my terrible boss asked for feedback — should I be honest?

A reader writes:

My boss, Kate, has asked for feedback. The thing is … she is not a good manager. She doesn’t respond to questions asking for feedback or our requests for documents that we need to complete our work. Then she throws a temper tantrum that we didn’t do X thing in the way that we wanted (which we would have if she had responded to our requests for feedback). She doesn’t read comments made in Word documents, so I have to call her and go through every comment I’ve made in the Word document and ask for a response. That is, when I can get ahold of her because she’s almost impossible to reach. On the other hand, she also loves having long, unnecessary calls (anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours) that could just have been an email or a text message.

She also doesn’t want to deal with any administrative duties. That means that when our admin team needs information, they will contact me instead of her, which requires me going back to her to get their answers. She will whine about how she doesn’t care about whatever the thing is, which leaves me unable to answer the admin team, and they keep following up and asking.

Kate recently sent our team a form asking for feedback about herself. The feedback will not be anonymous. How do I approach this? Should I be honest in a way that could lead to positive changes that would benefit our working relationship, or should I just tell her that she’s awesome at everything to keep her happy? My work situation is very precarious — I am on very short contracts that can be cut with no notice, so if she gets pissed off, that could be it and I would be beyond screwed, as my legal residence depends on this job and going back home to my country is not an option.

Obviously, I would not phrase my feedback in a rude way if I decided to be honest, but I don’t even know if she’s a reasonable enough person that this is something that it makes sense for me to be considering.

You are under no obligation to put yourself at professional risk to satisfy Kate’s desire for feedback.

Here’s the thing about managers soliciting feedback from their teams: The ones who truly want it and will use it well make a point of demonstrating repeatedly over time that it is safe for their teams to be honest with them. They do that by regularly inviting dissent, welcoming opinions that are different from their own, and thanking people who speak up when they disagree. They don’t blow up or throw tantrums when they hear something they don’t like. They deal with people directly, fairly, and transparently. And even then, the smart ones know some people still won’t provide candid feedback to a manager because of the power dynamics at play, so they go out of their way to make it safe — like by arranging for feedback to be truly anonymous and explaining how the input they receive will be used, or by arranging for it to be given to a third party instead of directly to them.

This … doesn’t sound like Kate. She doesn’t sound like the Absolute Worst, but she’s clearly not a good manager, and she hasn’t put the effort in to create conditions that would make people feel comfortable being direct with her. And it’s just not reasonable to expect employees to provide feedback without that foundation in place. I frequently talk with people whose managers swear up and down that they want feedback but then, when they get it, become defensive, upset, angry, or even openly hostile — to the point that it affects what it’s like to work together. For those managers, I welcome feedback really means “I enjoy hearing that you like working for me.” Or maybe, “You can offer me a small, eminently fixable problem that doesn’t reflect on me personally.” They’re not looking for substantive critical input.

It doesn’t always go that way, of course! As I say, there are bosses out there who truly do welcome constructive criticism, who won’t become upset or defensive, and who will use that info to make changes in how they operate. The problem is that as an employee, the risk to you is high if you misjudge the type of manager you’re dealing with. And given the differences in power between employees and managers — and that your income depends on their looking favorably on you — you can’t be expected to take that gamble without some significant work on your boss’s side to establish that it’s safe to do so.

Which is a shame, because it sounds like Kate could really benefit from some feedback! And that’s the frustrating reality of how this usually works: the managers who most need to hear candid input from their teams are, for the reasons above, the ones least likely to get it.

Even more frustratingly, sometimes managers like Kate do handle the feedback well. Maybe, if you filled out that form honestly, she would appreciate your candor, give genuine thought to your perspective, and even make some changes. But she hasn’t done anything to show you that, so it’s not a wise risk to take. That’s true in general, but it’s especially true for you, because you’re dependent on her good will to keep you both employed and in the country. The price will be especially high for you if you miscalculate.

So how should you respond to the form she sent? You don’t need to make your responses all sunshine and rainbows, but given the precariousness of your situation, err on the side of positivity. You probably can pick one or two things that would make your working life better and talk about those; just word them carefully. Opt for things that you don’t think she’d profoundly disagree with and which she could in theory fix without revamping her entire personality. But this isn’t the time for a full inventory.

For what it’s worth, this entire dynamic is why it’s so important for managers who supervise other managers to cultivate their own credibility and build trust with people several rungs below them. Smart higher-level managers will periodically solicit feedback about the managers who work for them from teams several levels down, and that can be an opportunity to share your real assessment — but once again, it won’t work unless that higher-level boss has done the groundwork to assure you it’s safe to be honest.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 118 comments… read them below }

  1. Caroline*

    My mother once worked for a bad boss who was very upset to get honest feedback in an anonymous survey like that, and wanted to know who had said what. He called a department meeting in order to inform everyone that “I am an excellent manager!”

    1. Rachel in NYC*


      well he showed them what an excellent manager he was.

      and I thought it was odd that my boss responded to my anonymous web survey with a comment. (the survey was still anonymous- I could just see the response with our new survey app. but still, I thought it was odd but apparently he did this with a bunch of the surveys.)

    2. irene adler*


      Rule #1:SHOW your reports that you are an excellent manager. That way you won’t need to remind them. If you do need to remind your reports that you are an excellent manager, then you are doing it wrong.

    3. A Simple Narwhal*

      Ha sounds like a higher-up at my husband’s company whose response to the feedback that he wasn’t seen as a approachable was to bellow at the entire office “I AM APPROACHABLE, WHO SAID I WASN’T APPROACHABLE I’M VERY APPROACHABLE”.

      1. TiffIf*

        I can’t help but feel a little bit sorry for people like this who are so blind to their own ridiculousness.

        A VERY little bit sorry–I save more sympathy for those who have to deal with them and who aren’t in a position of power to push back or speak up.

      2. Anon for Today*

        Lol, that reminds me of the Mandy Moore line “I am FILLED with Christ’s love!” while she throws a bible at her friend.

    4. NerdyKris*

      I had a boss once who walked out of a meeting with HR and shouted “Now I know who stabbed me in the back! If you think I was bad before, you haven’t seen anything yet” and was promptly called right back in and fired.

    5. GS*

      This sounds like the first manager I had at my company – she had gotten terrible feedback and she called a team meeting to tell the team that perhaps they didn’t understand the questions.

      1. Old Admin*

        “Toony! Make heem unnerstand! Orr break hees kneecaps!!”
        (A board member’s favorite quote. :-D )

    6. Blue Horizon*

      Ha. I remember one of my managers presenting the results of the all-staff survey to our team, which is something all of them had to do:

      “Apparently I was rated [by direct reports] the lowest out of all the managers in the company – so, yeah, thanks for that.”

      1. TardyTardis*

        This reminds of a local Old Curmudgeon known for kicking puppies etc., and when he and a bunch of local luminaries were listed in the paper in some kind of contest, he was the first to be voted off the island (to the surprise of absolutely no one but him), he wrote back to the paper, explaining that the voters must have misunderstood what they were voting for. Um, no.

      2. Anonapots*

        I had a boss who was participating in a development program. Part of the program was a 360 review of their management style. Somehow she figured out who said what, although I trusted the survey to be completely anonymous as I had participated in them before. Granted, that was on a larger team and this team was much smaller. I can’t say she met with everyone to ask what they thought “this comment means”, she did meet with me, read one of my comments back to me and ask what I thought it meant. I gave her my interpretation (read: what I meant) and then she tried to justify to me why she did things the way she did them. She then dropped out of the development program. I suspect none of the feedback was to her liking. I don’t have to tell you, she was a terrible boss.

  2. AdAgencyChick*

    FWIW, OP, your boss sounds in some ways like a former client for whom my team had to devise elaborate workarounds. They wouldn’t read comments or respond in a timely fashion by email, and they didn’t want to schedule ad hoc conversations, so our account team would hijack regular standing meetings they had with them to force them to talk through unclear comments with us (big shocker, the comments were OFTEN unclear). If you aren’t already using coping mechanisms like this, it might be worth trying.

    But yeah, I would NEVER give someone like this feedback directly. Not even “anonymously,” if I thought that specifics in the feedback would be obviously coming from me. Honest feedback is something that has to be earned by doing the things Alison talks about!

  3. Beth*

    I’d say don’t bother. She probably won’t take your feedback to heart and change; the scale of problems you’re talking about have to be pretty obvious in practice, since they have a clear impact on multiple people’s ability to do their jobs, and if that hasn’t motivated her to change then I doubt written feedback will. And with a poor manager who may be unreasonable, honesty would open respondents up to potential retaliation.

    Your precarious position due to your immigration status makes it even more obvious that you shouldn’t be the one to put your neck on the line here. If anyone is going to, it should be one of your coworkers in a less vulnerable position–but even then, I’m not sure the risks are worth the (probably nonexistent) benefits.

    1. George Sherman*

      Your second paragraph in particular. If you can be deported doing the survey, fo not touch it with a 10 foot green card. AT. ALL.

  4. Anonym*

    There’s sometimes the opportunity to reinforce a positive (I find this thing that you do to be super helpful) that can benefit you, regardless of whether you decide to give any constructive feedback. Potentially something that they already do that you’d appreciate seeing more of, though you don’t need to point out that last bit.

    1. Oh. No.*

      I agree with this – reinforcing the positive is better than risking pointing out the negatives. I’d personally not offer any feedback at all but if pressed this is certainly a nice way to “bow out”.

    2. Littorally*

      Agreed. Strain yourself to find one time she did something good and helpful, and lean on it. “Hey, that one time you got me the responses to X Question really quickly? That was awesome and made my relationship with Y Team much smoother. I really appreciated it a whole lot!”

    3. HR Exec Popping In*

      This is a very safe way to provide some feedback that can improve the relationship. “Manager, it is great when you do XYZ because it helps me ABC. It would be great if you can do that more often.”

    4. Happy Pineapple*

      This is definitely a safe route that can also be effective, especially if you focus on “I” language rather than “you.” It doesn’t even have to be something that the person does often or well. Something like, “I really appreciate receiving feedback on my work so I know how to improve in my role.”

      I also think it’s safer to give this kind of bland complimentary statement than to say nothing at all, because then you might get hounded for not participating.

    5. GammaGirl1908*

      Coming to say this. I would go all out with the positive reinforcement, even finding ways to phrase the negatives as positives. Wrack your brain for the few times she’s done helpful things and blow them ALL THE WAY UP, so she has some information about what people do like and appreciate.

      But no, it won’t go well to be like, “You suck at this, this, and this, and you really need to get better at that and that.”

    6. Batgirl*

      That is such a good idea and a favorite trick of teachers; student does x basic requirement just one time: “You are so good at x! How thoughtful of you to do x!” It works so, so well with stubborn kids who don’t respond well to criticism. When someone is kind of clueless about what’s required of them they will really chase that positive reinforcement. It’s waiting for them to do the thing is the only catch…

      1. Snailing*

        I’ve seen then done really well, but then I also get a flash back to one of my worst teachers when I was in 5th grade (so going through puberty, this is relevant) – she had been my sisters teacher the year before and turned a blind eye to bullying so I absolutely hated her already, and she complimented me for washing my hair one time. I was not a dirty kid, y’all, but I was an 11 year old getting greasy puberty hair. I seriously considered showering less just to spite her but figured it wasn’t worth it.

    7. Smithy*

      100% this.

      The feedback won’t be anonymous and this woman already clearly isn’t a great manager. Just highlight the things she’s done/has done that actually are helpful and ask for more of that.

  5. Salad Daisy*

    Given your circumstances, and I would actually give this advice to anyone in any job, I would say something along the lines of “It’s all rainbows and unicorns”. Even so-called anonymous feedback may not be anonymous as there are frequently meta tags in anonymous surveys. We receive anonymous surveys at work, and strangely enough the folks who don’t reply within a given time get a reminder, while those who have replied do not get a followup. A request for non-anonymous feedback is even more problematical. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot, just go with the rainbows and unicorns.

    1. Student Affairs Sally*

      Popular survey programs like Qualtrics and SurveyMonkey allow you to send reminders to people who haven’t completed the survey, without you actually knowing who those people are or aren’t. Of course, that means that somewhere on the backend there is data about who has/hasn’t, but individual supervisors and possibly even the company itself most likely don’t have access to that information.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        A software package I used to work with even specifically called them “nag messages.”

    2. HR Exec Popping In*

      Most surveys are confidential, not technically anonymous. In other words, whomever is running the survey – often an external service provider – has the full data set so that the company can do reporting on various demographic and structure cuts. But that does not mean the manager knows who said / responded with what. Generally, the service provider will not provide the raw data so it is confidential, not anonymous.

      1. TardyTardis*

        If the survey is linked to my computer only, there is no way it’s going to be anonymous. Sad experience here.

    3. Survey Whiz*

      I can’t speak for everyone, but when my company says that a survey is anonymous, we MEAN it. One aspect of my job is managing company-wide surveys (including feedback surveys), and the reminder system is completely automated and requires no input from the survey manager. The logic is “did you click the “submit” button at the end of the survey? If not, we will automatically remind you until you do”.

      For our anonymous surveys, there is no background information behind responses, period. For our surveys that are labeled as confidential, I do have access to background information for results (and we are upfront about this). I would NEVER share identifiable results with anyone, not even my own boss, unless there was a legitimate reason to do so (one that falls under the guise of a mandatory reporter). I have been trained in how to handle sensitive data effectively and how to ensure that results are not identifiable, and I use coded fields so most of the time I can’t even tell who is who. The background information is only there to assist us with data analysis. I PROMISE you that I am not going around gossiping about individual results. That would be a very easy way for me to get fired…

      I just wanted to give you some insight into the other side of the process!

    4. Survey Wiz*

      I can’t speak for everyone, but when my company says that a survey is anonymous, we MEAN it. One aspect of my job is managing company-wide surveys (including feedback surveys), and the reminder system is completely automated and requires no input from the survey manager. The logic is “did you click the “submit” button at the end of the survey? If not, we will automatically remind you until you do”.

      For our anonymous surveys, there is no background information behind responses, period. For our surveys that are labeled as confidential, I do have access to background information for results (and we are upfront about this). I would NEVER share identifiable results with anyone, not even my own boss, unless there was a legitimate reason to do so (one that falls under the guise of a mandatory reporter). I have been trained in how to handle sensitive data effectively and how to ensure that results are not identifiable, and I use coded fields so most of the time I can’t even tell who is who. The background information is only there to assist us with data analysis. I PROMISE you that I am not going around gossiping about individual results. That would be a very easy way for me to get fired…

      I just wanted to give you some insight into the other side of the process!

      1. TardyTardis*

        That’s nice, except many of us know managers who have managed to get around that little problem.

      2. BHB*

        I’ve been involved with my company’s anonymous yearly engagement surveys and I’m satisfied they are truly anonymous. the bulk of the data collection is outsourced to an independent firm, who collate the data and present it back to the company. They do break down all the responses to a department/team/regional level, but only down to a level where the are more than 10 people in a team/department. If you’re on a team of 4, your results will be folded into the department above you. It means that it’s not so obvious in small teams as to who answered what. They also try to keep all questions on a rating scale or yes/no/multiple choice answers and limit the use of free text. Where free text boxes are used, they are not mandatory and there is a banner at the top of the page warning participants that free text answers will be included in the results verbatim, and whilst they’ll only be attributed to the team, any identifying information you choose to put in your answer is on your own judgement.

        It’s a really professional operation, certainly the most professional and anonymous survey I’ve encountered in a work situation, and frankly it’s the standard I’ll hold any future employer to when it comes to anonymous surveys.

    5. MCMonkeybean*

      Some companies are better than others at keeping the information anonymous, or at least confidential–but knowing whether or not you have filled the survey out is not the same thing as knowing what you said.

  6. MuseumChick*

    Honestly? I wouldn’t fill out the feedback form. I’ve been in way too many situations where bad managers ask for feedback and then get mad when they get it.

    1. Ashley*

      Yeah I think in this case missing the email would be helpful, and then if pushed come up with something that they generally do well but you wouldn’t mind them doing a little more often.

  7. Naomi*

    OP, you say that giving Kate feedback “could lead to positive changes that would benefit our working relationship”. I think you need to tack on a caveat: “could lead to positive changes that would benefit our working relationship IF AND ONLY IF Kate is willing to take feedback well and commits to changing.” Then ask yourself if this sounds like what Kate would do.

  8. danger*

    I have a manager almost EXACTLY like this. I’ve started giving her positive feedback when she DOES respond to things/show up to the office/whatever she normally neglects that we need. “It was really helpful when you were in office for xyz.” “I appreciate the response on xyz, it let me get the final answer to Chelsea quickly.”

    Annoying, and doesn’t fix everything, but the job works for me in almost every other way, so I put up with it.

  9. Cat Tree*

    My company handles this reasonably well. We actually give feedback to the grandboss during yearly reviews, so the message is coming from the boss’s manager rather than their direct reports. It also helps grandboss get a better view of their employee. Since feedback is normal and mundane, most managers are receptive to informal feedback throughout the year. But to Alison’s point, the people who are open to feedback often need it the least. We are encouraged to give some constructive feedback to help good employees get even better, but I am often wracking my brain to think of anything.

  10. Just a Thought*

    I wonder if you can ask a question or two rather than giving feedback.

    “I know that the questions from the Admin team are a distraction from other work. Is there a way I can dispense with them more quickly for you?”

    1. CTT*

      I was thinking something along these lines too – feedback that can be couched as about company-wide systems rather than her specifically. That way OP can satisfy Kate’s need for feedback, not endanger her job in the process, and maybe even fix that one problem? (Which still leaves a host of others so it’s not a perfect solution…)

    2. juliebulie*

      I was also thinking something like that. Maybe you can ask her if there’s something specific she wants to know. Like, do you find the two-hour calls helpful… lol I suppose she wouldn’t ask you that. But she might have something specific in mind that she’d actually be open to hearing about, maybe.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I think this is worth a try. My current supervisor is good with feedback so that’s not our specific issue, but my department is short-staffed right now and there are a lot of things that only she can do. I worry that I’m leaving too many things on her plate so I’ve when I forward things that I think she needs to handle, I’ve also been asking, “How do you want me to handle these in the future? [Alternative response I might be able to employ]?”

      I believe she would tell me if she needed me to do something differently but I also don’t want her to have to initiate it all the time, and since our work schedules have been disrupted by COVID we all forget details once in awhile.

  11. Richard Hershberger*

    An acquaintance of mine recently published a book within my specialty. We weren’t close, but we ran in the same circles and had a collegial relationship. He asked me to email him if I found any errors in the book. My agreeing to this turned out to be a mistake. It did not go well.

    My starting point with this guy was far, far better than the LW’s with their boss. No way in hell should they give honest feedback.

    1. Artemesia*

      Never give feedback on something published. What can anyone do about it then. If he asked you to look at the galleys, maybe.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        The stated purpose was for “the second edition.” This seems optimistic, but OK. The key thought is that I did not volunteer to send him feedback. He asked for it without prompting. I think he imagined it would be an typo on page 153, or something like that.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, I guess it’s a matter of differing expectations. It’s one thing to fix typos and maybe clarify syntax if it’s tangled enough that you get lost in all the subordinate clauses, another matter entirely to proofread an academic paper so it fits the submission guidelines of the intended publication. I can do the former but not the latter.

  12. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I wonder if Kate’s incompetence attracted managerial attention so this survey is a result of it.

    I had to give 360 information on a higher up who was a huge jerk and had issues with women. Just him. No one else. Turns out leadership hired a job coach for him instead of, you know, firing him. I have a hunch job coaching was cheaper than firing him.

    1. Nesprin*

      I am so confused by this attitude- he costs good female employees increasing turnover costs and limiting your hiring pool, thus increasing the cost of hires in addition to his own salary/severance. Such a fascinating penny wise pound foolish approach.

      1. Nanani*

        That guy’s bosses would have to care about female employees, which isn’t guaranteed even in 20-goddamn-21.

    2. SomebodyElse*

      I was wondering the same thing… usually you see this if the manager is either in the middle of job coaching or is attending leadership courses.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      I suspect so, though not even pretending to have it anonymous uh, says a lot there.

      When I got asked to 360 a manager that had some issues in the office, I learned from this site that 360 isn’t always anonymous and unicorns and rainbowed everything.

  13. twocents*

    Since Kate sounds like someone who goes out of their way to not communicate with anyone, this sudden interest in feedback sounds like an “I am required to check this box” sort of activity rather than a genuine interest.

    I’d complete it as superficially as possible. I wouldn’t lie that she’s perfect and fantastic, but I’d focus on true but kind of irrelevant things (“she always takes notes in meetings” leaving off that nothing is ever done with said notes). Since it’s not anonymous, I don’t know that you can get away with not completing it at all.

  14. AKchic*

    I have a feeling that someone outside of LW’s department complained about Kate, and Kate was told “someone” complained, and Kate’s reaction/assumption is that someone within her department complained (or gossiped with an outside department), so the source of the problem is inside the department, therefore she wants to find out who has a problem with her so she can “manage the problem employee out” rather than actually take responsibility for her own poor management style .

    LW, I would not light myself on fire in order to keep Kate warm. This is a trap. If you can, discuss the “survey” with HR or someone above Kate and see if the survey can be made anonymous because you feel like this isn’t going to get anyone to open up, let alone be honest about their experiences/observations, and you, yourself feel distinctly less than inclined to participate at all due to the precariousness of your own status. Let that sit with HR/upper management as it will.

    1. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*

      This is a sound reading of the situation however if I was in OP’s position I would approach even raising anonymity with extreme caution – they could be sticking their head above the parapet so to speak.

      1. AKchic*

        I agree, and think that maaaaybe OP should put a bug in someone else’s ear about asking HR/upper management to make the survey anonymous to help ensure that people are more forthcoming with their honest opinions.

        It may also be worthwhile to just say that you are not in a position to give an assessment at this time, and leave it at that.

  15. Foreign Octopus*

    Here’s the thing about managers soliciting feedback from their teams: The ones who truly want it and will use it well make a point of demonstrating repeatedly over time that it is safe for their teams to be honest with them.

    This, I think, is the key. If you can look at Kate’s history managing your team and say that yes she has opened doors for you to give feedback in a safe way then, by all means, go ahead and give her the feedback she wants. However, if you look at the history and are anything less than 100% confident that she’ll react positively, don’t do it. It’s not worth it.

    1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      Yup. And based on the other habits Kate has demonstrated, I’d be very very non-confident.

      I would say the OP’s instincts are on the money – this is far too risky a position to come forward with hard-hitting feedback, particularly since it isn’t anonymized.

    2. NeonFireworks*

      I am at an intermediate level at my organization, and I realized recently that I have figured this out but my own manager never has. Bizarre sensation.

  16. I Herd the Cats*

    I work for generally reasonable people at a company that tries to take employee engagement and retention seriously, and all our surveys are anonymous. IMO people who want candid feedback allow for that feedback to be made anonymously. Maybe your boss is being forced to do this; maybe she’s looking for comments to reinforce her views that she’s fabulous. I’d do whatever you think would get you in the least amount of hot water, and then focus your efforts on managing up as best you can.

  17. One door closes, a better one opens*

    Had one worse than this! She wanted the anonymous feedback, got criticized, then demanded a “team meeting” to go over why she scored low and what she could improve on. I was not comfortable at all with it and scheduled a day off for the day of the meeting. I wasn’t up for falling for the trap. Got fired about 3 months later anyway and landed in a very different but better position elsewhere! Best thing that could have happened!

    1. Batgirl*

      Fired?! The whole thing sounds like it was a test to figure out who “gets her”. Everyone else is probably a scapegoat for why her role wasn’t going well.

  18. Nooooppppeee*

    There’s literally no upside to you being honest, only risk. She isn’t going to improve because of a non anonymous survey.

  19. Mystery Lady*

    I would question why Kate is suddenly asking for feedback. Is she going for a promotion? Or is she trying to counteract criticism from either HR, her peers, or her boss?
    Based on your description, she doesn’t sound like someone who proactively solicits feedback.
    Either way, Alison’s advice was spot on. Pick one or two things and position them as “process enhancers” rather the performance deficits.

  20. KHB*

    If it weren’t for your precarious immigration status, I’d suggest conferring with other members of the team and picking one thing (say, the unnecessary long phone calls) for everyone to comment on. (You’d want to be clever about how you each phrase it, though, so it’s not obvious that you were talking with each other.) If everyone’s saying the same thing, she can’t dismiss the feedback as just one unreasonable person’s opinion, and she’s probably not going to be able to fire everyone en masse.

    But given your situation, I wouldn’t blame you for not even going that far.

  21. Thursdaysgeek*

    It sounds like Kate and the OP might have different ways that they prefer to communicate: OP by written word, Kate by spoken word. Is there a way you can word the feedback (or talk to her directly), and point out that there seems to often be a mismatch in communications, and ask if the OP can change to a way that works better for Kate?

    “Kate, it seems you don’t prefer to read comments in the Word document – is there a way we can set up a recurring meeting to go through these in a way that works for you?”

    Maybe I’m reading it wrong, and the OP is already trying all communication methods. If not – when it’s your boss and there is a mismatch, often the best solution is to adjust your style, even though it doesn’t work best for you.

    1. PT*

      If Kate is this erratic it may be a CYA (I want to get everything in writing) on OP’s part vs an evasion (I’m not putting ANYTHING in writing) on Kate’s part.

      I had a boss like this. She was sneaky and I insisted on written receipts for everything because of it; she deliberately avoided putting anything in writing because it made it harder for her to be sneaky.

      1. Trombones Geants*

        I’ve also had this boss. It’s extremely helpful to have a written back up. So when they tell you “I never said to do that task that way” you can refer to an email three months ago where they told you exactly “that way” to do said task.

    2. Mockingjay*

      Make it about process, not people. I doubt Kate will change as the result of feedback and OP needs to preserve her job, so a positive suggestion like @Thursdaysgeek’s or one of the “flatteries” mentioned upthread would probably work. Find some little thing Kate did to praise or provide a suggestion to make Kate’s tasks simpler/easier. Stay away from any mention of personality or manner.

  22. HR Exec Popping In*

    Hi OP. Based on your assessment and that the feedback is not confidential I would proceed with caution. I never recommend full out dishonesty and say everything is great, but you can offer up one or two small pieces of feedback and see how she responds. One thing to remember is no one is able to process a laundry list of feedback. Employees can’t and neither can managers. A person can only focus on a few things at a time.

  23. employment lawyah*

    Should I be honest

    A boss who acts like that has forfeited the right to honest feedback. It’s the same way that a company that “fires people as soon as they give notice” has forfeited the right to normal notice.

    Protect your job, and do so with a clear conscience.

    1. KHB*

      Who acts like what? We have several examples of Kate being a bad manager, but I don’t think any of them imply that she’s actually a bad person.

      Given OP’s situation, I advise not taking any risks. But that doesn’t mean Kate should be regarded as a garbage human being.

      1. WS*

        Whether or not Kate is a garbage human being is irrelevant to the letter and to the comment above you. This is 100% about Kate’s behaviour as a boss to the LW as an employee.

        1. KHB*

          I’ll ask again: Which of the specific behaviors described in the letter mean that Kate has “forfeited the right to honest feedback”?

          1. Eirene*

            Refusing to read the actual feedback she’s already given in Word document comments and also throwing temper tantrums at her employees, perhaps? I mean, come on.

          2. WS*

            Throwing tantrums when she gets it! But again, that means nothing about feedback from, say, her family and friends. This is specific to her work in this workplace.

  24. Yvette*

    Can you bring up something that can be improved on that isn’t her fault but she could do something about? Like software or supplies that would make the job better?
    Complaints, but about the situation, not complaints about her.

  25. Princess Leia*

    Luke! Luke! Don’t! It’s a trap! It’s a trap! …. sorry, that’s all I can hear in my head when I think about giving all but the best of managers any sort of negative feedback. It rarely goes well because if they were open to negative feedback, they would already be getting it without having to ask. I think everyone has been burned at least once by the ask or the promise of being “anonymous”

  26. BlueBelle*

    One approach you can take in a situation like this is that instead of giving feedback you could ask for things that would make things easier for both of you. “Often Admin comes to me with questions and you want me to handle it. Would it be ok if I (set up policies, had the autonomy to make those decisions, keep a running list of their most common questions and come to you with them all at once)?”

  27. Akcipitrokulo*

    You need your job for income and physical safety.

    If you weren’t so reliant on her, it might be different – but you are.

    Don’t feel bad about doing what you need to to get through this. If you can do it safely, awesome. If not… it is your call. I’d think twice.

    One option might be to choose one thing that causes you the most issues – which is small and easily fixed, and able to be worded to save her feelings (admin stuff?) – but again – be safe.

      1. Des*

        Boses like this get so petty, don’t ever give even the slightest whiff of complaint because it will haunt you.

  28. PT*

    Don’t ever tell your work what you think, until they’ve told you what you’re allowed to think.

    1. KHB*

      Fortunately, there are plenty of workplaces that aren’t entirely authoritarian dystopias.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I’m underpaid (my entire workplace is underpaid) but one of the reasons I haven’t tried to move on is that losing the workplace culture I have now would be a huge risk. It’s just a nice place to work and full of very reasonable people, and they actually do take feedback and manage out dead weight and troublemakers.

  29. Miniature House*

    Sounds like my last boss who had a “beatings will continue until morale improves” meeting after someone gave feedback anonymously that morale was low. We were basically told where the door was if we were that unhappy. Two of the four professionals who did almost all of the income generating work (rest was support staff for the professionals) quit within two months. It was glorious. We had to rate our morale out of ten as well as rate what we thought it was for the person standing next to us. I said 3 for me (it was probably a -22) and 6 for the person next to me.

    1. Des*

      >Two of the four professionals who did almost all of the income generating work (rest was support staff for the professionals) quit within two months. It was glorious.

      I smiled reading this.

  30. Happy Little Accident*

    I have a question about giving feedback to managers. Is it expected that the whole team sees the feedback? Or is it expected that manager and the manager’s manager review the feedback? I will admit that I failed at management. I had a really bad experience I had asked for a start/stop/continue. I get feedback none of it was pleasant and it was broadcasted to the entire team. About a day or two later we got an updated feedback package of additional comments- overwhelmingly scathing including comments “That upper management should evaluate that made a mistake in hiring Manager.” I pushed back to my manger that the last comment should not have been broadcasted. If anything it should been provided privately. My manager said if someone feels that way then they should express it. (He never addressed if the comment should have been public or not.) My other concern does the manager’s being in an underrepresented group matter whether the feedback in public or not? I am woman in engineering and I had all men older than me.
    As for Kate, it does not say whether the feedback is provided privately. That should be a factor- not that she is a good manager and deserves a glowing review, but the manager should be given feedback privately (like everyone else) or it should treated as a brainstorming session how can we (including the manager) improve.
    LW, if you want to improve this environment, and this is your choice, I would recommend this based on my experience and Alison’s responses.
    1. Write the feedback anyway. It would be good practice. Most people need practice with the art of giving feedback.
    2. Write it constructively. No name calling, ect,
    3. Filter out or “soften” to allude what is needed to improve or pick only one lower stake thing.
    4. Start documenting her behavior in case upper management wants more information and it is safe to do so. Also document her reaction.

    As my story- I the jerk of a manager got information from HR on who gave the feedback. I never confronted the guy. NOR SHOULD I HAVE. The whole situation was exceptionally toxic and poorly handled by all involved.

  31. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    I was called upon to do this once, and my boss told me, “I’ll know who said what,” RIGHT before I was to fill it out.
    So my answer to every question was “I am not completing this survey because my boss has indicated they will know whose answers are whose.”

    After four surveys submitted with similar answers they called in a consultant for in-person Q&A which wasn’t a more improved way of doing it but at least the feedback was put into pie graphs and percentages rather than, “Mrs Hawiggins doesn’t like when you yell. Every. Day.”

  32. Des*

    “Then she throws a temper tantrum”

    this is where you don’t need to read the rest of the letter to know the answer is ‘no’. Temper tantrum throwing bosses don’t get the benefit of feedback.

    1. Des*

      HAHAHAHA I just read to the part where the feedback is *not* anonymous. LOL. She’s such “a thoughtful, caring boss who is really detail oriented”, isn’t she? Please OP, read the room!

  33. Gypsy_AcidQueen*

    Is your Kate my old boss??!! We had this yearly confrontation with our Kate where she would corner us into a “meeting space” and request the feedback to her face. When it was given, it was met with “why are you attacking me?!!!!” and arguments as to why we were wrong about our honest needs for managing from her. It was done during annual review time and I assume it was because the Manager’s Performance Evaluation had a section on communication/how are you managing your team? and instead of self-reflection, she went to us to ask for the feedback and didn’t like the answers.

    This year, when it came up, it was in chat due to quarantine, so we promptly ignored it and asked HR for advice on how to handle the next confrontation. The silence in itself should be enough to tell her something, but some folks it isn’t. I think the best advice we got was to let her own that silence and see if she pushed the NOT REQUIRED feedback. She did (of course), and it was only then that we turned the question back on to her and just let her blab. “Wow I’m really uncomfortable to be put on the spot to answer this….How do YOU think you are doing?”

  34. Different name, every time*

    If you don’t feel safe writing honest feedback, and don’t have or want to say anything positive, can you just not respond to the request? If it’s truly anonymous they won’t know who hasn’t replied.
    If they report back number of respondents and asking why it’s only 6/10 submitted, I would lie. Your feedback was submitted. If they figure out it was you then it must have gotten eaten by the survey site/email program/fell out of the dropbox. You’ll be happy to resubmit (and then only write good things because if they know you’re the one who didn’t submit it’s NOT anonymous)

    1. Different name, every time*

      Sorry, thought the request was for anonymous feedback, missed the “not” anonymous part of that sentence. In which case, I’d follow what everyone else has said about only writing truthfully positive things. Or procrastinate and say you must have missed that email if asked and then write something positive.

  35. Petty Patty*

    I would only mention a point or two- particularly you need her to be more available and definitive for decisions. If she can’t figure out the Word document thing, put all the comments on the first page of the Word document or last for her to acknowledge. Perhaps giving her a hard copy to look at as she reads the document. It’s wasteful, but some people need something physically on paper to comprehend it, it seems.

    But I am super petty and would be tempted to fill out a separate eval or type out my own “anonymously”, and find a way to plop it on her desk without anyone knowing it was me! These are a lot of issues that are making more than just your life hard I am sure.

  36. PspspspspspsKitty*

    This reminds me of a time when my work decided to get some kind of special leadership program to improve their leadership. It was one of those programs tied into a personality test with all the glitter and buzz but no subsidence. They sent a survey out to everyone to rate their boss and said it was completely anonymous. Seeing how surveys go on here, I kept all my answers in the “good” and “excellent” bubbles even though she was the worse boss ever.

    Part of the training involved printing out all the answers. The bosses had to sit with their employees and discuss why they give their boss such a poor rating. Thankfully I noped right out of that workplace before that could happen though I would have looked fine anyways.

    OP – distrust the feedback welcome. Alison’s response is right on.

  37. Lizzie*

    I once attended a meeting of managers and supervisors and the outside consultant started his presentation by saying “Now we are all in a safe space here, so feel free to speak openly”. I looked around at the range of narcissists, bullies and generally mean spirited people around me and thought “No, I don’t think so”. I did take a feedback form, and completed it later and sent it (anonymously) to his workplace detailing the problem with his assumption that managers at al are all fair minded and open to constructive feedback etc. I hope he took it on board.

    Dear OP, you have everything to lose and nothing to gain by critiquing this manager. You can see the trap, so do step around it. Find something to say eg “Manager always takes an interest in what we are doing“, don’t add the rest of the sentence “so that she can criticise us” and leave it that. Best wishes!

  38. Fried Eggs*

    Yep, this isn’t the time for sincerity. This is the time to list three things that will make Kate feel good about herself, and one minor, barely-negative thing to make her feel good about how open she is to feedback without actually threatening her. Something like how it would be helpful to have a regular 1:1 or more specific feedback on a project now and then.

  39. Ailsa McNonagon*

    Agree with everyone else that this is not a safe thing for you to do, OP. At my job, we regularly receive staff well-being surveys and they ask about our managers- despite having some misgivings about my manager I never complete those questions as I don’t believe the surveys are as anonymous as we’re told they are.

    OP, do whatever keeps you safest. As others have suggested, you could possibly get away with framing one of your frustrations with Kate as a request for guidance on how to proceed, but probably only the once… Good luck!

  40. Workfromhome*

    If you can avoid doing it at all I’d opt for that. Be it just ignoring it or claiming to have deleted the email. If questioned see if you can get away with a verbal “now that you ask everything’s fine” and see if it goes away. Especially when these are not anonymous avoiding having anything in writing would be best. If you write something negative its permanent and they will remember it forever. If its positive a boss like the one described in the letter is just as likely to pull it out if you ever do have a complaint or use it if others complain to HR about them. “look at the feedback letter from x how great I am ” if they had an issue they didn’t share it or y is a malcontent for complaining about me look how much X likes complaints.

    If you are absolutely forced to write something make it as brief and neutral as possible erring towards the “everything is fine (not great or good just fine) side.

    The idea is stay under the radar as much as possible. Its incredibly unlikely that any negative feedback will have any positive result for you. From the sounds of it you are in position you need to stay under the radar until you find a new job or your citizenship situation is secure. Duck and cover!

  41. Princess Punky*

    When I was younger, I had a boss who was manipulative and cruel. She did the “mean girl” thing where she pretended to be my friend but was constantly trying to undermine me, e.g. “So&So said that you’re too inexperienced for this job, but I told them I had confidence in you.” Time came for our annual manager review, and when she told me about it she said, “Of course you’ll give me all 10s.” Reader, I did, and I regret it to this day, though I’m not sure what I could/should have done differently.

  42. Eirene*

    Yeah, no, OP – pretend you didn’t see the email until/unless Kate mentions it specifically. Then, if she strong-arms you into providing feedback, lie your ass off. Think of it less as telling deliberate untruths and more as self-preservation, which it is in your case.

  43. H1 let it be*

    Do not be honest with your boss. You said that your immigration status depends on your keeping this job and that returning to your home country isn’t an option. That is all that matters. The risk of the survey turning out to be less-than-anonymous is too high to justify the risk to your immigration status.

  44. LondonLady*

    This gave me flashbacks to a job I had in my twenties. The boss called a meeting and said they were looking for suggestions on areas to improve their management style and leadership in order to help the whole team function better. I wrote my suggestions, looking back they were probably not particularly well phrased and may have seemed petty (eg the boss not being visibly interested in contributions from all team members at meetings) as did others. The boss collected them up and took them away. At the next meeting, the boss said the exercise “had not been a success” and declined to discuss any of the comments made! I don’t know what they expected. There was no backlash on us, it was just never spoken of again.

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