request before giving an answer? I assume that as you get more experience, there will be situations in which you’ll know right away that something is either fine or not OK. When I was first starting out as a manager, I was coming from an environment in which the answer to any request was always, “No, we can’t do that. It’s not allowed.” After I became a manager, I discovered that it wasn’t true. Many of the things we wanted things we wanted to do were allowed. The previous manager may have thought they weren’t or didn’t want to bother with requests to do something differently. So, given that my first reaction was to say “no,” I didn’t want that to always be my answer, but I also didn’t want to be a pushover, so I had to take some time to think about some of the requests before I could give an answer. At that time, I really didn’t have any other option because I was so new to managing. I think it was fine at the time, but I’m wondering if that kind of thing comes up for experienced managers (the need to think something over before giving an answer). And if so, does it make you look like you don’t know what you’re doing (i.e., that you should know the answer without having to think about it first).

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

      Nah. Maybe someone thinks it makes you look bad, but I think most people (including your best employees) would prefer a thoughtful and accurate response to an instant one. Just be positive that you actually follow up with them.

  35. Amy

    After ruminating on this, I wonder if the employee is actually so distressed by feedback that he mentally flushes it rather than act on it. Communication with the boss is how he can learn how and where to improve. If he ignores the information, whether he likes feedback or not becomes irrelevant.

    Consequences for not communicating with others should be part of the discussion about communication “issues” in general. Practical-minded people (such as people who work in IT) need to see issues in concrete terms, like: “This project got derailed because you hadn’t told Joe that your part of the widget-code was still buggy. If he’d known, he could have worked on some other part of the code to give you time to work it out. It’s hard to admit that your part is buggy but it comes out in the end anyway, so please tell people right away.”

    1. OP

      Yep, my second meeting with him was “The white chocolate teapots got sent to our customers despite you knowing they wanted dark chocolate and seeing that this was white chocolate. I see that you made a note that they were wrong but you didn’t stop the shipment and you didn’t tell anyone else that we might need to stop the shipment. When we send the wrong teapots to our customers they start to distrust all of our shipments and it makes us look bad. I’d rather you escalate to me too much than not enough so please come to me with these if you don’t know who should be handling it instead.”

      1. Not So NewReader

        This is where his inability to speak up is hurting him badly. How often do problems like this occur? Does he make the correction that you ask?

        If you can’t trust an employee to do a task, that is a huge problem. I would have difficulty trusting him, if I saw too much of this.

        1. OP

          I can get individual change but nothing I say seems to get to the “omg, tell people when there’s an issue” lesson. For example, he no longer ships the wrong teapot without checking with me (it’s really hard to keep this metaphor). However, a week after that conversation he did some work with a different team. When I asked about it he said he didn’t want to work with them anymore. I asked why and apparently he didn’t like the way their processes work – felt they were too laborious. I asked what how he’d handled the different process (because I agreed they were awful) and his answer was “subtly boycotted” them. *blink*

          I told him that was unacceptable and “subtly boycotting” something meant “not doing your job” and isn’t what we do here. We’d just had a staff meeting about the need to dissent if something doesn’t seem right and it boggled my mind that he’d just… not do it.

  36. StillHealing

    I haven’t read all the replies yet but first thought was that so many of us have been in jobs where we really wanted feedback and our requests where met with, “meh”

    I can’t imagine ever telling a supervisor that I want none of it – unless it was a being used and abused. That is, a time for weekly built in bullying and belittling. It does not appear to be the case in this situation.

  37. Cassie

    I don’t agree with people not wanting to be managed or getting feedback, especially because this kind of regular assessment meeting is required.

    On a tangent, I’d probably quit. It seems like a lot of reflection, spread out over time. It reminds me of our dept’s self-review report that we have to submit once about every ten years. But instead of one report that covers the undergrad program, the grad program, funding, faculty, staff, diversity, budget/space, etc – one topic would be discussed, then 6 months later another topic, and then another topic 6 months after that. Who has the time to do that regularly? And though these meetings may only take 30 minutes, doesn’t it add up over a week (for the manager)?

    1. OP

      It adds up for me but it’s also the easiest way I’ve found to pull out issues that otherwise I may only stumble on.

      “Oh, you totally hated that project you had before I started managing you? Good thing I was about to give you a very similar project.”
      “Oh, you think you’re excellent at time management even though I’ve been telling you that you’ve missed several deadlines without you even noticing? I clearly need to word that differently.”

      1. Cassie

        Wouldn’t it be easier to discuss these topics all at once (instead of rotating them weekly)? Or do people forget to bring up stuff because there’s too many topics to discuss? (I know when I go see my boss with 7 things to talk about, I usually forget to mention about 5 of them even though I’m holding my notes in my hand!).

  38. voyager1

    Hey Letterwriter:

    Just a thought but after reading your example about the white vs dark teapots. Any thought about this guy just wanting to avoid any confrontation? He may see your weekly feedback sessions as that… a confrontation. I don’t think a PIP really will fix this, honestly if he has this phobia of confronting it probably effects him outside of the workplace, and he probably already knows it. Just a thought.

    1. OP

      Oh, I’m sure he doesn’t like confrontation. Unfortunately, that’s his job so he has to learn to deal with it. That’s part of why I don’t want to immediately ignore the feedback – it’s so hard for him to admit he doesn’t like a thing that I don’t want to quash it when he actually will.

  39. Vally

    I must say I totally see myself in this employee’s position. Of course, he is not me, so this is just one of the endless possibilities.

    First off, if this was me, saying ‘I wish we wouldn’t do this’ doesn’t mean I will refuse to even go through the montions of it. It really just means I wish I didn’t have to, but I know we don’t always get what we wish for. I personally probably wouldn’t say it out loud, but you did ask about it and you were also friendly with this employee before you got to manage him, so perhaps he actually opened up more than he should at that moment.

    I hate to talk about myself in anyway, personally or professionally. The way you describe your feedback sessions, it would be the worst kind of questioning to me. And you do it every week! Could you cut out the ‘what you feel/ think’ parts and just stick to actions? Or perhaps just ask him to think about those, without him having to actually tell you the answers?

    The not speaking part I totally see myself doing that, in fact, I have done similar things before. In my case, the issue originates in my family and the way I grew up. If he is like me, you are looking at eight months of this new culture and way of doing things, against a whole life of this being the worst possible way of doing something.

    If this was me, I would be in serious depression by now, about how that moment of openess turned into one big mess and this person I used to be kind of friendly with is now badgering me about it without end. It’s not how things are, I’m sure, but depression tends to give thngs a strange, even bizarre appearence.

    So what can you do? Nothing much, especially if he really is in depression right now, the way I would be. Just give him clear and specific expectations on how he should behave. And I mean extremely specific. As in ‘if you see something not to spec, immediatelly tell Adam about it’. You need to actually give him a ‘map’ to the possibility of telling people that things aren’t as they should be.

    Then give him a rest about this feedback thing for a couple of weeks at least.

    Also, really try to ease on ‘how you think/feel’ questions. Perhaps letting him answer in an email might help, but it’s not guaranteed.

    But at the end of things, you can’t change the company so you just do your job and let him decide if he can adjust to it.

  40. OP

    UPDATE from our meeting today: As soon as he walked in he let me know what two of his friends at work were fired last week (different tenure, different roles, I don’t know them) and he asked if this was the time of year that many people get fired. I told him that there’s certainly never an expectation to fire people at any given time. When I asked how he was he reiterated his love of the job and company and said he’s really happy to be here. Seems like their leaving the company worked as well as us having a “fit” conversation and when I mentioned the expectation discussions he immediately said “I want to keep having them in whatever form you prefer.” When I asked why he’d originally not wanted to do them he said he hadn’t understood their use and the introspective nature made him anxious. I’ll be continuing to have the discussions and also continue coaching on communication – both that you have to and the best ways to do so.

    Thanks to everyone for your advice!

    1. Anon for this

      OP, I realize I’m a few days late with this but your employee reminds me a lot of myself so I wanted to chime in. From the way you’ve described your company, it seems like it attracts very high achieving workers. I went to a top tier business school that churned out many investment bankers and management consultants. It was full of type A extroverts. They lived for feedback. They went to every resume workshop and career counseling session they could. It didn’t matter whether the advice they received was actually any good. They were still in the academic mind set of “If I just take enough notes, do exactly what the teacher says, and do all the right things I will succeed”. I imagine they were very much the same in their first jobs after graduation. I, on the other hand, am more introverted. While very into self-improvement and professional development, it’s something I like to explore on my own. If, after my own introspection, I decide I would like to improve in a certain area, I will ask for help and advice. But I would find it excruciating to have to have forced conversations about this. The fact that your other employees are enthusiastic about the feedback sessions may not be such a great barometer. It may just mean they are a personality type who enjoys that kind of thing. Of course, if that personality type is necessary to succeed in your organization, this may just be a fit issue.

      The other point I’d like to make was touched on in another post. I grew up in a very negative environment. Pointing out your own weaknesses was usually an invitation for authority figures to exploit them. When a boss asks me how a project went, I always say it went okay, or point out an area of improvement. I’m never overly positive (even if I thought it went well) because I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. Growing up, when I made a mistake there were often questions very much like “Well, why did you do that? Why did you think that was a good idea?” in an attempt to shame me. The open-ended questioning style you’re using would make me very uncomfortable. Perhaps, if you know the topic you’re discussing is an area your employee needs to improve in, you could give him some suggestions of what you’d like him to do differently next time, rather than asking him to come up with a solution himself. It could be he is anxious that the approach he suggests will be wrong or not good enough.

      Anyway, that’s just my 2 cents. I’m glad to hear things are improving for you and your employee!

  41. Ben

    This reminds me of a consultant I once had the misfortune of working with.

    I acted, unofficially, as her support within the company, but she repeatedly told me she did not “do feedback”.
    It did not matter whether the feedback was from myself, the team, customers or management.

    This resulted in very poor output at extremely high cost (she produced elearning content). I left the company as soon as I could and understand that they are in financial difficulty as the product is not selling… No surprises there then…

  42. WhatTheWhat?

    I haven’t read ALL the comments but I have read the majority of them. It seems like a lot of people are focusing on the employee’s reasoning for not wanting feedback – it’s too cumbersome, it’s too monotonous, it’s like Groundhog Day….but what I keep coming back to is that it’s what EXPECTED. Regardless of his feelings he has got to get on board with the process or look for another position; the OP can HELP him understand the why and get him on board or she can help him find something more suitable, but changing company policy or the process simply to placate this employee aren’t viable options in this case.

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