why do managers say they want feedback and then get annoyed when they get it?

A reader writes:

I have a question for you about feedback — specifically, feedback that you’ve been asked to give.

I’ve repeatedly been asked for feedback from managers, both at work and at the organization where I volunteer, and then it seems like the same thing always happens: the feedback vanishes into a black hole, or the person asking for it gets defensive or upset and starts throwing up reasons why the feedback I’m providing can’t be correct.

Here are some recent examples:

The organization where I volunteer is having a hard time retaining volunteers. The director sent an email out asking for feedback. I sent a carefully drafted email with several suggestions … and never got a response, not even a “thank you for sending this.”

My current manager, who is new to her role and our industry, has repeatedly asked us to give her feedback, but when we try, she gets noticeably upset (raised voice, angry expression, snarky comments, etc.).

My manager at my previous organization asked for suggestions about improving our work-life balance after losing several employees to burnout. Our department put together three or four actionable suggestions and I presented them. She shot each one down without even appearing to consider them seriously. She also asked us to think about new programs to offer and, after spending a significant amount of time putting together proposals, dismissed every idea we presented.

What really confuses me about this is that when I’ve been asked for feedback and said I had none, the person asking gets angry! When I left my last job, the same manager I mentioned above asked for feedback. I said I didn’t have any and she got angry! (In that particular instance, we had a lot of people quit after this manager was promoted to lead our department. Everyone who left did an exit interview and all named the same one or two reasons as their motive for leaving. I declined to do an exit interview; I figured if three years of the same feedback hadn’t spurred any change, one more wasn’t likely to. On my last day, that manager asked me if I had any feedback for her and I said no, figuring I’d just be repeating feedback that had already been ignored, and she seemed really taken aback, and then miffed.)

I’m getting seriously mixed messages here. I hear routinely from managers that they don’t want “yes men” and want to hear ideas or be challenged, but I feel like in practice, they don’t want to hear it. I find myself holding back from sharing ideas because it doesn’t seem worth the risk.

So what’s the deal? Do managers really want feedback, or is this something they’ve been told to say but they don’t really mean it?

Most people think they want feedback, but then don’t always like the reality.

People often want to be the sort of manager who would welcome feedback — because that feels like a good thing, and no one wants to think “I’m the sort of manager who shuts down different opinions.” So in a lot of cases, people’s ego and self-image sort of demands that they believe they welcome feedback.

Often they go right on believing that about themselves even when they shut down the feedback when they get it. They think, “Well, that’s not the kind of thing I was looking for,” or “Suggestion X is really annoying because of Y, but I would welcome other, better suggestions” or “This person is only suggesting X because they don’t realize Z.”

And sometimes parts of that can be legitimate! Sometimes people’s feedback is annoying, or poorly thought-out, or lacking in perspective. But if you want to be a good manager, and if you want to be a manager who people give honest feedback to, you need to welcome it all, show that you’re taking it seriously, and engage with in a real way. That doesn’t mean that you have to act on all of it; often you shouldn’t. But it does mean that you need to say things like, “That’s really interesting — thank you for telling me how that’s coming across” and “I’m really glad to have your perspective” and other things that don’t convey “you have irritated me by speaking up.” That doesn’t mean you can’t say, “Ah, let me explain my own thinking in why we do it this way.” You can, and sometimes you’ll need to. But it needs to be a genuine and respectful conversation; it can’t come across as “I’m just here to shoot down what you say.”

And a manager who asks for feedback and then gets upset when she receives it is someone who should not be taken seriously when she requests it in the future. Depending on the manager, in some cases, there might be room next time to point out, “You know, you’ve asked us for ideas in the past but dismissed them pretty quickly. So before we come up with ideas for X, could we spend some time talking about what you are and aren’t looking for, so that we’re better able to tailor our thinking to what you want?”

But some managers are just terrible at this and always will be, and when you’re dealing with one of those, it’s smart to adjust your expectations accordingly. That doesn’t mean you should simply decline to come up with suggestions when asked, but it does mean that it’s probably not worth putting significant time into it or getting particularly invested in any of the suggestions you make.

Most managers won’t get angry if you say you don’t have feedback — but exit interviews and similar conversations with departing employees can be an exception to that, because they figure you have some thoughts you could share, and so a blanket “no” comes across less as “nothing comes to mind!” and more as “I don’t want to talk to you.” They still shouldn’t get miffed about that, of course — but these are already managers who suck at taking feedback, so it’s not surprising if they do. Because of that, sometimes the more politic response is to come up with a few bland suggestions that won’t give offense and leave it at that.

But don’t take from this that you never should give candid feedback when it’s requested. There are managers who appreciate it and handle it well — and with those, you’ll be losing out if you don’t take advantage of that. So just pay attention to how your manager operates — to what they do, rather than what they say — and calibrate your approach accordingly.

{ 252 comments… read them below }

  1. Be the Change*

    The book “Thanks for the Feedback” is the single most valuable piece of personal and professional development I have ever had.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      My passive aggressive side would like to see the OP purchase one for her manager and leave it on her desk anonymously.

      1. irene adler*

        Oh, yessss!
        Inscribe it with ” from your manager, (manager’s name)” or with the company president’s name.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Totally agreed—it’s my absolute favorite (to the point that it’s now assigned reading).

    3. Sarah in Boston*

      I’m about to buy a copy of it and Alison’s book for my college graduating cousin. I got to work with Sheila Heen a few years ago and it was such a fantastic experience.

      1. Be the Change*

        Oh wow, I bet. She seems very clear-thinking and kind along with it. (Also she has great taste in dresses, I covet that plum-colored dress she wore for her TEDx talk so much that I’ve come thisclose to emailing and thanking her for the talk and oh-by-the-way….! Er…I do remember the content, too.)

    4. Mamaganoush*

      I just read it — really thoughtful and interesting. Gives great specific actions to take in order to get better at receiving and giving feedback.

  2. MuseumChick*

    This might be my own bitterness coming through. But, after a lot of interaction like what the letter writer describes I’ve stop taking requests for feedback seriously. It has never lead to anything good. People want to hear what they want to hear and most of the time companies are uninterested in changing what is driving people away.

    1. miss_chevious*

      I try to give a new manager or boss the benefit of the doubt when they request feedback and offer substantive suggestions the first time or two. But once they’ve shown they aren’t actually open to it or won’t engage with it in a considered way, then I phone it in for all subsequent requests. I’m not going to beat my head against a brick wall for fun, and I’m not going to give substantive feedback to people who will reject it or, worse, use it against me in the future.

      1. Minocho*

        miss_chevious: that’s how I handle it too. I try to give it a chance with a manager, because sometimes you can accomplish great things! But you also have to recognize where it’s pointless to expend energy.

        Also, if a management team does this, it’s another piece of data to throw into the “do I stay or do I go” consideration pool.

        1. Blue*

          This! My current supervisor is fantastic at taking feedback – he frequently solicits it, but also welcomes me just throwing my thoughts and concerns out there. It’s usually clear to me if the decision is already made and I should save my breath, but the vast majority of the time, he either takes my point or at least spends some time thinking it over. He’s good about looking for useful information even in unactionable feedback, and I’ve definitely tried to emulate that. I’m about to start a new job, and I’m actually a little worried – most people would not be so comfortable with unsolicited critique!

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Same. I’ve worked with managers who genuinely wanted feedback, and they were wonderful. I’ve also worked with managers who do not want feedback but think it sounds/looks good to ask for feedback. The first 1-2 requests, I treat the request as genuine and offer my input. If they behave/react badly, then I also phone it in—I don’t have the time or emotional bandwidth to manage my manager’s dysfunctional feelings around receiving feedback and my own work.

        1. KTB*

          PCBH, your last sentence is EXACTLY why I left my last boss. He was obsessed with the concept of feedback and how good it sounded (namely coming from other people about me). Of course, when I had the audacity to give him the feedback that he asked for, he argued with me about every detail until I gave up and started looking for a new job. Lesson learned.

    2. Grayson*

      I feel like this would also be a good book for interpersonal relationships. Thanks for the recommendation!

    3. SpaceNovice*

      I agree. I’ve found that most people cannot handle feedback. Generally, a failing company is failing due to bad management practices–and if they didn’t have bad management, they wouldn’t need the feedback!

    4. AKchic*

      Yep. I have had some bad managers and they love to solicit feedback, but all they are really looking for is tuchus-kissing and what they mean when they solicit feedback is an invitation to bootlick and wax rhapsodic over how great they are and don’t go changing *insert finger-guns and a wink here*

      I am not the type to pander to that ish. Don’t have time for it, don’t have the desire to cater to it, so I don’t. If someone needs that kind of attention and ego stroke, may I suggest a puppy for an hour and a good therapist?

      I am the type to call them out. They don’t like it. I’m polite(ish), but I’m to-the-point. Be plain about what you want. Do you want a tuchus-kissing or do you want real information. You won’t get that adoration from me if its not warranted, but I will give you the feedback you need.

    5. Lily in NYC*

      That’s too bad because it’s not like this everywhere. My boss asks our entire team for feedback and reacts with maturity and takes everything we write to heart and implements changes. Our entire 600-person company is asked to provide feedback to our president’s office (about the president’s office performance) and they take it very seriously. It has led to many changes for the better (things like a mentor program, real professional development opportunities, more diversity in our hiring practices, allowing junior staffers to attend high-level meetings if they are involved in a project, summer fridays, more flexibility regarding work hours and the best part, they actually listened to complaints about a few horrendous senior-level executives and got rid of them).

    6. Bea*

      This kills me slowly. I had to warm up and pry things out of my former reports because of the managers before me that silenced them. I know going in every single time this will be a thing and thankfully I’m good at earning trust in the end. But it’s so exhausting.

      I don’t blame you or anyone else but the pricks who caused you to shut down in the first place.

    7. Kitty*

      Same. I’ve found more often than not, companies are completely uninterested in changing their environment no matter how much they say they welcome feedback or challenging ideas (seriously our workplace has posters up about “innovation” and “thinking outside the box”, which make me laugh because neither of these are things they encourage in practice, they just like to think they are that kind of organisation).

      A very experienced co-worker at this company actually named problems with a specific manager in their exit interview, and despite losing all that experience and knowledge with the great employee, the company hasn’t seemed to make any changes to the way this manager works.

      I did give bluntly honest feedback at the exit interview for my last job, not because I thought they would change anything but because I just wanted to be heard, and I knew I had nothing to lose by burning bridges because this company was not in the industry I wanted to make my career.

    8. Sketchee*

      I’ve found with good bosses I’ve had – and I’ve had a few amazing ones – they’re involved. They’re attentive and inquire when they here any signs of trouble. And they fix issues.

      And have lots of other evidence of projects they’ve helped grease. They’re such great fixers that it made it easy to believe they would give some reasonable seriousness to my concerns.

      If you doubt that a boss will act on your feedback, usually the others signs are there in my experiences.

    1. Les*

      This. Some people don’t want collaboration, they want mind readers to tell them how great they are. This “I’m saying one thing but I don’t mean it” thing really pisses me off; just be direct and tell your reports what you need from them.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I think they also want easy, low-cost solutions that will be easy to implement. Like, tote bags! If you give all the volunteers or employees branded tote bags, then they will be happy and not feel burned out! The retention problem will go away!

      And every once in a while, there actually is such a solution. Like, if over time a baroque system has grown up and the reason for it is “well we’ve always done it this way” and you replace it with an easier system. But a lot of the time the answer is “we need to hire more people” or “we need to get rid of the toxic manager everyone hates” and management is left pouting in the corner, because they wanted the tote bag answer.

      1. Luna*

        Yep! My large organization is constantly asking employees to fill out anonymous surveys about employee engagement. We keep filling these out and telling the company what we want to see to keep us engaged. Their only responses to date have been to continue to throw up their hands in despair and exclaim “we just don’t know what these employees want! what more can we do!”

        This is because most of the things employees say they want are more $$$, more flexible schedules, and more opportunities for career growth. But those are just too hard.

          1. Anonymous Engineer*

            After the best year in company history, each employee got…..

            a single coaster.

          2. AKchic*

            My last company used to give out coffee mugs and water bottles at the time of hire. I actually liked those and had quite a few. They had standard size and then an oversize one. I was disappointed when the last one broke. I may need to go back and get more.
            I also got two different binders, a lot of pens over the years, a calendar every year, a leather sticky note holder, some stuffed beanie babies and a stuffed moose and some other stuff. Our prevention department had extra money one year left over and they went nuts on promotional items. Some of it was downright adorable. Did it help morale? No. Was it a pain to store, pain to drag around to different conferences so it could be handed out to other people, and pain to pack up and lug back? Yes. But was it worth it in the brand recognition? Absolutely. I still love my beanie baby and companion moose.
            Did it make up for having a terrible manager, grumpy coworker, lackluster insurance and low pay? No. No it did not.

            But I still want another coffee mug. I wonder if they’re doing travel mugs yet.

            1. smoke tree*

              I have a workplace giveaway anti-morale story. I was interning with a company that was really big on branded merch. Most of this stuff I didn’t care about, but I really coveted these microfibre blankets they gave away to departing interns. I had an apartment with no heating and no money for a nice blanket (see: intern). When my departure date was nigh, I was really sick with an awful virus and missed the going-away party. But when I came back to my desk, I was treated to a signed photo of everyone else at the party having a great time. And no blanket.

              1. AKchic*

                Oh, that totally calls for raiding the supply closet and running with as many as you can carry.

          3. Foon*

            My company went with vests. They made a really big deal out of handing them out to- like giving employees a free piece of branded clothing was a novel idea.

        1. Seriously?*

          We want to prevent burnout without reducing the workload or spending any money! But we are open to any suggestions.

          1. Sam.*

            Ha, my office is dealing with this right now. Our work is very cyclical, and there’s a long stretch each quarter when everyone is in meetings all day, every day, and get behind on a lot of the standard administrative tasks that still have to get done. A proposal was made to give everyone an in-service day or two during this period where you were excused from meetings and just caught up on other stuff. Management was like, “That’s an amazing idea! But we can’t have you away a full day, so maybe two half days. And it’s really too busy during these periods to cut back on any meetings, but you can take the in-service half-days whenever you want during XYZ weeks!” XYZ weeks being, of course, the typically slow period where everyone already has time to do admin work. Sigh.

        2. Gaia*

          Ugh my company does this. We fill out twice a year survey that clearly (every year) shows that people with low happiness scores are low because they want more money or better benefits. And every year the company is like “hmm we wonder why they aren’t happy and keep leaving” Um I’m going to go on a limb and say because they want more money or better benefits and have told you this explicitly and you ignore that year after year but keep asking? Are you hoping they ask for a new pen?

          1. Unanimously Anonymous*

            My company used to do this every other year…roll out the survey with a lot of hoopla about “employee engagement,” then ignore the results. Now they’ve just stopped doing them altogether. That’s better IMHO – at least they’re not being hypocritical by pretending that the worker bees are anything other than interchangeable parts.

            1. selena81*

              yeah, i prefer the ‘you are just an interchangeable drone to us’ honesty over pretending to care because it makes them feel good about themselves or because they are hoping for a cheap way to boost morale.

              To me the frustration goes way beyond office work. The phenomenon is more prevalent when the underling has even less power to tell the feedback-asker to bugger off (think: social services and their clients, where the consequence for disobedience is not temporary job-loss but having your child dragged kicking and screaming into foster care).
              Don’t tell an at-risk child that he is a special snowflake: it just reminds him of his dad being forced to kiss his boss’s butt and of his mom being afraid of pissing off the church-people.

        3. Susan Sto Helit*

          We actually did have a CEO who was serious about improving employee engagement and implemented a bunch of things to improve peoples’ working lives.

          He left after a year due to clashes with the board, and his replacement immediately rescinded every single one of them.

          1. rldk*

            Ughhh, so much vicarious rage! Can’t even try to keep the most popular or the most cost-effective change? Really?

        4. TardyTardis*

          The last ‘anonymous’ survey I filled out at ExJob was through a third party (or so we were told) from an account at our own desktop. Yeah, right…I was politically correct because seriously, I felt strongly they would know who filled out what.

        5. jb*

          Oh god…my company does anonymous surveys…which are then broken down so each manager (who only supervise, on average, about 5 people) gets data for their reports, including any free-entry comments.

          The result is that there is effectively no anonymity, because managers know their reports’ writing styles and can figure out who answered what.

          Last year we had a meeting where my manager’s boss literally said “Someone answered ‘strongly disagree’ to this question, so let’s talk about it.” We all spent the next few minutes making noncommital responses wondering who had given a negative answer, while whoever had was trying to not give themselves away. Worst game of mafia ever (btw it turned out to be someone who had transferred to a different group between when the survey was taken and when the results were discussed).

          1. Jarns*

            No one at my company will fill out anonymous surveys for that very reason, until the CFO starts spamming everyone with sternly worded emails demanding that we fill out the anonymous surveys. So we put a bunch of BS in there, because no one wants to get into trouble for not filling out the survey OR for being too honest.
            It’s ridiculous.

      2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        To be fair, sometimes a manager wants totebag answers because they are not in a position to hire more people, get new expensive software, etc.

        If I went to my team and asked for ideas to make their jobs easier, better, faster, more fun or whatever. I can only act on those ideas that are within my scope. So if I get back ideas like, “Dump the corporate software X”, “Give more PTO”, “Offer a management training program”, yeah, there’s not much I can do about that. Maybe the last one, informally with other manager agreement and additional opportunities within the team for leadership. But usually the feedback that is given back is something that, while a manager may agree with, it isn’t anything that’s within their circle of influence.

        I think sometimes ‘Management’ is confused with ‘Leadership’. While Managers may be leaders, they are often not the ones who can enact the wanted changes.

        So I think that a little more clarification is needed when seeking feedback and when giving it.

        And then yeah, there are people who just want to say they are open to feedback when they really aren’t and nothing is going to change that.

        1. Seriously?*

          Although if a good manager gets feedback that they cannot act on, they will say that. If they explain why the feedback is not actionable, then they may get more useful feedback.

          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

            That’s true, but that can be perceived as pushing back on the feedback.

            That’s why I think in most cases the communication has to happen first so that both parties have an idea of the scope.

          2. selena81*

            Last time we had a survey one of the big points was ‘not enough connection with other departments’. Which our managers addressed with ‘we agree, but there is not much we can do about it, we shall change the question next time so its just about our own department’.
            Fine by me: i understand that my managers do not have god-powers.

            My feeling is that when people say ‘we want more money’ what they really mean is ‘we feel we are underpaid as _compared_to_ management itself’ and not ‘no amount of extra salary will ever be enough’

            As to the software: i think the idea there is that you should bring it to table with _your_ managers.
            You should not see it as ‘stop complaining about things i cannot change’ but as your team backing you up when you tell other managers ‘your people hate the software? mine too. we should really seek out other options when our current contract is up’

        2. Serin*

          Truly, if my manager came to my department and said, “I have limited organizational power and a small budget, but if you have any ideas within those limits on how I can improve your jobs, I’d love to hear them,” I would appreciate the candor and turn my mind to thinking with the narrow limits. (Maybe Madeleine would be willing to give us a lunchtime seminar on how to use those Excel shortcuts she’s so good at? Maybe people who have bought business books would be willing to share them with the team? Maybe we could all go out to lunch on our own dime? Maybe when you call me and tell me thanks for doing a big project, you could put it in writing so I could file it and look at it when I feel unappreciated?)

          I’ve worked at enough small, cash-strapped companies to understand when a manager tells me what their limits are.

          Also, it means a lot just to hear them say, “I know the software that works well for the implementation people doesn’t work so well for you. I can’t fix it, but I am aware that it’s a drag on your productivity, and I appreciate your patience.”

        3. MadameCheese*

          Pushing feedback up the chain of command is totally legitimate though. Especially of there’s a pattern in feedback from many employees.

      3. Director of Employee Engagement*

        I was once given a brand new position “Director of Employee Engagement” with the goal of improving morale and increasing retention. My tenure was short because I argued that capacity building for mid-level managers to change culture would be a better ROI than throwing pizza parties when departments reached an overworked breaking point. No, no, I think the people want pizza.

        1. Bowl fo Oranges*

          I’m supposed to be in charge of culture at my company in addition to my regular job. It’s basically a glorified event planning committee, because my boss isn’t great at taking feedback he doesn’t agree with and I don’t feel like spending the political capital on the arguments like that. It’s a shame, too, because I am actually interested in culture and employee engagement – but it’s just not worth the fight for something that’s that “additional duties as needed.”

    3. Antilles*

      Or they were hoping for the negative feedback to only be stuff that’s extremely minor and instantly fixable – issues more along the lines of “can we move the box of printer paper to a different shelf?” rather than “we’re having trouble retaining volunteers because we are disorganized enough it’s driving people away”.

      1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

        LOL. Back at ToxicJob, management were patting themselves on the back for solving the vanilla coffee creamer issue while ignoring the huge list of other problems that employees had brought up.

            1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

              I don’t remember the details because this was about five years ago (and I didn’t pay much attention because I brought my own coffee and vanilla creamer is nasty anyway), but apparently for the company provided coffee there was plenty of irish cream and hazelnut flavored creamer but not enough vanilla. So the company added a larger order of vanilla creamer to the coffee supply order. Ta da!

              In the meantime, our phone system was such garbage that conference calls (and we had a lot of those) were always full of people asking if others could speak up, repeat things, etc. Once a manager suggested a reward point system for people who asked if others could speak up, etc. I said, “wouldn’t it just be better to get a phone system that actually works?” and got a bunch of blank stares in reply.

    4. Lindsay J*

      Yup. Same thing happens on a lot of online message boards and advice blogs. People come looking for advice on their relationship or whatever. People tell them what they thing, and then the poster argues because it’s not what they wanted to hear.

      They want to be told that they’re right, or that there’s some easy magic solution to fix everything, not hear hard truths or constructive criticism.

      1. Self employed*

        Very meta! I would generally agree. It’s probably human nature, but kind of annoying in practice…

      2. Susan Calvin*

        Moment of silence for that Reddit guy who talked his gf into an open relationship, got mad when she ended up getting more and hotter dates out of the arrangement, and was shocked (shocked!) by people’s honest reactions.

      3. selena81*

        Oftentimes people will disclose juuuust the right information to make it clear what advice they seek. So i amuse myself by ignoring a few lines and imagining what ‘logical response’ that would bring instead.

  3. Catalin*

    And can we all pause and call out how awkward it is telling your BOSS feedback, unless it’s super good?

    1. Minocho*

      It usually is, but with a good manger, it doesn’t have to be. Of course, with a good and experienced manager, you likely won’t have much feedback – what you’ll have will be information about yourself and your experiences you can give them to help them with their decision making process. But with a good manager who is new or unaware of something, non-positive feedback doesn’t have to be awkward.

      I am fortunate enough to be a position right now where that’s the case. I still phrase things carefully, no reason to be a bull in another person’s emotional china shop (all too often my default if I don’t think things through a little) – but it’s been a great experience with this job.

    2. ScienceLady*

      Ugh. Yes. We give 360-degree feedback each year at our organization, and the managers have to have meetings with their teams to review their results. Our most recent meeting ended with our manager crying and asking, “do you all really think this about me?”*

      *Please note that no feedback was cruel or unkind – the team even met to plan productive feedback that wouldn’t upset manager.**

      **Didn’t work.

        1. ScienceLady*

          Oh yes. And it doesn’t help that all of us are wildly uncomfortable with emotion at work! (Think Liz Lemon – “No…it okay. Don’t be…cry…?”

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Oh that’s a crappy way to do that. Why on earth would this be face to face? Aren’t these usually given to the boss’s boss for the review?

        1. ScienceLady*

          In theory, managers receive feedback from their teams and receive an aggregated, anonymous report. They review it with their boss, who guides two areas of focus for the following year as well as two areas of strength to continue. The idea is that they are supposed to review their areas of excellent and plan for their areas of focus with their team during the team meeting. Ours…devolved.

      2. London Calling*

        Oh God, so reminds me. Years ago I worked for an American bank starting with C and ending with Bank, and one year they decided wouldn’t it be a NEAT idea to have 180 degree appraisals? anonymous of course. which our manager was all up for being as his staff LOVED him and he was such a WONDERFUL manager….

        Then the results came out. Whoops.

    3. Evan Þ*

      I agree it’d be awkward telling him face-to-face, and I have a really good boss!

      At my employer, it’s my boss’s boss who asks me for feedback on my boss, and that’s much better. I’ve had really good feedback in general, but there are a few things that would’ve been very awkward to tell him to his face.

    4. BRR*

      Ugh so awkward. What helps at my organization is they give you core competencies for strengths and weaknesses (I tend to dislike them otherwise). It was easier when the feedback was multiple choice instead of open ended.

  4. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    I’ve had the same thing happen where I volunteer. They asked how to better recruit and retain volunteers. So, I mentioned things that could be improved. My supervisor, as it were, WELCOMED the suggestions and was ecstatic. The people above her…………less so. They wanted feedback on how to improve things but didn’t want suggestions that required actual effort. And, I think is a lot of it. These people want feedback…but only if it can be implemented with minimal effort. That way they can feel like they’ve done SOMETHING, but not expended a ton of energy on it. I’ve learned to adjust my expectations and mention minor things that can be done.

    1. medium of ballpoint*

      This happened at my last job and it was so frustrating. That company had a lot of trouble retaining POCs and were constantly complaining about it. The POCs who did work there gave them solid, actionable items that the higher ups consistently ignored. After a while it started feeling disrespectful: don’t waste our time asking for feedback you don’t care about and don’t pretend to give a damn about an issue when you make it crystal clear that you don’t.

  5. On Fire*

    We had new bosses come in. After a few months, they did a company-wide survey for feedback, with Big Shiny Plans (TM) of unveiling all the glowing praise they expected to receive. (Spoiler alert: we weren’t nearly as happy as New Bosses fantasized.)

    We turned in our (anonymous) surveys … and never heard another word about it. I had a friend in the department that received the completed forms, who told me that the results were so disastrously dismal, new bosses destroyed the forms and said they were never to be spoken of again.

    These same bosses were doing exit interviews at first, but by the time I left (I was almost the hundredth to leave in a short time), they were barely acknowledging departures. Definitely no exit interview.

    So yeah, I believe that a lot of times people don’t want feedback if it doesn’t fit with their preconceived ideas.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Hehehehe the shortsightedness of this strategy!! They no doubt actually *drove bad reviews* that probably wouldn’t have ever made it to the site before!

        1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

          Yup. Mine wasn’t brutal, but it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine either. It was completely honest. And has received a handful of votes for being helpful. I’m sure HR is delighted.

      2. Jarns*

        My favorite thing is when there are a bunch of negative GlassDoor reviews, and then someone higher up the food chain rallies a bunch of folks into hitting GlassDoor with some over-the-top, obviously fake, 5 star reviews. It’s actually comical to me that they think people will be fooled by that.

    1. Antilles*

      the results were so disastrously dismal, new bosses destroyed the forms and said they were never to be spoken of again.
      Nothing says “we have a major problem” like destroying the paperwork showing there’s a problem.

        1. AKchic*

          “Maybe some marshmallows. The generic, cheap ones. But no chocolate. That’s not in the budget.”

    2. lyonite*

      We have a company-wide survey that goes out every year, with lots of pressure for everyone to fill it out. The first couple of years I gave honest answers, but after a while it became clear that all they were ever going to do with negative feedback was institute “programs” intended to change our answers (we actually had a manager slip up and call them the “wrong answers”), without ever changing anything substantive. So I switched to giving full marks for every question except compensation, since I figured there was no way for them to weasel out of that one.

      This year, they took the compensation questions off the survey.

      1. Kj*

        Exjob put out a survey and asked for ratings and comments. Then proceeded to publish the comments, anonymously in an all staff email. It was fun. One person even called the CEO “fake” and several called out the lack of health benefits at a health organization as shameful. It was entertaining, nearly as entertaining as when they published the results of exit interviews, to similarly amusing results. I give them credit for not hiding anything.

        1. AKchic*

          My last company would pick and choose who to do exit interviews with. It was almost like whoever the C-suite was curious (or nosy) about, they would get an exit interview, if they stuck around long enough to do one.
          I made my public reasons well-known, and my not-so-public reasons were known by the CEO, my boss’s boss, and a few others.
          I did not get an exit interview because the people who would have otherwise been curious as to my reasons already knew full well why I was leaving. It still would have been nice to give them a full, official accounting before leaving though.

          1. Sam.*

            On our employee survey, they use a strongly disagree/disagree/neutral/agree/strongly agree scale…and then on the results, lump “agree” and “strongly agree” together so it looks better. I ask for the raw data every year on principle, even though I know they won’t do anything with the results either way.

    3. Jady*

      I think this recently happened at my job. We had a company-wide survey go out last year, and the initial announcement said they would make the results publicly available.

      Only thing I’ve heard since then is they are ‘in review’ once a few months after it happened.

  6. Anonymous Engineer*

    Not giving feedback when requested is its own kind of feedback, and managers/companies should pay attention to that.

    An example would be the fact that my company can’t get anyone to respond to “anonymous” employee satisfaction survey requests. If people were thrilled with the job, they’d be more likely to fill out the survey. The fact that no one will should tell the company that 1) people don’t trust that it’s really anonymous, 2) people don’t have a lot of positive things to say, or both.

    1. Lasso*

      We definitely are suspicious whether it is really anonymous or not and some people refuse to fill it out because of that.

      1. DecorativeCacti*

        Even when they really are truly anonymous, if you’re in a small department it can be easy to figure it out.

        1. Gaia*

          There are ways to mitigate that and good companies that want honest feedback will be clear about how they are doing so.

        2. Media Monkey*

          especially if they ask department/ seniority/ gender/ age bracket (if you aren’t in the most common one)

          1. Sam.*

            ^^ this. I refused to fill it out until they removed those kinds of questions. (I do answer it now, but I keep responses intentionally vague and neutral)

        3. aebhel*

          Yep. My library has 13 people working here, and I guarantee you that almost everyone could immediately figure out who wrote what ‘anonymous’ feedback.

          My current boss had a facilitator to do a report on staff concerns, which was really appreciated (and we didn’t have anything bad to say about him anyway). His predecessor was one of those people who said ‘oh, my office is always open, please, I welcome feedback and input’ and then would either lose her s*** in the moment or retaliate on performance reviews for anything even slightly negative. She didn’t get much feedback, always seemed to be baffled as to why.

        4. Candy*

          Exactly. My company’s last “anonymous” survey required we list our position and department. That would have narrowed me down to one of three people. None of the three of us bothered with the survey

      2. Amelia*

        We had an anonymous 360 review of our president a few years ago and one employee blasted him (valid, truthful feedback but not tactfully phrased). The president blew a gasket and demanded that his exec team (and the head of our union!) find out who had written that feedback.

        The whole situation didn’t reassure any of us that our truthful feedback was actually wanted. However, the author of that particular feedback was never outed to the president, so I guess it really was an anonymous process…?

      3. Perse's Mom*

        We’ve had people swear up, down, and sideways that these are truly anonymous… and then I’ve been told by someone in the know that no, they’re really not. Then again, we have different surveys done by different vendors, so it’s possible some of them are, but my default now is deep on the untrusting side.

    2. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

      I knew I’d reached the point of no return at ToxicJob when even though I felt pretty sure the surveys weren’t anonymous, I was brutally honest anyway, half hoping they’d fire me.

      1. JokersandRogues*

        Oooh, been there, done that. Also spoke up in a meeting about the results where they asked if anyone would be willing to de-anonymize themselves. I did. It was fun. I kept my voice tone very neutral/flat and made a point of saying I couldn’t speak for everyone.

        But I was so done with that job. Soooooo dooonnnneeee.

    3. pleaset*

      Spot on. This is Watzlawick’s 1st axiom of communications: “One cannot not communicate.” Because every behaviour is a kind of communication, people who are aware of each other are constantly communicating. Any perceivable behaviour, including the absence of action, has the potential to be interpreted by other people as having some meaning.

    4. Dame Judi Brunch*

      Exactly! This survey is anonymous, but don’t share your link with anyone else! Who do they think they’re fooling?

      1. Optimistic Prime*

        That’s often just so the system doesn’t allow you to take it multiple times (accidentally or intentionally). It doesn’t mean that your identity is recorded.

    5. irene adler*


      But many companies just assume laziness is the reason for the nonresponse. Takes the onus off of management that there’s anything that needs fixing/attention.

      1. Anonymous Engineer*

        I actually wish someone would ASK why I don’t do the survey, so I could reply, “I don’t trust that it’s really anonymous,” which explicitly states one of my reasons for not replying, and strongly implies my other one.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          Ha, one of the questions on our survey is “Do you believe this survey is truly anonymous”. They ask a lot of questions about our trust level, which I like.

    6. Lily in NYC*

      My sister told me that her agency confirms that their surveys are confidential and people assume that means they are anonymous. They are not – they are definitely confidential but they are not anonymous. I think that is so shady.

      1. Robin Sparkles*

        But she is telling the truth – confidentiality doesn’t equate to anonymous and they aren’t lying. I suppose they could provide definitions that technically – the results come from a source that the survey recipients or designer could tie back to the person (i.e. confidential) vs anonymous (no way for the survey recipient to tie back to the person because the system hides all info including IP addresses, etc)

        1. Lily in NYC*

          The truth can be shady. They may be telling the truth but they are well aware that people don’t realize they aren’t anonymous and choose to let people keep believing it. I would be mortified if I wrote something negative about my supervisor without realizing that my name was on top. My sister thinks it’s hilarious that one of her direct reports makes petty complaints about her (she is furious for some reason that my sister has a private bathroom and dedicated conference room and bitches about it in every survey).

          1. Robin Sparkles*

            Oh I agree with you -that is shady that your name is on top! That is NOT confidential! Confidential means that the results won’t name who said it but that it’s not truly anonymous because – someone could -with work and some deliberation- tie back the results to the source. That’s why using a third party is best. They have no incentive to reveal that to the client and they are correctly using confidential in that your employer won’t know it is you but they (the third party) could tie it back.

            I know this because I have had to send surveys that are confidential but because I designed them – I could discover who took them – I made every effort to leave off identifiers but really- I could find the email address if I dug hard enough or the IP address. A lot of times companies do this to identify trends or hot spots -not to out people. Of course that doesn’t encourage people who don’t trust their organizations. It says a lot if someone refuses to take a survey because they do not trust their results are truly confidential.

    7. Oxford Coma*

      Even if they ARE anonymous, some jobs just don’t allow for non-identifying complaints. If you’re the only llama pedicurist in a department of llama groomers, complaining about the lack of llama hoof support is pretty freaking obvious.

      This is also why GlassDoor can be of limited help. If you left on relatively good terms and were the only person with your title, why burn the reference by giving negative feedback?

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Yup! And ours are broken out by department. My department is only 9 people so it’s probably very easy to figure out who wrote each comment.

    8. Artemesia*

      I have a friend who is a private consultant and was hired to do a survey of a company having difficulties. The outcome was dismal and the people who hired him insisted he divulge the names of the people providing the very negative feedback i.e. specific comments from the surveys. They claimed that having hired him, they ‘owned the information and the forms.’ He fired the client and shredded the forms.

    9. Massmatt*

      Yes, they should, but if management is bad at accepting feedback, they will be bad at understanding why people aren’t giving it. It’s a vicious circle of bad management. A bad feedback loop, if you will.

  7. Minocho*

    It’s frustrating when things like this happen. But, managers are people, just like we all are. I like to think of myself as someone who takes constructive criticism well, but I still have to consciously hold back any reaction for a good 15 seconds to prevent a defensive response and give me time to get over the initial emotion so I can engage my brain when I get criticism. I’m sure it’s exactly the same for some managers.

  8. clow*

    OP I have been wondering the same thing. At previous toxic job from hell, manager asked for feedback, I gave some feedback in the most diplomatic way I could, even giving suggestions for how to help the team do better, he got angry and defensive and 2 days later I was magically placed on PIP after being told for 4 months that I was doing a good job. My current manager in new job seems great, but no way am I going to test the waters by giving him feedback when he asks for it. Now I just say “no nothing really comes to mind at the moment”. One horrible manager treating me like crap after giving feedback was enough to dissuade me from doing it again. I have heard many of my friends feeling the same way, giving managers real and truthful feedback seems like it will never lead to anything good.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      That’s awful. How insecure must that manager have been. What an abusive person. Glad you’re out of there.

      giving managers real and truthful feedback seems like it will never lead to anything good.

      That’s exactly the attitude most people I know have. Keep your head down, mouth shut, do your job and go home at the end of the day. If you’re asked for feedback, say you can’t think of anything or you’re happy with how things are, especially if you’re not!

      Managers don’t realise that ‘shoot the messenger’ response spreads to other aspects of the workplace and people don’t speak up when something is really wrong, such as theft or harassment.

      1. clow*

        yep, after that job, where the manager was abusive and demeaning, I decided the “keep your head down” approach you mention was the best way. It is a shame, I am sure there are good managers out there, and honestly, I think my current manager is probably one of them, but it isn’t worth the risk to my career or mental health to bother giving them feedback.

        1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

          It really is a shame. So many people who could otherwise flourish personally and professionally, and therefore be of immense service to their employer, are being shut down. I understand it’s hard to hear feedback but if employees are expected to graciously accept it, then so should management. There are good managers but you said it perfectly: it’s not worth the risk to your mental health or career. Keep quiet and find another aspect of your life in which you can contribute and be of service. It shouldn’t be this way, though.

  9. Margot the Destroyer*

    We do annual evaluations of our company and management chain with a numerical rating scale. It isn’t exactly feedback, but our managers get a score based on all of our combined answers. I had a manager several years ago who got a low score. He was pretty awful though and had had multiple people quit. From that score, we had to create a plan for the next yr to raise scores. The meetings became all about him and his whoa is me, please give me praise attitude in them was awful. He even caused someone to quit who had started that week in one of the meetings. The company really does that those scores seriously though because he was let go shortly after.

    1. rldk*

      Hey, at least it worked – the low score and lack of change in the low score led to a dismissal! I’m sure it took far too long as someone who was experiencing it, but good outcome!

  10. Let's Talk About Splett*

    IME there’s a couple things going on in this scenario:

    1) They were hoping for/expecting only positive feedback.

    2) HR or management encourages or requires it, and they want to make the boss happy or check off the box.

  11. Fish girl*

    Ugh, I feel your pain. My old job had a ton of turnover and burnout (my dept alone lost 80% of the staff in less than 3 months) and the upper management was frantic for feedback and suggestions to stem the tide. A group of senior staff from each department (including me) were asked to put together a list of suggestions for improvements. When we met with management to offer our ideas, they refused to discuss our ideas and only critiqued how our list was put together and worded! They were offended that the list was written as actions instead of suggestions (ex. “Reduce the ratio of llamas to llama groomers” was deemed demanding and aggressive. They wanted the list to say “Please consider reducing the ratio of llamas to llama groomers.”)

    1. Seriously?*

      Considering changes will do little to reduce burnout. They want a list that will get the same amount of work done for the same amount of money just with less burnout. That list doesn’t exist.

  12. Bones*

    Tangentially related, how do you quit when the reason is “you do not respect your employees to a really egregious degree and I’ve had enough.”

    1. SoCalHR*

      Perhaps you can say something like, you don’t feel like you are a “long term fit for the philosophy of the company/team/etc.”

      1. JessicaTate*

        I think SoCalHR has offered really good framing language if you want to get your message across, but gently. It’s a particularly good option if you’re leaving without actually having that “new opportunity” lined up. Another option I used once (with a boss and organization who had made it crystal clear they didn’t want honest feedback) was the very vague “After much consideration, I have concluded that it is best for me to step away from this [job/organization/team] at this time.”

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Oh, this is an easy one!
      “Although I’m happy here, a situation became available to me* that seems to be a great opportunity right now. I just have to take this chance professionally**.”

      *by actively applying to said situation
      **before I become a shell of myself unable to function outside of this gulag.

    3. On Fire*

      My resignation letter (from the company mentioned somewhere above) said something like, “My last day will be X. I appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to learn while working here.” Unspoken was “learning what to NEVER do!” I kept it very short and didn’t mention a reason for leaving. And nobody asked. My horrible supervisor asked if he could do anything to change my mind, and I said, “I’m pretty set on it. It’s a good deal.” The next-step supervisor said I was on the list for a raise, so would I reconsider? (Like I believed THAT! Nobody was getting raises.) “No, I’m excited about the new opportunity.”

      1. irene adler*

        I just love when the incentives only come up when one is out the door.

        Might be fun to start asking questions to clarify these incentives. I might have asked supervisor “what did you have in mind?” And asked the next-step supervisor, “is there a time-frame to expect that raise to occur?”
        And then keep asking questions until they can’t give answers (“when exactly would I get that raise?” “how much would it be?” “retroactive to the first of the year?” “can you guarantee another one next year?” “the year after?”. You get the idea.
        Then just conclude with a comment like “gee, I guess you weren’t serious about the raise, were you?”

        1. TardyTardis*

          I remember that kind of thing! I quit the local library when a brand new hire was paid more than me for the same position, and *then* they told me how wonderful I was. Too late!

      2. Jady*

        I like that they said “on the list for a raise” instead of “We’ll give you a raise to stay”.

        You’re on THE LIST. Horray!

      3. anathema*

        A co-worker was a permatemp. There had long been rumored conversion to full-time staff. She asked the powers-that-be to confirm that conversion would happen in that calendar year (it was February). They couldn’t give her an answer and were still shocked when she left.

        They couldn’t commit to delivering on a promise in the next 11 months.

      4. CatCat*

        I had almost exactly the same experience at a job I quit a long time ago for another opportunity. My boss said she would get me that raise I asked for 6 months ago… um no, the time for that was 6 months ago.

    4. Minocho*

      As others suggested above, I mentioned that I had another opportunity and thanked them for all I’d learned while there. It was soon – too soon, really, just a few weeks short of 1 year. And my immediate boss was okay, but the owner…::shudders::. He only paid half of the moving expenses he promised me. I’d moved cheap, and the half I did received covered my actual expenses, so I left it. He laid off one long time employee to hire a personal friend (openly spoke about it after she was gone), and laid off another the day after he signed a 1 year lease to complete his move to town for the job. I knew he wasn’t trustworthy, and I needed to find someplace more stable. When I told my boss, he left, and the owner called me into his office.

      He’s a salesman, and pretty good at it too. I was quite a bit younger then, and I think he thought that I’d be a pushover as a not quiet young woman programmer. Uuuummmm…no. I actually ended up amused by his attempts to cajole (but, you’ll be eligible for a raise soon!) and intimidate (you’ll never be able to get a job this good. I know a lot of people in this city) me into changing my mind. I just kept repeating that I had found another opportunity and I would be happy to finish up any open projects or train anyone else or whatever he needed in the next two weeks.

      The best revenge is, 10 years later, I am earning over twice what I earned working for him, and get a discount off a pricey gym membership downtown in the building where our company rents some floors. I saw him in the gym, and the surprise on his face and the “What are YOU doing here?” was priceless. I simply gushed about how good Houston had been to me, and how nice it was to see him again. It was so satisfying to watch him pucker his mouth in disgust that a former employee belonged to HIS gym, and hadn’t suffered a bit for leaving his employ.

      Sometimes, the best revenge really is a life lived well – and seeing them get upset by it is pretty sweet.

  13. Nanani*

    Another possible aspect is that sometimes the requests for feedback are just another box to tick. The manager may need to document “Asked for feedback” to satisfy something or other – a higher up, a process thing, etc. – but have no intention of actually, like, Taking Feedback.

    This dovetails with the thing where people like to think of themselves as taking feedback even when they don’t.

  14. Master Bean Counter*

    You can give feedback, but it you want it to actually be received don’t give it when it’s requested. At that point the boss is already defensive. Also if you give too much at once, it gets lost in the noise.
    I give my boss feedback in the form of small suggestions as we go along. I’ve done this for all bosses since my first real post college job. In that job they asked for feedback and promised to share the results and what actions they were going to take about it later. I was young and naive. I asked about the feedback in a meeting months down the road. I got my rear-end publicly handed to me in a meeting.

    1. Artemesia*

      People who are serious about feedback, provide some feedback about what was learned and what they are going to do about it. It doesn’t have to be all of it or very much, but when the surveys go into a black hole and are never mentioned again or when they lead to defensive behavior by bosses, future feedback is guaranteed to be worthless.

  15. JV*

    We’ve just rolled out a tool called Hive, in which the whole organisation is asked a question and the managers get to see the anonymised results.

    Except they are anonymised within teams so you can’t give feedback into a specific situation or your boss knows who you are. Oh, and they can reply “anonymously” to your statement.

    Needless to say it’s not going very well. Any negative comments are jumped on as people not knowing what they’re talking about, with an overtone of “if you aren’t willing to complain in person then we can ignore your complaint”.

  16. Christmas Carol*

    When my boss asks for feedback, it’s the same as when she’s asking her husband if these pants make her look fat.

  17. Volunteer Enforcer*

    To be honest, in my cynical experience, managers who take feedback well don’t have major improvement points to make and those that need to make major improvements don’t take feedback well.

  18. Anon to me*

    I have found that feedback that isn’t personal can go over better. For example, if part of my feedback is a frustrating policy then I find that tends to go over better. I think often it’s tough to hear feedback about you personally.

    Sometimes the feedback is heard, even if it’s not acted upon. For example, for years employees where I work complained about a particular policy. HR and most of the managers understood and wanted to make the change, but simply couldn’t because the CEO of the organization objected.

    1. Blue*

      This is a good point – my boss is extremely welcoming of feedback and criticisms about policies, decisions, ideas, whether he’s asked for them or not. Now that I’m leaving, I’m thinking about giving him some more personal feedback in the exit interview, and I am reallllly unsure about doing it. Knowing I’m safe to spew my opinions most of the time doesn’t mean it will carry over to this kind of feedback.

      1. rldk*

        If you’re able to critique an action or pattern, always do that over adjectives/attributes. Or even something like “I’ve noticed that sometimes when I respond to assignments by pointing out X or Y, the way in which you respond comes off as very dismissive, which can create a perception that you don’t trust my knowledge”

      2. JessicaTate*

        Been there. (Although my boss wasn’t good at taking feedback about anything, but personal feedback… hoo-boy, no way.) When I was leaving, Boss started pestering me for “360 feedback” on them as a boss (clearly, having heard that phrase bandied about, but not actually knowing that it was an actual THING with specific meaning). I was extremely wary. But Boss could be persistent.

        My strategies: 1) Carefully prepare some talking points that were neither fully true nor untrue, using the strategy of framing it first as a strength and caveat-ing the heck out of the criticism. “It’s amazing how you are so passionate about this company and what it is trying to accomplish bringing so many great ideas to the table. I think maybe sometimes that kind of made it hard for us on your team to follow exactly what you wanted to see done at any given time. But maybe that was just me.” And 2) never bring it up, change the subject when it did, and hope it went away. Fortunately, #2 happened and I wiggled out of having to deliver my prepared BS.

  19. Kat G., Ph.D.*

    This has totally been my experience a bunch of times. That said, I recently left a position, and my dean (I’m in academia) met with me to get feedback on my experiences. I wouldn’t say I went all out, but I was pretty straightforward as to my concerns about the direction of the college and university. I fully expected her to push back, as has been my experience in the past, but she didn’t, and it was incredibly validating. There were one or two points where she provided a bit of context about decisions I disagreed with, but it didn’t come across as defensive. She wrote down everything I said, and she asked clarifying questions throughout. I really walked out of that meeting feeling heard. I loved that job, despite my frustrations, and it was wonderful to end on a high note like that.

    Anyway, all this to say: hearing criticism is hard, but if you’re a manager, please don’t ask for feedback unless you are really and truly prepared to hear it and use it. You don’t need to take every single piece of criticism or advice, but identifying the biggest issues your employees face and collaborating on solutions will only help you AND them.

    1. MF*

      “You don’t need to take every single piece of criticism or advice”–> Yes, you don’t have to act on every piece of feedback, but even listening and accepting feedback in a non-defensive way can go a long way with your staff.

  20. Gaia*

    It took me years to get good at hearing critical feedback. I finally realized it was a problem when a manager I really respected told me she’d never promote me to manage a team if I couldn’t hear criticism about myself without immediately arguing it or becoming defensive. Of course I hated hearing that but over the next few weeks I thought it over and then over time I actively worked to be more open.

    Now I love hearing feedback. I still don’t enjoy hearing where I misstepped but I do like knowing these things so I can improve (where possible and where accurate).

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Wow, that manager really did you a service by saying that – I’m sure that was a super tough conversation to have, I respect that she got through it. And good on you for responding so well! Sometimes the change required can be as simple as body language, or just biting your tongue for a minute.

  21. foolofgrace*

    I thought exit interviews were between the departing employee and HR, but this sentence seems to indicate that managers can see exit interviews:

    …exit interviews and similar conversations with departing employees can be an exception to that, because they figure you have some thoughts you could share, and so a blanket “no” comes across less as “nothing comes to mind!” and more as “I don’t want to talk to you.” They still shouldn’t get miffed about that, of course — but these are already managers who suck at taking feedback…

    The “they” in “They still shouldn’t get miffed…but these are already managers…” seems to refer to mangers, who I thought didn’t see the exit interviews. I once worked in HR and produced exit interview forms for the company and the forms all stated how confidential the information would be.

    1. Anonforthis*

      Nope – one would think so, but in my last organization, exit interviews were always shared with the departing employee’s manager.

    2. Jady*

      Mine has always been through HR too, the official one. At one job I had a manager try to have their own in addition too.

    3. not really a lurker anymore*

      My last exit interview was to be held with the boss one level up from me. Then I was told my immediate boss was going to sit in on it. Um, no. I won’t do one if he’s there. Employee handbook says immediate boss isn’t to be there (because they want us to be open about issues.)

    4. TardyTardis*

      We don’t do exit interviews, at least I was never invited to one at OldJob. But then, everyone there pretty much knows why anyone is leaving (in my case, sick husband), or is working out the notice time before they go to a new job that pays more.

    5. Kitty*

      Mine was with a manager from another department, so I would feel less awkward giving honest feedback. But I’m pretty sure any big problems or relevant feedback would be shared with the direct manager, even if they didn’t conduct the interview themselves.

  22. essEss*

    My former company had an annual employee engagement survey to rate employee satisfaction. There are a bunch of questions about different areas of worklife and it’s broken down by departments. One year, satisfaction in the area of worklife balance was down to about 75%. I was put on a mandatory focus group to identify why morale was so low. I was tasked with gathering feedback from my entire department and present the major reasons why the rating was so low. My entire department was working insane overtime. The majority of the department was putting in 60-80 hours PER WEEK of overtime with no end in sight. I made sure that I only reported morale factors that other people told me rather than turn this into my own personal gripe-fest. The number one reason I heard was the overtime.
    I went back to the focus group and reported that overtime was a major reason for the dissatisfaction in our area. The high-level manager that set up the focus group looked at me, and snapped at me like I was a 3-year-old child that “Overtime is not the reason people are unhappy. The average overtime hours for the entire company is 48 hours per week so overtime is not an issue” and she turned away from me and move on to other people and would not speak to me again. I was livid. She decided it was not an issue and ignored the fact that we were trying to identify why 25% of the staff was unhappy. I knew that if I pointed out that when 25% of the company is working 60 hours, and 75% of the company is working 40 hours, then that is an average of 48 hours. So THERE is the unhappy 25% that has no work-life balance. The focus group to “improve morale” shot mine down to zero and I started looking for a new job.

    1. essEss*

      I left out part of my sentence – “I knew that if I pointed out that [ …] that she’d make my life a living hell”

    2. OlympiasEpiriot*

      Even 48 hours of ot…

      Seriously? 60-80 hours of ot? That only leaves 48 hours in 7 days to commute/sleep/eat/shower/und so weiter!

      I just did 50 hours of overtime in the month of May and it exhausted me.

      Let me guess, this is in finance? Legal?

      1. Massmatt*

        I think you are misunderstanding, the department was working 60-80 hours per week, that is 20-40 hours of OT per week.

        I worked in a company like this, one department had to work many hours of OT per week, meanwhile they see everyone else, including upper management, leaving at 5-6 every day. The employees were salaried, so no OT, “you can’t leave until your work is done”. Salaries were frozen, the best employees started leaving, there was a hiring freeze so the work just piled up and delays started to hit other areas of the company. Upper management seemed shocked, SHOCKED that this was happening. And likewise bewildered that, when they finally allowed hiring, few quality people wanted to work 80-90 hours per week for say $32,000 a year. Best candidates found out what it was really like and withdrew, candidates that believed what they were told about the work load by managers quit when they found out the real deal.

        1. OlympiasEpiriot*

          That’s what I thought, so I read essEss’s comment several times before posting. She specifically says “of overtime”.

  23. Ann*

    Come up with some ‘tote bag’ type examples of feedback and randomly pour them out when asked. Be sure and make them suggestions or questions so no one can get too offended:

    “What about going relaxing the dress code in the summer to allow polo shirts and sandals instead of ties and heels?”
    “I’ve read a lot lately about the asthma rate going up. Could we put going ‘no perfume’ on the agenda on our next team meeting and see what people think?”
    “Maybe have a monthly drawing for an Amazon gift card for all of our volunteers?”
    “We might be able to lower shrinkage on office supplies if everyone supplied their own and expensed them.” (*this is a stupid idea, but that’s exactly why you could offer it up to the Altar of Management Feedback)

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Ew, at least suggest fake things that you could actually want. “Maybe if we give out branded t-shirts, that would raise morale?” “Can we try an office happy hour?” “Maybe let people leave an hour early on summer Fridays?” I’m not going to be the one that suggests employees buy their own supplies!

  24. MF*

    My last manager was like this, would ask for feedback but was TERRIBLE at receiving it. I found 2 tactics worked pretty well. When she first asked, I’d tell her I’d think about it for a while and get back to her. (This was in hopes she’d forget–sometimes she did and sometimes she didn’t.)

    And when she did follow up, I’d come up with 1 or 2 suggestions that were unrelated to her or her management style: something like “Our teams requests for new computers has been repeatedly turned down by IT. We’re struggling to do our jobs with old, slow machines. If we could get refreshed computers, we’d be less frustrated and more productive.”

    This gave her a piece of feedback she could act on but did not require her actually reflect on her behavior as a manager.

  25. The Photographer's Husband*

    ‘Feedback is a Gift’ was a company-wide motto that everyone heartily embraced and touted, only of course it was only surface-level in practice. Any feedback we did give was routinely ignored or used against us.

    When I was on my notice period, my manager was pushing me so hard to tell her what was wrong and why things weren’t working out. I declined to answer or give specifics because I had already given them my ‘gift’ and it was used against me and resulted in me being put on a PIP.

    At this point I was still trying to find another position within the company to move to (it was large and lateral moves were common), so I did not want to give any feedback that would make my manager mad and jeopardize an internal transfer. In an extremely awkward 1:1, where she was again pressing for feedback, I told her that I would gladly write up detailed feedback after a transfer was finalized. She didn’t understand why and kept pressing the issue and I basically had to point-blank tell her it was because I did not trust her. She was still clueless.

    The happy ending is that while internal transfers didn’t work out, I found a new job in a different industry that pays much better and is much more fulfilling. Even though I was upset at the time that none of my internal transfer opportunities worked out, I’m so very much happy to be free of that company and their toxic, cultish culture.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Ugh ‘Feedback is a Gift’ is sucky because it’s *true* but it’s the last thing you want to hear when you’ve just been hit with something that really stings. It’s almost like, “Don’t get offended but – ” or something, meaning whatever comes next will stink. “Don’t get offended, but you really smell terrible.” “You are doing a terrible job here. Feedback is a gift!” It reminds me of the secondary Southern use of “bless your heart” …

      1. The Photographer's Husband*

        Hah, quite true. It was always super annoying when management would act as if they were kings and queens of accepting feedback graciously and saying, “Oh we welcome your feedback, it’s a gift!” and then try and foster this open atmosphere. But then when you actually think you’re safe and share some comments or suggestions that they don’t agree with, it’s off to the chopping block.

    2. Megpie71*

      Feedback may be a gift – but a lot of feedback tends to be down the “socks and underwear” end of the gifting spectrum, rather than the “carefully chosen item which is exactly what you want” end.

  26. Jady*

    It’s important HOW that feedback is communicated.

    There’s a big difference between the feedback “You always micromanage and stick your nose in my business” and “It would be great if we could work towards more independence.”

    If you’re delivering the first one, of course they are going to be upset, regardless if it’s true. The second one makes the situation the topic, instead of the manager themselves.

    Giving feedback usually needs a strategic touch, just because it’s human nature to defend oneself and get upset when criticized. When receiving feedback, NOT doing those things takes willpower, experience, and self confidence.

    My general rule of thumb I try is never say the word “you”. That really frames the conversation in a different direction.

  27. Shinobi*

    Feedback can be really hard to hear. Having gotten feedback from my boss my response is almost always defensive and sad and exhausted. I want to do a good job, and that’s a thing. Feedback from subordinates is even harder, because it’s not always performance based, but more personal.

    I want to believe that I am a perfect boss who my team feels like they can tell anything! But I know I”m not. (Just yesterday I accidentally yelled during a meeting and now I have to apologize during one on ones. Stupid allergy medicine lack of sleep crappy weekend stupid problem combination. Plus I feel like a jerk. It’s an awful feeling!)

    In a way I think it is even harder to hear when it is part of a “feedback process.” When I provide feedback to my team members I try to do it as things come up, and when I have provided feedback to bosses it has generally been as part of the ongoing working process, or in response to a specific event.

    I try to do the following –
    1. Provide feedback to your boss/supervisors as part of an unfolding issue.
    2. Use I statements, focus on how to make processes or things work better for you personally, not on their overall performance as a boss.

    So for example-
    “You never tell me what’s happening with workflow processes until it’s too late” said three months after an event during your review.
    VS –
    “The TPS reports were late again this week, can you make sure to notify me of delays in TPS reports when you find out about them? It really helps me manage my workload.” – This is a more proactive and concrete request for communication, it’s tied to your end game outcome, and it’s part of a process.

    Tying it to a specific event and outcome, and focusing on how it will help you do your job better is important for making a boss take it seriously.

    That said there is no guarantee you wont end up having a meeting with your boss about your “attitude problem.” (But then you can always tell the HR person in your exit interview that he shouldn’t be in charge of people at all. Not that I would do that…..)

    1. Shinobi*

      You can even be more oblique and say “Can we find a way to make sure I am notified of XYZ on a regular basis so I can better manage my workload?” I agree that avoiding you statements is absolutely key!

      You basically want to point out a thing they are doing that sucks, while giving them an out. It’s not a thing that THEY are doing, it is a thing that is happening, it is a reaction that you are having, or a concern, or an impact that their behavior is having on you. By giving them a way to fix it, or asking them how you can fix it, it is focusing on resolving the issue, and not beating them up for being a bad manager.

  28. Jessa*

    I keep getting in trouble at different jobs for requesting and answering constructive feedback – emphasis on constructive. I’ve worked in all sorts of environments, even places where it’s in the mission to support good working conditions. I’m a people person and emphatheirc towards others. Yet, giving constructive feedback to managers always, always negatively affects me and my relationship with said manager. Should I just become a yes-woman and start kissing up to my supervisors?

  29. Anon123*

    This may be petty, but I leaving my current workplace over this issue (among other things). My team lead is so defensive at even the slightest hint of negative feedback that it’s nearly impossible for me to address many of the issues that have been building up.

    My personal rule is that everyone gets 3 strikes to respond to feedback before I decide you’re not actually interested and start phoning it in. If a person shows progressive improvement toward a productive response, then I might reconsider (hasn’t happened yet, most people are pretty clearly either mostly good or terrible).

  30. Oxford Coma*

    My favorite* is the Hazy Mystical Future Solution, wherein employees should consider the problem solved merely because there may or may not be a plan to address it at some point farther along in the fourth dimension.

    “Why are you all mad that they’re no space and new hires have left rather than sit at a card table in the boiler room? We’re breaking ground on a larger building in 2022!”

    *not really

    1. Kj*

      Oh, exjob did this one too! I should be satisified that they are working on a plan to reduce my llama caseload, rather than sweating the fact I was expected to serve 10+ hours of llamas a day and only get paid for 8 hours! But they are working on it, gosh darn it! I should be happy. And continue to take the lousy pay. True ateoy, when I quit, I started making 2x what I made before. Now, a year later, I make 3x what I made at old job and I work fewer hours.

    2. Decima Dewey*

      I was briefly the branch manager for an older building with tons of issues. The system was undergoing a massive renovation project. So the answer to the basement flooding every time it rained, or the ongoing rat problem was “We’ll fix that when the branch is renovated.”

      In all fairness, they did fix all these things. After I left the branch, the system threw in the towel and moved the branch to a new building a few blocks away.

  31. ThisIshRightHere*

    I think some people on my team may occasionally have this complaint about me. I am open to feedback (usually, in the form of recommendations for how we can change our current business process or how to request an amendment to an instruction I’ve already given) and I listen carefully when it’s presented, but I rarely implement the suggestion. The most common reason? The suggestions my direct reports tend to offer lack perspective. A close second is the fact that the suggestions are usually put forward to align with an individual’s own preferences, rather than to advance our mission and business goals. I’m a department head in a government agency, and most all our processes are either spelled out by Congress or are tied into the White House’s big-picture policy goals. In the areas where I actually have autonomy to decide how my department will run, I base my approaches on knowledge I have due to my clearance level that my direct reports (at a different clearance level) don’t have. I’ve actually been struggling with how to encourage feedback. I’m happy they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, but it’s pretty obvious that they believed that the mere sharing of their thoughts meant that I was supposed to implement their suggestion immediately. As much as it’s demoralizing for them to feel their suggestions/feedback aren’t valued, it’s annoying for me to constantly have to reply with “thanks for letting me know how this is coming across, but I’m afraid that’s just the way it is.”

    1. Minocho*

      The words “Thanks for letting me know how this is coming across, but I’m afraid that’s just the way it is”, allow the employee to feel safe when making suggestions, but they’re also pretty dismissive. I try to keep in mind, when making suggestions to management, that I don’t have the same view and knowledge of issues that they have. But some appropriate explanation from my managers when he’s letting me know my suggestion won’t work lets me know it’s been heard, rather than gone in one ear and out the other, and possibly even already occurred to him or others.

      By appropriate explanation, management may have information that it’s just not appropriate to share, but they might be able to give me a little context. They might be able to give me enough information on why it won’t work that I’m able to identify another issue, and search for a solution for that first.


      Minocho: The process for polishing teapot covers is really inefficient, and here’s an idea for an improvement to the process that we can try a proof of concept project to feel out.

      Teapot Cover Supervisor: I agree that the polishing is inefficient, but we need some metrics to justify it to the Teapot Polishing Department’s manager. Right now we only track total polishing time, and we’d need to break it out by cover and pot in order to provide the justification necessary to get the funding.

      Minocho: All right, I’ll try to think of a better way to measure teapot cover polishing time versus full teapot polishing time!

    2. Koala dreams*

      Do you need to encourage feedback, given that your employees don’t have the perspective to give useful feedback? Maybe it would be better to encourage feedback on areas where knowing employee preferences is more useful for you? I’m not sure what that would be in your case, but it seems less useful to request feedback on business practice when the employees don’t have the information to actually know best practise because of the situation. It would be more useful for you to ask for feedback around smaller issues that directly affect the workers.

  32. Anonforthis*

    Uuuuuuuuuuuugh, this just happened to me. Again. I volunteer for an organization that is really hurting for volunteers, especially on certain shifts – it’s a stressful and time-consuming commitment. Volunteers are also crucial to keeping the organization able to offers 24/7 service because they aren’t funded for 24/7 paid employees.

    We all just got an email from the new director asking for our feedback about volunteering, getting new volunteers, and filling hard to fill shifts. I sent her back an email and she sent me a BLISTERING response.

    I like working for this organization and the actual volunteer coordinator is really great, but I’m considering moving to a similar but different org.

    1. Six Nonprofits? I need to get a life.*

      I have essential the same problem with one of the nonprofits that I volunteer for currently. I act basically as a shadow vice-president (on the board but without the title). The board constantly complains about not having volunteers step up to be on the board and take positions. The truth is that the majority of board members are unpleasant. Which is not feedback that they are willing to hear. Even the feedback that they are too territorial is rejected out of hand. They tried to pressure me to take the official title of vice-president at the last board meeting, but I refused. I am there for the mission and to support my friend who is currently serving as president of the organization. However, if he walks, I walk.

      And I get it, I co-founded a nonprofit and tend to get defensive if given negative feedback. But I can’t parse where the board members are insulting to people and then are shocked (shocked, I tell you!) that the volunteers don’t come back and ask for more.

  33. Espeon*

    You know in courtroom dramas when the lawyer says something, then it’s objected-to and the judge tells the jury to discount it, but the whole point is that the jury heard it anyway and it cannot really be unheard? I treat giving feedback at work like that.

    I’m going to just say what needs to be said, and I don’t care if you like it or not, or act on it or not, my position is known, and whatever happens next goes in my “Employer Assessment” file in my head for better or worse for my employer.

    1. Richie*

      Yes Espeon, but you must be having this freedom of speech because you are senior and respected enough outside of your hierarchy and/or within your industry to not care about backslash, ruining your chances to advance your career or discrediting campaign. Alison calls it having enough political to spend.

      1. Espeon*


        Actually I work in customer service, at the entirely ‘disposable’ level, but I value my integrity and authenticity above all else, and I have no fear of being fired or managed out (I’ve experienced both) because I have faith in myself, and in what is right. I refuse to feel that I must be silent because of the concept that my earning ability equals my worth. That is what They would like, but it just isn’t true, and I will not subscribe.

  34. Bea*

    Oh Lord help me. I’ve always went into jobs where they all say they like feedback and looking for ways to rework things. “We’re open to change!”

    Thankfully only one has been like described in this post. That man of course was Voldemort. Psychopathic and a terrible business man, go figure.

    You have had bad experiences because your managers suck.

    I’ve worked with so many wonderful spirits who appreciate and take my feedback and advice.

    I agree with Alison about the fact some people give poorly thought out and frankly garbage feedback so it does get tiresome. Been there, fired those people for more than just their bad ideas but that was what burnt me out faster on them, I won’t lie.

    Some people suck at being the boss because they’re all words and nothing else. They’re their own worst enemy.

    If you’re places with high turnover, the problem isn’t you most likely. I’m sorry they’re idiots.

  35. SpaceNovice*

    I’ve managed to sneak in feedback before under people’s noses. Instead of telling people they need to do TASK1 better, I asked them what they needed to do TASK1 effectively and if they had any questions about TASK1. But it helped that they could give me feedback for TASK1 reports so I could make them better (usually overnight), and also let me know when they had TASK1 unique scenarios that I would talk to the owners of TASK1 to resolve. No one ever seemed to realize I was giving them feedback (both the people doing the task and the task owners).

    Everyone kept on breaking their formatting on our Word documents because paragraph/section formatting is wonky and explodes if you delete one wrong character. I didn’t give them feedback about this directly. I just ended up letting a couple of gossips figure out people were staying late fixing it all and told the friendliest manager about Format Painter, knowing he would spread the knowledge quickly to everyone since I wasn’t allowed to give direct feedback. Never had issues crop up again.

    You can’t always sneak in feedback, but I found you can if you redirect the energy towards providing resources to fix something they’re aware is a problem, it can work. Especially if it’s brainstorming how to resolve the problem with them. But it also takes people that are decent enough individuals to work.

  36. OlympiasEpiriot*

    In my experience the managers who really want feedback and are going to use it in a constructive way are far and few between. IN fact, ime, most of the ones who know how to use these phrases:
    “That’s really interesting — thank you for telling me how that’s coming across” and “I’m really glad to have your perspective”are also manipulative. I watch my back even more when I hear those things. I really like finding that my concerns were unwarranted; however, those occasions are r-a-r-e!

  37. S Stout*

    yes, I used to work for someone who “wanted” feedback and became a raging volcano when offered even the mildest comments. No one made that mistake twice.

  38. Sue Ellen Mischky*

    Nope. Have always had the experience that once I give feedback, the response is: here is why you’re wrong and why nothing needs to change.

    I gave tons of feedback at OldJob and it was basically ignored and/or disdcredited. Now OldJob had an insane wave of resignations and a lot of them went to the clients of OldJob which in my field is incredibly embarrassing for the company.

  39. Damn it, Hardison!*

    This brings back memories of a manager who scheduled a meeting with me to discuss my thoughts/suggestions on the issues facing the department (of which there were many), then ended the meeting by talking to me about my “attitude” based on my expression in meetings and the colleague who said I didn’t say “hello” in the mornings and therefore I must be angry (did the colleague say hello to me? No, but apparently that’s not the point). That’s when I decided to leave that job and fortunately found a new and much better position within a few months

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      You worked for my old boss?

      Yes he was the type who would always bring up the mythical ‘people’ who are saying ‘things’ usually about nitpicky random things I allegedly did or didn’t do (and yes the good morning thing was one of them).

    2. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

      Ah, that brings back memories of the manager who included as one of the reasons I was put on a PIP was that when I walked around the halls I tilted my head in a disrespectful manner.

  40. A Teacher*

    Sounds like the administration at the school I teach. I will say that I genuinely like most of them as people and even usually as managers but if we raise concerns we are told we are “boo birds” told to “bring a problem/bring a solution” (that is then shot down–and sometimes we/I can’t solve the problem, I can just point it out), told to “not be negative,” or have them get defensive.

    One of the more milder examples: Students were allowed to run in the hall–high school kids. They barreled over our French teacher and injured her. When I brought they up, that some of the beahavior in the hall was a bit much, I was told “they didn’t mean it,” and we should just let it go as a faculty because kids would be kids.

  41. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    I’ve noticed that I get a much better response to feedback if I first acknowledge the challenges the other person faces before I make a suggestion. And that the person giving feedback (boss or employee) needs to acknowledge that the person receiving doesn’t always have the immediate authority/ability to implement the changes but the hope is that the feedback can lead to a discussion/plan even if it the results won’t be realized until down the road. Something like, “Boss, I know that you need the numbers from accounts payable before you’re able to create the TPS reports. I also know they are currently understaffed but also generally often work at a much slower speed than we ideally need. But because delays on the TPS reports causes me to scramble to manage my workload, can you loop me in the communication of delays when you find out about them? Do you/IT have the ability to create a job tracking checklist or set up an automatic reminder email on the 1st of the month for everyone involved in the process? I think that better communication will help mitigate some of my stress over unplanned overtime.

    1. SpaceNovice*

      This is a good suggestion. I do this. It really shows that you’re not assigning blaming outright, but acknowledging they could be doing something better and trying to think of ways TO help them do it better besides just point out a problem.

      (Also, that’s a good example. Reminders/email notifications are really great for processes, as people can’t be expected to be logging in and checking stuff until they have something actionable. It also means they can set up email notifications that alert them to specific priority tasks since most automation would create standardized subject lines.)

  42. Ellen*

    I am quitting my toxic job with nothing lined up to preserve my sanity, and my boss told me that we would be having an exit interview this week. She despises feedback, yet always asks for it!

    Really struggling to figure out how to phrase “You’re a bully and the reason I go to a therapist” in a professional way, let alone in a way that won’t anger her.

    1. JessicaTate*

      I feel your pain, my friend. I basically gave this response to a post above, but my strategy upon leaving from a similarly toxic situation was to prepare some neutral talking points and say as little as I could, while also staying professional. For my Boss, I prepared notes with relatively inert feedback, always framed by starting with a strength of hers and then tepidly suggesting how it might be problematic as a boss. (e.g., You’re so passionate about this place! Sometimes your team feels directionless with so many ideas floating.) During the exit convo, I listed carefully to WHAT she asked and answered narrowly. I ended up not having to use most of my talking points. When I really listened, she didn’t actually ASK for feedback about herself. And she contradicted every idea I did share, as per usual, and I just deferred. (Oh, yeah, I see what you’re saying. Sure.) It was BS, but I no longer gave a fig.

      For my GrandBoss, while my heart wanted her to know how effed up the situation was, I’d become quite aware that GrandBoss didn’t actually want to know any of that. So, I stuck with the platitudes “not a good fit right now,” and again only narrowly answered what was asked. GrandBoss actually ended the conversation by saying, “Whew, I was worried we had a management problem in Llama Grooming,” after not having asked any direct questions about my manager. She’d heard what she wanted to hear and concluded what she was going to conclude.

      Good luck. Glad you’re getting out.

  43. NonprofitUS*

    Ah, yes, I was baffled by this same problem when I first encountered it in the working world. At an early job, I had to fill out an evaluation with feedback on myself, my boss and my organization. My boss made a point of saying to me that she REALLY wanted me to be honest in my evaluation about changes that I thought needed to happen. So I was! In a polite way, of course, and only bringing up the most significant complaints (the organization was a toxic mess, as it turned out). Anyway, it immediately became clear that my boss did NOT mean that she wanted me to include anything critical of HER in the evaluation. I wrote that I received a lot of assignments last minute and felt I could do a better job on them with more notice. She responded by accusing me of betraying her, slamming the door on me and refusing to talk to me for a couple days. And as terrible and inappropriate as that behavior was, she was actually a pretty good manager overall. Which I guess shows that a lot of people are really bad at accepting feedback. As my father wisely advised when I relayed this story, “Ah, now you know when bosses ask for feedback, they don’t really mean it.”

  44. HR is Fun*

    I was taught to bring a solution to a problem, so I try to never just give feedback without also having a constructive suggestion to solve it. I appreciate it much more when my employees have thought things through and bring me a solution as well as a problem/complaint/feedback. It surprises me that people don’t do that.

    Also, I would suggest that people think about whether the person you are complaining to has the power to change what you are complaining about. Sometimes it is still worth complaining (even if the person can’t change it), but it might go over better if you acknowledge that you know they can’t do anything about it. “I know this would have to be a decision made in the C-suite [or “I know it’s too late to change this,”], but I’m surprised that our new logo looks like 2 angry dogs.” (You might be surprised and find out that they can indeed do something about it- or, if they’ve heard it from other people, they might be able to add your comment to the rest of them.)

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      I, too, try to bring a potential solution along; the only drawback to that is that many people will not bring something up at all unless they also have a solution — which can result in certain issues which are more systemic and perhaps broader not being discussed at all.

      It is still important to be able to discuss things that don’t immediately seem to have a solution. The person who sees the problem might not be the one with the perspective to see how it could be solved.

    2. SpaceNovice*

      +1 to this. And if you don’t have a solution you know, you can still brainstorm with people to help them figure out a solution. I’ve done that a lot, as people who need to improve on something often have a perspective that you don’t on how to improve once it’s brought to their attention. Then we figure out something together to go forward. Something that can start as a weakness can become a strength!

  45. Okie Doke*

    At my old office (I was in medical) we had monthly staff meetings and at the end they would ask for feedback. We learned to stop commmenting at all, because if you gave feedback they didn’t like, you’d be pulled into the mamager’s office later that day, and be told a) why your idea was wrong and b) that you were a negative team member. I was named “Ringleader of Negativity” at our office by our President/CEO/whatever she was, because I gave feedback they didn’t like. Never said another peep in a staff meeting.

  46. GreenDoor*

    ” a manager who asks for feedback and then gets upset when she receives it is someone who should not be taken seriously when she requests it in the future” YES! I learned this one the hard way. I tend to be candid and direct but I have learned how to phrase things professionally and respectfully. But my previous Director, a former teacher, would always say, “Ok, push back on me! tell me what you think!” and then look at you with the amused expression of a kindgergarten teacher letting a five-year old feel “smart” when she, the teacher, actually knows she knows more than the kid.

    And then either youd’ be shot down or ignored. And God forbid, you ever give meaningful feedback in front of people outside the department. That was tantamount to anarchy in her mind. Once burned, twice shy. I never spoke up after I saw that happen to others a few times.

  47. Serin*

    I wish my current manager would ask me for feedback (or, better yet, that his manager would), because I think highly of him and would have some good things to say.

    He never says, “How am I doing?” but we do sometimes get “Do you need anything? Can I fix anything for you?” which I guess would be an opening — I mean, you could respond by saying, “Yes, that association membership you promised me” or something like that.

    I’d probably take more general requests for feedback as red flags, actually — I feel like a better manager would have very specific requests for feedback. “Is there anything about your work that you’d like to walk me through so I can get a better understanding of it?” or “Were any of the meetings I sent you to this month a waste of your time?” or “Are any of your tools not working for you?” — those are feedback requests you can give a useful answer to. “How’m I doing?” is just an invitation to lie.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      You can give your boss informal feedback! I’ve done this, along the lines of “You know, I’ve worked with some managers who just weren’t good at being managers. I really like working with you! That time you (did good thing) was really eye-opening for me.” (Or something else appropriate.)

      Not enough people get to hear “you are good at what you do”.

  48. Gotham Bus Company*

    A manager who gets upset when receiving honest feedback will eventually become a manager who fires people for giving honest feedback.

    Start looking for your next job NOW.

  49. Richard*

    It’s so strange that managers, people for whom a big part of their job is giving feedback, are so often terrible at receiving it. It takes an incredible lack of self-awareness to fall into that trap.

  50. Woahh*

    My junior year of college, my professor asked for feedback on her book on Y subject that we were using before she republished it. Since Y subject was kind of my jam, I was so excited. One of things we’d learned about Y subject was that saying X group of people were more prone to Z issue is pretty damn racist. I mentioned how adding a paragraph about that change and prefacing the section would be helpful, even in the PDFs she was using for the class, because its a big issue that impacts an already vulnerable minority group.

    She. Lost. Her. Shit.

    I just reread my suggestion sheet the other day-it is respectful, cheerful, and upbeat. She just didn’t want any comments other than “you’re amazing.” I found this out afterwards from some of her graduate students. She then refused to write me a recommendation and kicked me off a club board, etc.

    I’ve never given any suggestions or constructive criticism since learning that some people are so deranged they will try to ruin your life when you do as they ask.

  51. Higher Ed Database Dork*

    In my experience, about 1/3 of my bosses have been genuinely receptive to all types of feedback, including about them and their management style. And they were my favorite bosses, and I thrived under them and had a lot of job satisfaction.

    The remaining 2/3 were either mediocre bosses or just plain terrible. But giving them feedback wouldn’t have fixed anything. One manager solicited feedback on his management style and what he could do better in a team meeting once, and we tried to be gentle but honest, and he broke down into tears about how he was such a terrible manager, which caused another person to start crying and trying to soothe him, and then another person started to cry, and soon the whole team (except me) was crying and reassuring each other, and the meeting just went completely off the rails.

    So overall I think being receptive to feedback is just one of the many signs of a good manager. If you can find someone like that, hold onto them!

  52. Vivien*

    My SO told me how he gave feedback for his entire department’s treatment once.

    Basically, he is in tech support, and they never get any swag or employment benefits, or if they do, it’s the leftovers. The only things they get are tees, which EVERYONE gets, and then once a month a snack cart goes around.

    This month, the snack cart didn’t show. So he posted in their group chat “so is this happening or are they phasing that out too?”

    Manager was like “oh, what do you mean?”

    So he laid out that the company does little for Tech team morale. Because they are already micromanaged in terms of measurable things they could “excel” in, to do MORE would be diminishing returns and add to the stress they are already under. So “answer more calls” isn’t the same as “get more sales.” He also brought up that because he is taking time out of his work period to submit this feedback, his numbers are suffering.

    Team lead asks for suggestions to improve morale and my SO said, “That’s like if I break my leg and go to the doctor and the doctor asks how he should fix it. This is not my area of expertise.”

    Then team lead said he disagreed with SO’s feelings and they should talk one on one— SO responded back that having a team lead tell him his feelings are wrong and we should talk about this later is equally detrimental to moral and cuts off the conversation entirely.

    Mind you, GROUP CHAT, so people are liking his comments and agreeing. And even more people are privately sending him messages about how they agree but too afraid to speak up.

    Someone asked SO to say something specific, and he group chatted, “and now someone asked me to say this because they are too scared to.”

    I haven’t asked if anything came of it, but…yeah, he was Not Having It that day.

    1. London Calling*

      *Team lead asks for suggestions to improve morale and my SO said, “That’s like if I break my leg and go to the doctor and the doctor asks how he should fix it. This is not my area of expertise.”*

      Thank you, borrowing that because I have a feeling this question is going to come up fairly soon

  53. Anon4this*

    This is kinda sort of related, but I feel like I have this issue with clients all the time. At my company, we do customer satisfaction surveys for various companies who would like customer feedback on their products and services…or so I thought. A lot of times, even when customers have very tangible, unanimous feedback like “the software is extremely use unfriendly…if they changed these features and moved this to that, it would be so much easier”, the client gets pissy and criticizes us for “focusing too much on the software and not enough on other things about their products.” What they really mean is, “I wish we heard more positive things.”

  54. MadameCheese*

    In my experience both on the manager and managee side, managers who really want feedback make it very easy for you to give it. That means asking you specific questions in a setting where you can be candid, listening and engaging with you about problems and suggestions, and noting them down. Not everyone is confident and forthcoming with feedback, so it’s a matter of building up the trust for feedback to flow freely both ways. If your managers aren’t doing any of that, their actions are telling you plainly they aren’t that interested in your real thoughts.

  55. Megpie71*

    Reading all of this, it sounds a lot like feedback requests are a bit like fanfic requests for comments – there are some people who really do want to have a discussion about their story and the meta details about it, and will accept critique or questions about “why do you have Character A doing X rather than Y? It seems a bit out of character” and so on. Then there are just the ones who want to be told how brilliant their writing is and how wonderful they are as an author and OMG plz rite moar!!!!1!!! and so on, and who will respond to any sort of questioning rather like a porcupine who’s just heard you say something nasty about their mother (prickles everywhere, stamping and grunting, and very aggressive behaviour). The trick is figuring out which type of author you’re dealing with before you comment…

  56. Jemima Bond*

    For what it’s worth, I sympathise. My boss (who is leaving soon; let joy be unconfined) makes a big song and dance about how she wants to hear opinions, she doesn’t want to be surrounded by yes-men, and she wants us all to “take ownership” of our work and decide what is best. She probably believes this in her head. But it’s completely untrue – she shuts down all disagreement, never changes her mind in the face of reasoned argument and explanation, and only wants to hear opinions that are the same as her own.
    It’s incredibly frustrating.

    1. Anonforthis*

      This is kind of like our president who talks about “culture” and how important it is constantly but lets department directors terrorize their underlings. Because buzzwords.

  57. Where do y'all get those wonderful user names*

    I worked for a company that was constantly sending out surveys & asking for feedback-some were required, some weren’t. Initially I was glad to help. Then one year, when it was time for us to evaluate all the managers, I had positive things to say about all of them. Except for 2 of them, that is. I respectfully said that these 2 particular managers were professional when I spoke with them, but I’d had issues with them getting back to me whenever I made a request. Although I didn’t specifically say this on the eval, one of them had even caused me to turn in a report late because he’d never gotten back to me when I’d needed information & I finally had to go to his supervisor for assistance.

    The following year when it was time for us to do managerial evaluations again, the evaluations were structured in such a way that no one in my department would be reviewing the 2 managers I mentioned above. It was then that I realized that they were not seeking to make improvements-they were just fishing for compliments. (I also realized that my cohorts must have been having problems with these superviAfter that I put little effort into the required surveys, and I didn’t do any of the non-required surveys.

  58. Richie*

    Where I work is so dysfunctional that leave alone giving manager feedback backfiring, even asking for feedback about your work is seen as an overconfident and defiant step to take. You’re supposed to bow your head and wait for the almighty to comment your work, one day. Which they will do last minute and raise only negative things that could have been fixed easily earlier on.

  59. AFPM*

    I am in this exact situation – my boss told me he wanted me to be blunt – that he liked blunt. So when I am honest – professionally blunt – he doesn’t like it, and has started being condescending and shutting me out of important discussions. He’s generally condescending and not great to his employees anyway, so I don’t know why I fell for this, but I had high hopes that he’d be receptive to it. Good managers should be open to it, even if it stings a little.

  60. Jennifer Thneed*

    I have always felt like good management shares a lot with good parenting. And in both cases, the parent or manager has to be able to step back from themselves and not respond to things personally. It’s hard! And a lot of parents and managers fail at that.

    My corollary is that not-good managers are probably not good parents. They might not be awful parents, but they are probably benignly neglectful and bad listeners. And like some parents are really good with certain ages and not so much with others*, some managers are really good with some types of people and not such good managers with other types of people. It really does seem like the necessary skills for each role overlap quite a lot.

    *(In my knitting group, we were discussing this. We all declared what our personal favorite ages were, and our personal tricky stages, and between us all we’d have made an excellent parent for a child as it grew from birth to adult. Me, give me a newborn or barely-talker, and I’m good, but middle-childhood is a little baffling.)

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