do managers really want honest feedback?

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! 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?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 217 comments… read them below }

  1. PNWorker*

    I am sure it varies by manager, but I have had managers say that it’s an open environment where feedback is harvested, and then is either forgotten or just ignored. Not quite as hostile, but essentially the same outcome

    1. singularity*

      It’s also difficult to give good, constructive feedback when you don’t have the entire picture. Managers and bosses have access to information that employees don’t, so without that same knowledge, it’s hard to really provide any kind of response that has the full situation in mind.

      1. PNWorker*

        Oh definitely. I understand an employee may not always have the full picture. But at least in the instance I mentioned, when changes don’t occur, there wasn’t an explanation of the obstacles preventing them. Heck, the department has an annual survey and team that reviews the response from employees about issues, and you best believe that it got real redudant when the same issues got brought up annually.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          I find it hilarious when they finally get around to sharing the results from the giant surveys and the same shit comes up every single year.

          1. rayray*

            I thought it was funny how my management would share the results when they were good but as things took a turn for the worse and got progressively worse, we don’t hear anything about it.

          2. ferrina*

            Yep. Or they casually don’t mention the results to certain questions that they did really badly on.

            1. PNWorker*

              It is also funny, and totally not awkward, when the team pools feedback on a manager and it’s a really small team. Because then it’s fairly obvious where the friction lies.

          3. Charlotte Lucas*

            I am dealing with this! The only way the answers will change is if leadership takes responsibility to make changes themselves.

          4. Pugetkayak*

            We get our survey results like 8 months after we take it. It’s so pointless. I always fill it out though because no one can ever accuse me of “why didnt you tell us?”

          5. MaybeMaybeNot*

            Our managers started get aggregated results on the annual employee survey from their teams and were blindsided by the bad feedback.

            So they added “achieve positive scores on the annual survey” into the individual contributor performance metrics. We all had to report good scores or else our own performance would go down and our bonus would be smaller.

            Problem solved!

            1. Allisen*

              Hmm reminds me of the saying, “The beatings will continue until Morale improves.” It’s not the best method.

        2. Anon Just for This*

          My organization’s survey includes a question about whether people feel like action will be taken on the issues brought up in the survey. The results are not encouraging.

      2. Marna Nightingale*

        It kind of reminds me of something Neil Gaiman said about being edited:

        When someone identifies a problem with your book, they’re nearly always right.

        Not knowing everything you know, when they offer a solution, they’re nearly always wrong.

        I think this is probably true of a lot of workplace feedback as well: if multiple people offer you solutions to something, none of which will work because of things they don’t know, the actionable piece is that six people have identified this as a problem.

        1. MaybeMaybeNot*

          So true, and why it’s so frustrating to deal with “only come to me with problems if you also have a solution” managers.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Wow, that’s a weird management stance. Every time I go to a manager with a problem (as opposed to just letting them know what I’m doing), it’s because I don’t know how to solve it.

            1. Somehow_I_Manage*

              The spirit behind this kind of management is, not necessarily to “solve” your own problems, but to position your manager to make executive decisions. “Hi boss, we’re not on track because of x, y, and z. I think we can mitigate this by doing either a, b, or c. Which would you like me to move forward with?”

              I’m sure there are a thousand specific examples of where and how this doesn’t apply to certain people or situations. But in my experience, strong manager/employee relationships generally benefit from this kind of trust and communication.

              1. Clobberin' Time*

                But isn’t “position your manager to make executive decisions” really doing your manager’s job for them, aka managing up? If all the manager is doing is rubber-stamping the solution I’ve come up with, what value do they add to the process?

                I think the nice version of this kind of management is to weed out plain old griping, and to encourage people to think through issues before complaining. The less optimistic view is that it is to shut down complaints by interposing obstacles.

          2. retired?*

            I’ve spent most of the last 35 years in the military. The expectation of “If you come to me with a problem, come with a recommended solution as well” was very common.

            Because the majority of military personnel are being trained to lead in some fashion (whether they be leading 2 people or 200) this makes a lot of sense. You want those in leadership positions to figure out how to solve problems on their own first, not just report to their supervisor, “Hey, this is a problem!”

            This concept is quite transferable to non-military leadership/supervisory/management situations. Sometimes the potential solution might require action that is not in the employee’s power to fix or change. Which situation would you prefer? Fergus comes to your office and says, “Boss, I’m having a problem with the TPS cloud reporting platform. I’ve tried X, Y, and Z but that hasn’t worked. Do you know of a way I can fix it?” ==OR== Fergus walks in and says, “Boss, the TPS cloud platform is broken.”

            1. MaybeMaybeNot*

              “Boss, I’m having a problem with the TPS cloud reporting platform. I’ve tried X, Y, and Z but that hasn’t worked. Do you know of a way I can fix it?” isn’t offering a solution though.

            2. Expelliarmus*

              Okay, but that’s different from situations where the employees don’t have the resources or knowledge to solve a problem, but they know it exists while the people who COULD solve the problem are not aware of the issue. In those situations, it just isn’t feasible to dismiss complaints because they don’t come with solutions.

            3. Marna Nightingale*

              That honestly depends to a great extent on how mission-critical and how fragile and brittle the TPS cloud platform is.

              If incorrect attempts to fix the TPS cloud platform can wipe out the company intranet, wipe out the CLIENT’S company intranet, or cause a vital piece of equipment to power down unexpectedly, please. Just bring me the problem.

              In the days when there were three small servers living in my house, one of which had been kluged to Hell and back by Spouse so as to run Linux, OS and Windows boxes all at once while doing several other weird things.

              I once took the whole thing down for a week by following the onscreen instructions plus my common sense. I’m quoting Spouse here: “Yeah that totally should have worked, please never do it again.”

          3. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

            Yeah, I hate that. Even when I do come with proposed solutions they are always “wrong”, “no possible”, or “too expensive”.

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          An acquaintance a while back published a book on early baseball, which is to say right in my wheelhouse. He asked me to let him know if I found any factual errors. Unfortunately, this was after the book had been published. He muttered about a second edition, which is optimistic, so I made the mistake of agreeing. It went poorly. I think he was looking for me to point out a typo on page 78, or the like. Instead I made notes. (True confession: I do this routinely when reading books within the field, so that was no extra effort.) I started feeding him the notes one chapter at a time. It brought no joy to either of us, so I quit midway, never getting to point out that the Cumberland Gap does not in fact go through Cumberland, Maryland, but is at the lower left tip of Virginia, where it meets with both Kentucky and Tennessee, placing it about three hundred miles from Cumberland, Maryland. So it goes.

          I certainly made the mistake of agreeing to this after publication. I will not do that again. Less clear is if it would have gone better reviewing the manuscript earlier in the process. That is pretty normal, and the feedback is much more immediately actionable. But even then, not everyone responds well.

          I have just completed a round of edits to my next book. I turned the manuscript in last September. The series editor gave me notes. The two of us have finally beaten the manuscript into a condition that he signed off on it, and it has just gone to the publishing house editor. I eagerly await how that will go. I would have been happier had the series editor responded effusiveness and no notes, and I did not agree with every note, but in general I agree that it is better than what I first submitted, and also more consistent with academic press expectations. So it is a win all around.

          This is a little different from what Gaiman said. Fiction is a different animal.

          1. Pugetkayak*

            It’s like being honest in the store when someone is trying something on that is horrid, but keeping quiet when you see them actually wearing the outfit at a party.

            1. Clobberin' Time*

              Exactly! And if your friend gets snippy with you at the sore, so that it becomes clear they want you to smile and tell them the outfit they’ve already fallen in love with is perfect, you find reasons to be very busy next time they want to go shopping. But there is NO value in telling them “that makes you look like a stunned giraffe” at the party itself!

          2. Gumby*

            In my, admittedly very limited, experience it does not go better earlier in the process. I was once in a group that was asked to provide pre-release feedback on a book and we carefully read all of the chapters and made notes then met a few times to discuss and one person in the group gathered feedback too pass on and she made sure it was all very polite and encouraging but we did have suggestions for improvements. The eventual response that we got back was “all of the other people who we asked to read it loved it so we aren’t changing anything.”

          3. Moo*

            I’ve found that even just having my editor flag the problem clearly helps me to come up with the right solution, that makes it better overall
            for example,
            Editor: this bit isn’t clear, perhaps it needs an extra scene here
            Me: Ah I see that isn’t clear but actually there’s a perfect spot earlier to add a clarifying scene.

            As for after publishing – I would never engage with that. A friend of my father’s offered to “critique” my book after it was published and my father was surprised when I said “why would i want that?!”

            There’s definitely an important link between feedback and the usability of feedback. So I love Allison’s framing of asking what kinds of things are being looked for

      3. urguncle*

        This issue in and of itself is great actionable feedback. What context *can* you give that might help people understand why something they don’t see working out in front of them actually is? I had a great conversation with someone in a very different department who was frustrated about how long it took to build a custom chocolate teapot. I walked him through, step by step, how we create the teapots and he not only completely understood, he’s been a great advocate within his department for actively participating with my department.

      4. Despachito*

        But even if it is only a piece of the puzzle it would be worth it? If the bosses have the entire picture they can get useful information even out of that piece.

      5. Jasper*

        And in addition to the fact that, even if the feedback *is* taken on board, it might not be actioned because of Reasons you’re not allowed to know, even if someone *does* take action on it, you may not be allowed to know *that* either!

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Nobody REALLY wants feedback. Literally everything I’ve said has been ignored for the last ten years.

      The hard part is when you are in a job where you get yelled at it if you give feedback and are also yelled at if you keep your mouth shut. What the heck are you supposed to do?!?!

      I had another meeting scheduled for me by yet another head boss and I just don’t want to bother. Literally every single thing I’ve said to the last bunch of leaders has been ignored and nothing has changed, why the hell should I have that conversation again?

      1. College Career Counselor*

        I hear you. However, I can think of at least one reason to bring things up again in the future. Maybe (just maybe) enough of the leadership will have changed (or other conditions will have evolved) to the point that they’re willing to listen and consider incorporating what you’re saying.

        I’m not saying be a broken record (let me tell you I’m old without telling you I’m old), all day every day, but there have been times when I have been able to put forward an agenda, get an idea approved, etc. when I had the right circumstances. In some cases, literally the only thing thing about the message that changed was its audience. In fact, I’m anticipating someone above me in the org chart moving out of that position in a few months that might allow it to happen again.

    3. Artemesia*

      A manager or teacher who wants honest feedback will set up an anonymous mechanism you can trust to provide it and then will visibly respond. Even if an idea is not accepted, there is a big difference between ideas and suggestions going into a black hole and someone saying ‘we had the suggestion to expand our offerings to include X and we took a look at doing that, but it isn’t really feasible at this time.’

      Manager who SAY they want feedback don’t, particularly if they are lousy managers and absolutely if they don’t have a process that protects those who provide feedback

      1. Artemesia*

        To clarify — a manager who WANTS feedback doesn’t have to announce that. It is obvious in how he interacts with people and how he responds to suggestions when he solicits a specific one.

        1. Lydia*

          It’s funny this question has come up about feedback because I was just thinking about this. We have been asked to respond to an anonymous, confidential survey. There is an optional question asking which department you work in. My department is listed and has four people, including my boss. I declined to respond to that question.

    4. Reluctant Mezzo*

      The managers I’ve worked for want several pages of praise, no matter what else is going on.

  2. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    Heh, one of my former employers was having ridiculous turnover. The VP called me in and said “since you came from outside the industry from a company well known for retention, can you give me ideas?”

    The items I came up with were along the lines of employee development/ paths to promotion, ownership (knowledge of who used our product and how it was used), greater autonomy for knowledge workers.

    His response? “That is not something this industry does”

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          I often say the same thing, NeedRain47. He sucks so bad, but this one thing is golden.

      1. ferrina*


        Diplomatic translation: “These are elements that will make us stand out from our competitors and position us as a leader.”

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          It is much like employee suggestion boxes. What they want is the suggestion that the office can save money by reusing paper clips. What they need is the employees’ perspective of systemic problems. They get neither from me. I decades ago not to bother.

      1. CharlieBrown*

        Or jeans on the last day of the month. Or pizza Fridays.

        Because yeah, I wanted to get a job here so desperately to eat cheap greasy pizza and get a branded mug I can’t even get rid of in a garage sale for 25 cents.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Or my favorite solution of the month… if we rewrite everything to use JSON instead of XML, all our design malfunctions will go away!

      2. Veronica Sawyer*

        Oh god, this is almost what happened in my office this week. Except the big motivator was stickers with company slogans on them! Gee, thanks, what a great reason to stay! Well then I don’t mind coming into the office just to sit in video meetings all day. I have company stickers!

      3. Rainy*

        In my current division, they’re scheduling more all-day division-wide “retreats”. Apparently someone somewhere likes these and has asked for more of them. No one I’ve spoken to (quietly) knows who these people are or why they think these things are a good use of time.

        I’m about to the point where I’m ready to track down whoever is encouraging these things and make them stop by any means necessary.

        Some of us have actual work to do.

    1. FrivYeti*

      It wouldn’t work, but I’d be tempted to respond, “That’s great news! It means that we have the chance to become an industry leader by doing it.”

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Oh dang. Even if what the VP said was true (highly unlikely!), maybe they should start doing stuff like developing their employees and preparing them for promotions…

      1. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

        Manager: “What if I train and develop my employees and then they leave? I will have wasted all that money.”

        Consultant: “What if you don’t, and they stay?”

  3. Jackie*

    I think there is some value in giving the feedback diplomatically and ‘positively’, so that it’s easier to get accepted or at least acknowledged. I think showing some appreciation, and adding some feasible solutions for problems, are much more likely to be well received.
    For example:
    Dear boss: I think you don’t understand or don’t care about our workload and keep piling on more work when we’re already overworked.
    Dear Boss: I appreciate your giving us timely feedback on our work. But I struggle with prioritizing the work when they exceed what I can complete in the workday. Would it be possible for us to set up a time to discuss priorities and deadlines / think about ways to outsource some of the work… etc.

    1. L-squared*

      I mean, that is basically “kiss their ass before giving the feedback they asked for”. I mean, just don’t ask if that is what you need in order to receive it well.

      Now I do agree there are better and worse ways to say things. But in general, as long as it is presented professionally, you shouldn’t need to stroke their ego first in order to be heard.

      1. Greige*

        No, there are more differences in Jackie’s examples than that. 1 introduces the idea that the boss doesn’t care (so why say it?) 2 explains the business impacts of the behavior and offers a suggestion for how to get started on a solution. That’s why 1 is adversarial and 2 is collaborative — and makes it easier for the boss to act on.

        1. Greige*

          But re-reading it, I do agree the 1st sentence of 2 shouldn’t be necessary unless the boss has an ego problem. I stand by the rest of it, though.

      2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        I am not even sure I understand what you mean when you say there are not better and worse ways to say things, since that is so obviously untrue.

        “I think you don’t understand or don’t care about our workload” is a terrible way to give feedback and is almost guaranteed to make the person receiving it defensive. Projecting intention onto a person is NOT a professional way to address an issue.

      3. Dinwar*

        Managers are entitled to basic civility as much as anyone else.

        Plus, part of rhetoric (and providing feedback is a type of rhetoric) is to identify how best to present your information to your audience. I know that for one manager an Excel table showing costs/benefits is best; for another a conversation on the phone is. Sending the latter person a cost/benefits table–however well put-together–is a rather crude failure on my part.

        Keep it focused on work issues, don’t make it personal, show an ounce of respect (if you think showing respect is kissing someone’s ass you don’t know how to communicate very well), etc. The stuff we learned in grade school.

        1. L-squared*

          I have no problem with basic civility. But that doesn’t mean I have to say what I appreciate about them first.

          1. Dinwar*

            It’s a common enough tactic. The Sandwich Technique, I think it’s called.

            I mean, I don’t do it. I work with geologists and engineers, most of who I’ve know for 15 years or more. If I start out sugary-sweet they’re going to think I’ve had brain damage; it’s just not me. My method is “Here’s a problem. Here’s my proposed solution; what do you think?” (reviewing is always easier than problem solving, and it shows initiative, something my bosses expect out of me). I’ve also got a colleague with whom “I’m nuking your D&D character for this” is considered a polite, rather gentle way to start a conversation. But this sandwich technique isn’t invalid. If your manager is the type to respond to it, it’s worth doing.

            That paragraph above illustrates my broader point: Communication should factor the individuals in. If you don’t know your manager well enough to know what methods work, that’s something you need to learn. Any other answers to this issue are too generic to be useful–what works in one situation fails in another.

      4. Richard Hershberger*

        The amount of preliminary ass-kissing I give is inversely proportional to how much I respect the individual. The worst boss I ever had, I had to grovel apologetically before I could ask him to clarify a memo he had sent me. Were I a better person, I would not have read the entire 100+ page opinion resulting in his being disbarred.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Lol, exactly. I moved from the private sector to government, and I will admit to plenty of schadenfreude whenever my previous employer gets in trouble with my current employer.

          I think that “spite” is really undervalued as a motivation. I can pull off some pretty impressive feats when I’m fuming.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            Through spite and extreme stubbornness, I managed to get a free laptop through an extended warranty once.

    2. Unkempt Flatware*

      Well, maybe, but for what it is worth, I’m neurodivergent and I couldn’t find the feedback for manager in all the words in the second example. Generally “I language” like in your first example should be all a person needs to do to soften the message.

    3. ferrina*

      If you want to be heard, Jackie’s advice is spot-on. Here’s why:

      1. People are much more receptive to suggestions if you butter them up (flattery works).
      2. People’s receptivity shuts down when they feel attacked. This is a biologic fact (social attacks trigger the same neurochemicals as physical attacks). By blaming a non-person like a systemic issue, it sidesteps that fight-or-flight response. (Jackie’s language is nice- “prioritizing the work when they exceed what I can complete…”)
      3. It offers an easy solution. People are much more likely to do something when it’s easy, and that includes mental lifts. Coming with a solution is more likely to get an issue solved than waiting for the boss to come up with something. This is true even when you know you won’t be able to solve it on your own- I regularly create proposed solutions knowing that the SMEs will completely rewrite them. But it’s easier to change someone else’s work than write it from scratch.

      Should you have to go through all these hoops? No. A great boss/feedback hearer will be able to hear what you say without you needing to do diplomatic gymnastics. But unfortunately, many bosses/feedback hearers aren’t ready/able to do this (even though they may claim to be. Some of these people aren’t exactly great at self-awareness).

    4. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

      Yeah, to give feedback upwards, often you have to use the “shit sandwich” technique:

      “Hey boss, I’m really glad you asked for feedback on the Teapot TieDye project. The dyes we’ve picked are beautiful jewel tones, but they won’t adhere to the teapots without extra prep and extra time. We can make it work if we pre-glaze them with a special underglaze, fire them, and then paint them with the beautiful tiedye glazes and do the final firing at a higher temperature. The final product will be beautiful and should sell well even at a higher price point.”

  4. Dust Bunny*

    I’ve worked at both kinds of places. My current manager, and her predecessors at this job, would want feedback. The job before that would not. The two jobs before that job . . . maybe. My first couple of starter jobs . . . definitely not.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Yup, I’ve worked with both kinds of manager / senior leader. Some have been very open to hearing my thoughts, including about things that aren’t working / could be improved. Some have been super weird about even mild constructive critique. Most have been somewhere in the middle.

      So the person you’re giving feedback to is a key determinant of whether it’s a good idea or not, unfortunately.

  5. Victoria, Please*

    All of the above is why “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (even when it’s off-base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly you’re not in the mood)” is required reading in any leadership PD program I offer.

    1. Kes*

      This, such a great book and should be required reading for leaders (well, for everyone really). You can give whatever feedback you want but if the person receiving it isn’t actually ready and open to listen to and internalize it, it’s not going to go anywhere.

  6. Rock 'em sock 'em managers*

    In my first job as a manager, I had a boss who said they wanted a manager who felt free to disagree with them. I took my boss at their word and raised objections to them privately about an issue soon after, and… it Did Not Go Well For Me ™. Never made that mistake again.

    1. a tester, not a developer*

      “Feel free to disagree with me” usually means “Tell me I’m too nice/generous/it’s not me – it’s everyone else who is wrong” in my experience.

  7. SqueakyWheel*

    The rule for receiving feedback I was taught is that there is only one response that you should make: “Thank you”. Nothing more, nothing less, no defense or explanation. Things can be revisited later, but at the time it’s just “thank you”.

    Also, when I solicit feedback, I ask prime to use the “stoplight” format… What are the behaviors I should start, stop, and continue. It sets a clear expectation for all involved.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      It’s also good to ask follow-up/clarification questions, but only if you can keep the tone curious rather than defensive.

      “Could you give me an example to be sure I’m understanding?”

      “You’re right, that was a mistake. What would you like me to do in the future in a similar circumstance?”

      “Can you think of anyone on the team who does this particularly well? Maybe they have tips for me.”

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Agreed. And also to figure out what the underlying issue might be. Maybe the manager can’t do quite what the person wants them to do, but they can explore together to figure out if there’s some other way of solving the problem / meeting the person’s needs.

        I used to work at a cellphone shop. My role was sales, but we would often get people coming in to deal with issues, presumably because they wanted to deal with a person rather than an automated phone system. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do a lot of what they wanted, like looking at / adjusting their bills. I learned that we would all have a better time if I emphasized what I *could* do to help them resolve the issue, rather than on what I couldn’t do. Like we could call in to billing from the store and I’d coach them through what to say to the call centre person.

  8. L-squared*

    I think the problem is, many managers don’t want certain types of feedback, but they aren’t good at expressing that.

    If you only want feedback about, say, your workload, and not working conditions, than just make that part clear. But when you ask for “general” feedback, then decide that “well, not like that”, it just makes them look ridiculous.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      If there are constraints on what feedback is going to be useful / actionable, it’s definitely better to be upfront about that from the start.

  9. singularity*

    Yeah, it’s like Alison said in her response, some people say they want feedback, but in actual practice, they don’t take it well. They want to seem like the type of manager who is open and willing to listen to the people who report to them, but it’s all for show.

    You have to turn it around on them and ask specifically what type of feedback their asking for and don’t get your hopes up thinking that dramatic changes will happen as a result of whatever you say.

  10. A Simple Narwhal*

    This reminds me of the CEO at the startup my husband used to work for. He was told he needed to be more approachable and immediately went stomping around the office yelling “who the f#ck said I wasn’t approachable?!?! I’m very approachable goddamnit!”

    1. Here for the Insurance*


      I had a boss who received feedback that employees wanted him to engage more with them (have never understood what the hell they were thinking). He took that as “I need to leave my office and stalk the halls glaring at people more often.” Bonus, he was 6 foot 6, a bully, and had a voice you could hear in the next building.

      Yep, that made people feel better. Thanks, chief.

  11. irene adler*

    Asking for feedback seems so nebulous, to me.

    I’d want parameters:

    To what length is management willing to go on provided suggestions?
    Does management want actionable items or merely statements they might make to resolve things?
    Is management looking for new approaches (outside the box) or just tweaking what we already do?
    Are suggestions to be confined to what can be done to remedy an immediate issue or more broad-based?

    I’ve been let-down -and even burned – a few times on this before.

  12. CharlieBrown*

    The number of times I was a teacher and was asked in a meeting for feedback about This Year’s Great New Thing and was told to “not focus on the negative” is beyond counting. Principals only wanted to hear what was so great about their pet program (to stroke their egos, I suppose?) and we were never able to give feedback about what wasn’t working or how to fix it or make it better. Which is part of the reason why This Year’s New Thing will soon be Last Year’s New Thing.

    Guess who’s not teaching any more.

    1. Merrie*

      Ohhh man, in my old job “being positive about change” was one of the things we were reviewed on, and in practice it basically meant being willing to drive whatever nonsense corporate handed down, even when we had a list of reasons a mile long that we thought it was a waste of our time, didn’t work as well as they thought it did, and clients didn’t like it. I can be positive about change when it looks promising. And if the employer tends to mostly come across with decent stuff, then if they hand down something that looks questionable, I can give them the benefit of the doubt that maybe it’ll work out better than I think or it has to be that way for a good reason. But “we’re going to do this new thing”, at that job, almost invariably meant it was going to be poorly explained, chew up extra time, not accomplish what they thought it was going to accomplish, and/or annoy staff and clients. So after a while, when they floated some new thing that looked like it was going to be a PITA, it was pretty hard to be positive about it given their track record.

  13. Kat*

    I work for a large hospital. Mid-level management is the very worst. Hostile among the staff. Angels in front of the brass. No. They don’t want honest feedback.

    There have been rare gems among the coal, but not often.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “Mid-level management is the very worst. Hostile among the staff.”

      This is very much also my experience working at a large hospital!

      As someone who has occasionally shared feedback that has been VERY unpopular with the recipients – most people hate criticism. Of any kind. Even when it’s presented in a positive way. Even when they said they welcomed it.

      People love praise, hate criticism. It’s an extremely rare manager who can hear it – and those are the ones who tend not to need it in the first place!

    1. Catwhisperer*

      But why not? Honest question. Don’t you want to understand your team and identify your own potential growth opportunities? Are you not invested in your own career? If not, then why do you want to be a manager in the first place?

  14. Princess Peach*

    Last year, the high ups in my organization came around to “listen” to each department. My department presented some very tangible problems with clear metrics behind them, and suggested a few doable solutions.
    The top dog blew up, ranted that we were only looking to complain, that everyone had challenges, and that we should fix things by just shutting up and working harder.

    They’re doing another “listening session” soon. I guess we’re all supposed to declare our undying loyalty and stroke their egos while they listen?

    1. irene adler*

      Given the reception from last year, I don’t think I’d utter a single word.

      Maaaybe I’d say, “sorry, can’t participate in the listening session. I have shut up and go work harder.”

  15. Art3mis*

    Asking for feedback, wanting feedback, and acting on feedback, are three completely separate things.

  16. Marna Nightingale*

    I sometimes worry that I am actually TOO smug about my current boss, who I adore, but when I kept making a related cluster of mistakes fairly early in my tenure here, she

    a) identified and supplied the bit of training I’d misunderstood,

    b) asked me to write up the new training document for it so that it would be more useful to a new person (she stressed I was to do this on the clock) and

    c) asked me to think about my training in general and let her know what else I felt shaky on.

    And then we did a few hours of retraining.

    Dear managers: that’s how you solicit and take feedback.

  17. Falling Diphthong*

    They want you to ask for tote bags.

    Not consciously, or literally tote bags, but something that is similarly low cost and low effort, that nonetheless they didn’t think of on their own, that will completely turn around their worker/volunteer problems. Because the managers are stressed and overloaded and that doesn’t leave much energy (or willpower, or authority) to address a more systemic, deeply rooted problem. They think they’re open to hearing about those systemic changes… but then all ACTUAL concrete, specific suggestions for change are Not How We Have Done It Here.

    It reminds me of Alison’s past coaching, where they learned they had to specify “we only take on clients who actually want to change” to get results.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      This is an excellent suggestion.

      I was wondering if someone is just supposed to say, “I have no issues, everything is perfect here!” when asked if they get yelled at for saying the truth or saying nothing.

    2. frustrated trainee*

      Tote bags, beer Friday, a foosball table, donut days, bagel days, ANY relatively cheap solution that doesn’t actually result in tangible changes re: the problems that have been brought up, but show that management has “done something” and thus, shut up please? Please stop saying there are problems and just eat your donuts, mmkay?

  18. Place your suggestions in this tra...BOX*

    My manager perceives every round of feedback as “angst”. Anytime we pitch ideas or try to come up with better ways to handle things, the meetings and follow-ups turn into “everyone thinks I’m a bad manager.” Not one single person has uttered the phrase “You’re a bad manager.”
    It’s actually become very difficult to have normal conversations with her now because she just perceives everything as us against her.
    She’s of the type who listens to respond rather than listen to understand. I would much rather hear “I’ll look into this and get back to you” than “No. That’s not what we do.” every single time.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      To be fair, you can’t actually tell someone they’re a bad manager, to their face, especially as a subordinate.

      1. TechWorker*

        It sounds like this is someone who just shouldn’t be in management though. No one should have to listen to personal attacks, but as a manager (I mean ideally as any professional) you also can’t take professional criticism or discussion personally.

    2. Fishsticks*

      “Okay, but what we do isn’t working. So what if we do something that works?”
      “But… that’s not what we do.”
      “So you want to keep doing the thing that doesn’t work, is what you are saying right now.”
      “No! I want to improve the process.”
      “Okay, but you get that to improve the process, we need to change the process.”
      “No, just improve it.”

  19. Quality Girl*

    This reminds me of a former supervisor who was kind, but ineffective. I took on a Green Belt certification (above and beyond my duties at the time) and was working on a 5S overhaul of our department. I was commiserating with them about the struggles of implementing change among my fellow employees, and they replied, “Well, people just really want to be heard is all. Just make them feel heard.” I thought to myself, no, we want you do actually DO something when we come to you with problems… and also, this explains a lot.

    They’re a manager now. Sigh.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      The “they just want to be heard” is valid in some circumstances. Some years back I was president of my church council, meaning that I chaired monthly council meetings and annual meetings of the full congregation. Sometimes the discussion was leading to a vote, where everyone there knew how it was going to go, but not everyone has thrilled by the direction of things. The tricky part was to both keep the meeting moving so we weren’t there all night, while letting everyone have their say. Generally, once they had spoken their mind, they were content to accept the outcome. Don’t let them speak their mind and they will be understandably resentful. So let them speak, with no formal time limit, but stop then when they inevitably begin circling back around to stuff they had already said.

      This is, of course, very different from an employee giving their manager feedback.

  20. It's Marie - Not Maria*

    It has been my experience that many Managers ask for feedback, but cannot handle it when it is not sunshine and lollipops. Most people have a hard time hearing anything about themselves that isn’t 100% positive, and the majority aren’t willing to take a hard look within themselves to make changes. When you get several of these types in the same company, you end up in an eternal loop of “give us feedback” and “you are wrong.”

    1. rayray*

      I agree. Down to what the letter writer said about the snarky comments and angry expressions, I have had this with many managers at different workplaces, it’s almost always the same. They can dish it out when giving feedback or even fully insulting or yelling at others, but the second anyone gives calm and rational constructive criticism, they start rolling their eyes and acting like a child.

    2. Another health care worker*

      I am genuinely curious about where this is going to lead in fields that are hemorrhaging staff, such as health care and public schools. Feedback is completely unwelcome, in my experience, and staff are leaving in droves because nobody is taking their concerns seriously. Not nearly enough new workers are coming up to replace us. What’s the plan, management? Who is going to do these jobs?

  21. cabbagepants*

    Time for the “negging” response!

    “My only feedback is that leadership is bad at responding to feedback.”

  22. He's just this guy, you know?*

    A manager at a previous job of mine used to ask for feedback during my performance reviews, and the one time I actually gave him feedback (people on my team had told me that they didn’t like a specific phrase he often used to close meetings – it was something like “Git ‘er done!” – so I told him about that), he responded by saying “Okay, got it. Stop trying to encourage people.”

    I never gave him any feedback after that.

    1. Fishsticks*

      Oh, I hate that manipulative crap. “Well I guess I’m the bad guy because I want people to succeed”. Ugh.

      I started responding to that stuff by just staring blankly at them rather than replying with the painfully ridiculous ego-stroking they’re looking for. The worst offenders stopped using it on me because it never got the response they wanted.

  23. SofiaDeo*

    I am sad to say that people may say they want feedback, but actually want praise. Or in the case of a “company”, they are just saying it by rote, and really don’t care, unless there is praise they can use for a PR blurb. It’s difficult, because some of us really *do* want feedback. FWIW, nowadays, in one on ones I will offer a nebulous “I am not sure how I feel about X” and wait to see how the person responds. If they bristle, I know they really only want praise. As far as a company, well, if it’s not able to be traced back to me, I might do it. I wouldn’t spend a great deal of time on it, though.

  24. Princess Peach*

    Some bosses are good at this, but it’s definitely a skill that requires self awareness and self confidence. In situations where feedback is genuinely acceptable, I notice that phrasing things collaboratively gets a better reception, and picking your battles is important. One of my coworkers sometimes has good ideas, but they also object to EVERYTHING new, so any useful feedback goes unheard.

    That’s very human though. On a peer level, I’m also more likely to take criticism or assessment tips from people who are doing well in that area themselves, and who seem more interested in overall improvement than personal drama.

  25. Becky*

    “People don’t want to hear your opinion. They want to hear their opinion coming out of your mouth.”

    This is especially true for many people in management/leadership positions. They want to hear they’re doing a great job, and they have the power to argue if they’re told otherwise.

    1. OxfordBlue*

      You have just expressed my opinion of the feedback process within my last three employers in a nutshell. Thankyou.

  26. HB*

    I’ve noticed sometimes that it’s difficult to be receptive to feedback even when you want to be receptive to feedback. You have to give yourself the space to really hear the suggestions and process them before you can react to them. The best meetings to offer/discuss improvements are probably ones where the participants were more or less aligned on the problems and potential solutions first, so anything offered up is more about gaining momentum to bring the change about.

    But if you present suggestions/feedback well, then even if the managers aren’t receptive at first, it may stick in their brain which can be useful down the road. Also, the process of analyzing problems/coming up with solutions can be useful on its own. If in the process you realized that things are untenable going forward unless X, Y, or Z happens and there’s no movement towards it… you may be in a better position to envision an exit plan. Or if they’re not that bad, they could just be better… then you may be able to see a way to push through smaller changes on your own.

    Or the process can simply help you reframe what is Your Problem versus Their Problem and act accordingly.

  27. CheeryO*

    Here are my excuses, as a middle manager type in a semi-dysfunctional workplace. I would love to get specific, actionable feedback from my staff. Most of what I get is griping, which is not constructive unless you drill down and identify the actual issue. Some people muddy the waters for everyone else with excessive complaining, so it’s not always easy to figure out what is actually a problem. That also makes it hard to want to solicit feedback in the first place.

    I am also a victim of the whims of those above me. I do my best to advocate for my staff, but I don’t control the budget, hiring decisions, or big picture priorities. When I do bring issues to my manager, they are rarely fully addressed. There are always bigger fires to put out, and usually there aren’t easy answers to lingering problems.

    Also, managers are human, and it’s hard to hear negative things about the way you’re doing your job, especially when you’re really trying. And not everyone is cut out for management. A lot of fields are fundamentally broken in the way that they reward successful individual contributors with promotions into management, which is an entirely different skillset.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      This middle paragraph is why nothing much gets done in my office. Even if my manager agrees, managers above her and anyone in other offices will never do so.

      1. TechWorker*

        I do think though that all you can really do is show the business impact. If something is annoying, but not costing money or customer satisfaction… maybe those senior managers are right not to spend time on it.

        And if youve clearly raised a problem, and it’s ignored, then it’s not important to people above you, and you get to decide how to react to that. If it’s bad for the business, well someone higher up has decided it’s not bad enough to change, so why are you worrying about it? If it’s bad for your own workflow, then you have to decide how much you care, same as any other condition of the job.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          Yeah, the problem a good chunk of the time is that it would cost money to solve the problem, but having everyone pissed off at me is free!

          No, it’s not important to them because it’s not their job to take abuse for it, and mine is. I have to take the harassment, and since my name is mud here anyway, it just throws more mud at me. I would just like to be written up less and having people angry at me all the time is likely to lead to writeups.

          But nothing I can do, as usual. Hence why I’m trying to think of boring hedgey answers for tomorrow’s pointless meeting related to this topic. Nothing is ever going to change.

    2. Alice*

      Are you my boss or my grandboss? ;)
      My managers for three levels are ALWAYS saying, give us feedback, bring us problems – but they have very little autonomy to fix things. They get frustrated that I say the same thing every time they ask, “Do you like working in your cube in the open office?” And I get frustrated that they keep asking, as if the answer is going to change.

      At the same time, occasionally a problem will get solved that people have “griped” about for years. I have no idea what made the solution an actionable suggestion now when it was pointless griping for the previous five years.

    3. ErgoBun*

      Thank you for saying this. There is a huge difference between complaining, and actionable feedback.

      I have one direct report who talks through problems with me, suggests possible avenues toward solutions, and together we figure out what steps we could take to make those solutions a reality. This report is generally satisfied with his work, generally gets what he asks for, and is given autonomy and responsibility to handle big improvement projects.

      I have another direct report who spends some percentage of EVERY conversation talking about how great things “used to be” (over 5 years ago) when our organization was completely different, and can’t give me any ideas about how to re-create those good old days for him (if we even could). He wants things to change, but struggles to actually follow through on the changes. Then, when everything stays exactly the same, he says to me, “SEE, it’s all still bad and broken!” This report has very little autonomy and his work is very limited with responsibilities being moved away from him — things he also gripes about daily.

      As a manager, I want feedback. But I have to be able to do something about the feedback, and for all my efforts, I haven’t managed to secure a magic wand that fixes everything.

    4. frustrated trainee*

      Hard agree on your points and especially your last point – not everyone is cut out for management, however companies frequently paint themselves into a corner by offering no other career growth except for management. I’ve worked for managers who were moved into the role because they were really good artists, and the company wanted to keep them, but they’d hit their salary cap for their position and there was literally no other money they were going to get, no new or interesting projects, no *anything* to reward them other than a management position, which they were not only horribly cut out for but not trained for/supported in the role at all. Everyone’s just kind of hoping someone will wind up being a good manager because they were good at doing the job they’ll be managing, and at best, they set them up with an extremely busy manager for an hour a week to “check in” but what they really need is proper training and job shadowing. Companies don’t want to spend the money it takes to do this however so it doesn’t get done and everyone loses.

  28. Pudding*

    I had a director once who did a fantastic job at this. He actually had periodic upward reviews with HR involved where we gave him feedback on his management style and interactions with us. I remember someone being brave enough to tell him he was on his phone and laptop in meetings with us a lot and it made them feel like they didn’t have his full attention, and I literally NEVER saw the man with a device in front of him during a meeting focused on communicating with his direct reports again.

    He also used those meetings to collect feedback from us about what was working well on the team and what was not, what our goals should be, and any ideas we had on improvements. He clearly and carefully considered what we said and incorporated it into future planning.

    I had so much confidence that I could share things with him frankly. I loved that. I remember one of my teammates planned to move out of the area and find another job, and she told him, and he helped her and didn’t hold it against her. He was great.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “I had so much confidence that I could share things with him frankly. I loved that.”

      What a gem. I had a boss once like that too. About a month after I started, she asked me if I had any feedback for her. I said no, assuming that feedback = criticism.

      Then I asked, “Do you have any feedback for me?” and she said YES! and then proceeded to sing my praises, specifically calling out all the things I’d done so far that she had noticed and appreciated.

      I almost fell over. I had no idea, until then, that “feedback” could be something positive! The few times I did have criticism to share, she actually engaged with it and listened.

      I loved working for her. I cried when she retired!

    2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      Yeah, there are definitely people who are good at being receptive to and accepting of feedback. I’ve told my grandboss something along the lines of, “FYI, when you did xyz in that last meeting, it came across as you arguing against Jane’s idea, which is why everyone went around in circles about it for fifteen minutes before we realized that we all agreed Jane’s idea was best.” His response was, “Thank you, that’s good to know.” And I haven’t seen him arguing about something he’s willing to accept since.

  29. Llama Llama*

    Very early in my career I was burned with a manager demanding me give he feedback. When I finally relented, she got extremely hateful with said feedback.
    I think I take feedback from my people well but I can tear apart systems/processes but manager themselves? Nope.

  30. Elle*

    The most dysfunctional places I worked at always asked for feedback. The managers were toxic, low pay, high turnover, etc. and they consistently did nothing about it. I even had one director cry when she asked for feedback and staff were honest about how mean she was. She was promoted that year.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      High turnover often leads management to ask for feedback. And there are always obvious, objective problems that could be solved with a reasonable outlay of time, money, and/or effort on their part.

      But dysfunctional workplaces live & breath dysfunction. The real solution sometimes seems to be to fire most (or all) management & start over.

  31. LaFramboise*

    I agree with Aggretsuko upstream. “Wow, everything looks so good, you’re doing an amazing job at XYZ, I’m totally in support. Everything looks great!”, or words to that effect, when I’m asked. If they are genuine and I *trust* them, I ask them what type of feedback they’ve had from others and then ask if I can do anything to help them implement any new changes/policies. I have stopped committing to their cause.

    On the other hand, in my own area, I solicit feedback on what we could do better and implement what we can, and let people know why we can’t necessarily implement new/different things. But I’m just in it to keep my own little area/team ok.

  32. Fily*

    Managers want honest feedback as much as most people want honest feedback, which is to say, few really do, even when they say they do, and even think they do.

    Honest feedback is not something most people are prepared to deal with.

    1. Grammar Penguin*

      Asking for feedback is easy but hearing it, let alone acting on it, is hard, especially if it’s something negative that you weren’t aware of before. For some people it’s so hard it’s practically impossible. Unfortunately that’s exactly the feedback that’s most useful.

  33. Wilbur*

    The last year or two my company has done surveys. My division usually does pretty well on these, but every time (last 3 or 4?) they’ve explained that they don’t consider pay to be part of recognition. Every time, people complain about how pay doesn’t reflect the increased workload or hasn’t kept up with inflation. Results come in, management complains about comments on pay. Rinse and repeat in 6 months.

    1. Chirpy*

      My company has been doing that for at least 8 years…even now that we’re down to a skeleton crew and even management is bailing due to low pay, they’re still not giving us cost of living raises. It used to be a decent place to work otherwise, they could have kept it that way with better pay.

      1. Wilbur*

        Pay is actually pretty good, but the last year or two haven’t been the greatest. I’m feeling a little frustrated, they have all sorts of rules (promotions mean and X% raise, a good rating means Y-Z% raise). I was recently promoted and was told I couldn’t get X% because that would be too much with upcoming annual raises. Now I found out I can only get a “Good” rating instead of the “Great” rating my boss was pushing for because a “Great” rating would mean too large of a raise. Has absolutely nothing to do with my performance, I just can’t get too large of a raise based on the arbitrary and obfuscated rules they’ve set. I guess I know what my comments are going to be on the next survey in a few months.

  34. Chirpy*

    My boss likes to say he has an “open door policy” but will regularly send out store-wide memos that are, only slightly paraphrasing, “complaining is mostly a sign you need an attitude adjustment, so fix your attitude.”

    Combined with every time I’ve gone to him with a legitimate issue, I basically get a “well, that’s how it is”, there’s no point in saying anything. (Corporate is even worse, at least the manager knows the pay is bad, corporate says we just need to take pride in our work because “money isn’t everything”. As if that pays the rent.) And they wonder why we’re hemorrhaging staff and why people are venting to each other in the back, because that’s about the only support we’re going to get.

    1. noncommittal pseudonym*

      I had a CEO once who claimed to have an open-door policy and then fired someone for coming to him with an issue. You see, she and her supervisor disagreed on a topic (the institution as a whole had to come to a decision on something. It roiled the whole place except my department for *months*. We were the only group not involved.) and the employee wanted to make sure her voice was heard. So she went to the CEO, who fired her for “not going through appropriate channels.”

      It was a non-profit with 50 employees.

      1. Chirpy*

        Sometimes I wonder if people think “open door policy” just means they leave their office door open?

        1. Goldenrod*

          I had a boss who claimed to have an “open door policy” – then had her right-hand goon send me an email literally telling me that I was NOT to knock on her door unless it was the President. (And I was this woman’s primary assistant!)

          I personally think someone with a stated open door policy should AT LEAST be okay with their assistant knocking on the literal door….

  35. Lily Potter*

    Oh, I’ve been in this situation in EVERY job I’ve had. Employers want feedback, but only to a certain point. I find it especially frustrating when being asked to do 360 evaluations. There’s absolutely no upside to being honest on those, that I’ve found anyway.

    I can only offer one suggestion. Make sure that the feedback is realistic and actually answers management’s concerns. I once worked for a small organization that needed to do budget cuts, and we were all asked for suggestions as to where to trim things. One staff member suggested cutting this service and that service – essentially tasks he didn’t like doing. The CEO thanked him for the feedback, then reminded him that the only way his suggestions would save money would be if she laid him off! Oops….

  36. Delta Delta*

    Fun low-stakes feedback story:

    I worked at a law firm where we had (unsurprisingly) a stack of legal pads. Some were letter size and some were legal size. Boss got into his head that it would be cheaper for him to go to the office supply store every other week and buy what we need rather than to have it delivered (he did not understand opportunity cost or lots of other basic economic principles). He asked everyone what size legal pads we prefer. Everyone said letter size, and he remarked it was actually a lot cheaper to get letter size. He pointed out only he liked legal size but he could switch. He went to the office supply store and bought… all legal size pads.

    It was like this for everything. Some time later he asked me why nobody ever gave him feedback about anything. I said I wasn’t sure and walked away.

  37. TeaCoziesRUs*

    I like the way I saw a commander handle his feedback request recently. The military gives commanders and their top enlisted the results of a climate survey. Before the survey period opened, he foot-stomped at a commander’s call that he needed people to participate and why. Then he received the results, and took time to go through all of it. He then held another commander’s call a couple months later to openly and honestly assess the feedback. Not only did he get significantly higher participation than usual, he was able to address people’s concerns about different work things – i.e. let me give you the command perspective on why we do what we do and how we fit into the bigger picture. He addressed many of the complaints – even if it was simply to agree that, “Yep. This sucks. It’s infuriating… and until [insert other government agency] changes their policy, all we can do is agree that it sucks.” (I found this a refreshing change from the toxic positivity I usually see.)

    Might be worth considering?

    1. Aggretsuko*

      As a non-military person, I have no idea what “foot-stomped” refers to (insisted on people doing it? protested that everyone should be forced to?) but the rest of this sounds quite nice and fair.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I would much rather hear “I know it sucks, but we’re stuck with it because of [reasons]” than platitudes. Even better if it includes some ways to make things a bit better, even if they can’t solve the bigger problem. It seems like the majority of managers decide the best thing is to try to put lipstick on the pig and pretend all is well. They probably think that’s good for morale, but I just feel frustrated and lose respect for those who won’t call a pig a pig.

      1. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

        Yeah, when my manager has to pass down demands that he knows suck and that will be a huge PITA for us to accomplish, he will acknowledge that it sucks and is burdensome, but that upper management has a bee in their bonnet and insists we have to do it.

        It still sucks, but at least we know that our manager is not blowing smoke up our butts and will change it if he can. It smooths the blow a bit.

      2. Alternative Person*

        Same. So many of my job related frustrations come from managers insisting the spade is not a spade.

      3. Merrie*

        This drove me crazy about my former manager. That and when I would point out the obvious issues, he’d just blow me off. I like to know the reasons behind things and knowing them makes it easier for me to roll with things I dislike. He either didn’t care, didn’t have, or wouldn’t share the reasons.

        In my new job “We have to do this dumb thing and they haven’t told us why” really isn’t an issue. Everything has been explained really well. It’s a breath of fresh air.

  38. LaLinda*

    At a chain grocery store, we were give a lengthy, anonymous, on-line survey about working conditions. There was much unrest and unhappiness over a couple of years due to several bad in-house management decisions. Morale tanked and the “we’re a big happy family” vibe disappeared. Consultants were hired and the survey went out. One of the questions was about what our favorite “new” thing was (I suppose because corporate had heard some complaints). Scratching our heads, we all put down that the canned music in the store had change from drudging elevator music to 70s oldies. Terrible that we couldn’t think of anything else. The upshot was “Isn’t it great that work is so fun” and not “Holy crap—is that the best thing they can think or? Something needs to change.” Completely missed the mark. Then they changed the music back.

      1. Chirpy*

        It’s probably the old “if we get rid of the ‘frivolous’ good thing, you’ll have to pick something more ‘important’ as the best thing” … like removing a cup of water makes the room any less on fire…

  39. Here for the Insurance*

    I’ve been with my employer a long time and they’d have to waterboard me to get feedback out of me ever again. It’s a complete waste of my time. I learned years ago that they’re more interested in appearance than reality. Things that are actual problems go nowhere, and I don’t care enough anymore to come up with some meaningless “here’s something you can do to make it look like you’re doing something without actually doing anything” bullshit.

  40. Anonomatopoeia*

    The thing is, if you are a manager and you want feedback, you have to demonstrate, all the time, that you take it into consideration and appreciate it, and you have to give credit all over the place for people having useful feedback, like, “Yes, we just started doing Wednesday afternoon snacks and co-working block time in the Teapot Room from 3-5. So far all the feedback is great and people are showing up and getting stuff done. This was Janice’s idea and she included some thoughts about what we could provide for snacks, but if you want us to get a different kind of snack sometimes there’s a list in the Slack channel!” Also, when you screw up — when someone offers feedback and because of maybe hidden reasons like you are having a bad bad day you are not your best self in response, you have to go back later and tell them that you did hear them, that your reaction was not who you want to be, and here is your more thoughtful response.

    I have sometimes in my career spent some time stepping into manage folks not on my regular team due to gaps in the management team, and what I have learned from that is not every manager does either of the things above. People who don’t usually report to me are usually shocked (especially when I have come back later to do better), then grateful, and then they start putting energy into ideas. Wacky how positive feedback begets better work.

    If you are a manager and you just pretend to want feedback, everyone knows you are at least all talk, and maybe kind of a lying liar who lies, and folks stop offering anything (or start offering only really surface-level ideas or ones they have put no time into), which is, guess what, bad for everyone including the manager and the department and maybe the whole company, but is a completely fair response! If you want beautiful flowers, don’t plant noxious poisonous weeds, you know?

  41. Nope*

    No, nobody wants feedback. They want to be told they’re great. They don’t want to hear anything else.

    1. SMiya86*

      From a management side, I would ask for feedback but would get frustrated when the feedback wasn’t 100‰ constructive. So what I learned to do was always ask for it to be written. This allowed me to take time to process it without responding emotionally and also then I could parse out the petty language and figure out what behavior or issue I really needed to address. So yes, there are managers that want feedback but we’re human too so sometimes it’s a little close to the mark.

  42. Narvo Flieboppen*

    Yup. Had a general manager ask for ways to reduce costs. A large group of us individually submitted a note about a service we ostensibly provided, which was costing about $12K per month to provide, but which had not been used by any of the customers for months. Something akin to offering special water skiing adventure programs. In northern Maine. In the winter. Obviously, the average person is not going to take advantage of an offer like that.

    It was shot down because even though it was costing so much money to have the resources on call, the GM said the services were ‘unique’ and that meant they were not open to be considered to cancel. And anyone who suggested doing so again would be written up for insubordination.

    Same GM also complained when staff stopped providing suggestions and feedback in the future. Can’t imagine why we all stopped engaging…

  43. Alan*

    I think that if your manager provides an openness to feedback people are going to provide that without being prompted. Saying you want feedback is like telling people you’re intelligent or a nice guy: if you have to say it, it’s not really true.

    1. frustrated trainee*

      saying you want feedback feels to me like when someone has “good communicator” or “works well with others” on their resume.
      I mean, it’s certainly possible, but it’s a meaningless phrase until I see it in action

  44. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

    This all reminds me of when I was at ToxicJob. Morale was low. Management went through a bunch of surveys and interviews and meetings to determine the causes of low morale, which were legion: poor management, agile systems, tech systems held together with duct table and Tinkertoys, etc. So after much fanfare, they announced implementation of a change that was sure to make us all happy: adding vanilla creamer to the coffee/break room.

    1. noncommittal pseudonym*

      This vaguely reminds me of another horrible CEO I had. When people claimed there was low morale, his response was, “Morale isn’t low. You’re just unhappy. I can’t do anything about that.”

    2. MurpMaureep*

      I feel like we worked at the same company!
      In our case they gave us vanilla *and* hazelnut creamer.
      They also installed a fancy espresso machine on the executive level…which we were told we could not use, but which was also touted as a “benefit”.

  45. MurpMaureep*

    My previous director, who was a walking talking example of “god give me the confidence of a mediocre white man”, always asked for feedback, but then would hold it against people and/or twist it so the it was his idea for overall improvement.

    For example:
    Me: sometimes you don’t let people finish speaking and cut them off, especially our more junior staff. It would be great to give them a chance to be heard.
    Director to other higher ups: we all need to be cognizant of not speaking over staff, especially junior staff, I certainly try to be aware of that in all my meetings with them!

  46. Critical Rolls*

    This question only has situational answers. Some managers absolutely do NOT want honest feedback, they want A) their butt kissed, B) to check a box on the “employee engagement” list, or C) ammunition. Some managers feel powerless about the real problems in their organization. Some are too immature to handle criticism. Some don’t know how to solicit meaningful feedback, or are so numb to a culture of complaint they don’t really hear it anymore. Unfortunately, all of that works against managers wo sincerely want and know what to do with real feedback, and it takes a long time to establish the trust that enables that feedback to come out.

    1. Critical Rolls*

      I’m going to undermine everything I just said by quoting from one of my favorite movie monologues.

      “As your leader, I encourage you from time to time, and always in a respectful manner, to question my logic. If you’re unconvinced that a particular plan of action I’ve decided is the wisest, tell me so, but allow me to convince you and I promise you right here and now, no subject will ever be taboo. Except, of course, the subject that was just under discussion…”

  47. chs.29*

    I totally understand that sometimes feedback is not a good/reasonable/actionable idea, but in my experience, managers who briefly explain their thinking tend to cultivate the best employees. I know explaining the “why” over and over again is very frustrating, but even a brief “I see where you’re coming from, but I’m thinking X is going to be more of a priority next year, so less resources will be available” can help an employee understand which ideas will actually work. And, if they hear another employee discussing a similar idea, they can say “Actually Jane is thinking X is going to be more of a priority next year” and get everyone on the same page.

    The same goes for feedback. Our HR person is a pro at giving a brief “I totally understand why it looks that way, but we actually made that move because X program is being handed off to Jane, so she’ll need the support.” It turns an employee that might have been complaining into an employee that likely supports (even vocally) the organization’s decisions. I’m sure it gets tiring to explain things, but it makes a huge difference when it’s possible.

    1. MurpMaureep*

      I know I’m not a perfect manager but I solicit and (usually) appreciate feedback. I’ve certianly gotten feedback that stings, that I disagree with, that makes me want to ask if the person is a toddler masquerading as an adult. But I’ve also built trust with employees and been alerted to things that need to change.

      I try to put myself in the employee’s shoes, explain what I can, and at least acknowledge the issue. Generally what I tell people (and I am sincere in this) is they can and should give me feedback. I may not agree with them, it might not be something I can change (for many reasons), or it might be something I put back on them to help fix. But it helps me to know when someone is bothered by something or thinks I can do better.

      I need to hear that Burtrand the Green Dot Monitor is upset that Esme didn’t log into Teams until 8:58 and yet she was idle at 4:36. Feedback isn’t just good for employees, it can alert managers to issues that may otherwise fester.

  48. Some Dude*

    I have a couple perspectives. At one org, they wanted to be transparent and empower lower line employees…and then wouldn’t listen to us. Partially because a lot of our feedback was either unactionable, unrealistic, or just griping. But I got really irritated when I had suggested an improvement to x teapot process for years, only to have it ignored until they hired a consultant who said, what about this improvement to x teapot process? It was really frustrating. Although maybe it was partially my fault for not talking in a way that could be heard – I was saying more, “hey I think we really need to improve x teapot process by doing this” Instead of “here’s the impact of this process, here’s how it could be improved, here’s the impact of the improvement and how it could be rolled out.” But mostly, I was junior so ignored.

    But as a manager now, sometimes the feedback I get is either not actionable, not realistic, just griping, or, my favorite, contradictory (There are too many meetings and too many emails and also I want emails about all the projects and want to attend all the meetings). There is also that feedback that amounts to “eat healthy and exercise to lose weight,” stuff that is super easy to say but way harder to put into place.

    1. Narvo Flieboppen*

      I explained to a manager why a client’s request seemed to be wrong – specifically because the laws of physics would indicate creating product through process A would create the desired result rather than process B, upon which the client insisted. I was informed by said manager that no one at my level could possibly understand the laws of physics as well as the client’s engineers and to shut up about it.

      One of our teams screwed up and produced a set of product using process A instead of process B. Management decided to send it, since we had ‘wasted’ $XX,XXX making it improperly and it might still be functional.

      Client used the material created in process A and discovered it worked much better for heat transfer than the stuff created through process B. Exactly as I had predicted because the laws of thermodynamics just work. Entire shop was retooled to do a full production run on process A.

      I pointed out to the manager that we could have been doing this 5 weeks ago if he had pushed back to the client with my feedback. Manager, quite eloquently, told me I was too stupid to know if A or B was the correct process, it was a ‘lucky guess’, and to get back to work. I had a new job elsewhere a couple months later. Manager was fired the year after I left. Through the grapevine, I hear it was because he had one of the machines turned back on despite it being taken out of production by maintenance due to a crucial part being damaged and no replacement on site. Running it with the damaged part not only killed the production run but also severely damaged the massive multi-million dollar production unit.

    2. Dinwar*

      “But as a manager now, sometimes the feedback I get is either not actionable, not realistic, just griping, or, my favorite, contradictory”

      YES!!! Often the view is that management has unlimited power. In many ways, however, we’re FAR more constrained than the employees.

      I compare it to being at the peak of two pyramids. Above I’ve got my boss, upper management, executives, members from three other departments (safety, quality, environmental compliance in my case), and ultimately the shareholders and clients, all of whom assume that anything they tell me to do can be done. Below me I’ve got my workers, subcontractors, and third party groups, most of whom assume I can do anything those higher-ups can do. Which makes sense. To those above me I am the team; to those below me on the org chart (NOT inferior to me in any way) I am The Company. My job, ultimately, is to make the contradictory demands of those two groups somehow happen, given the resources at my disposal.

      And ultimately my loyalty is with the company. I prefer to benefit the company through building a rockstar team, but….Look, the reality is that my actions also keep several dozen other people employed, or not (not all of them on my team, either). It’s simple math: Anger one person, or ruin the lives of dozens. There are times when someone’s going to get hurt, there’s nothing I can do except try to minimize the pain. It sucks. It really, really does. And I hate it. But it’s the job. Someone’s got to do it. And I’m the one sitting in that chair.

      If you want me to do something, it’s gotta be one of the 3-5 things I can actually do. If it’s not, I can advocate for you, but we need to take this to the right person.

      1. MurpMaureep*

        This is such a great description of what it’s like to be middle management. Thank you. The pyramid visual is fantastic, and spot on.

    3. MurpMaureep*

      I have definitely had employees of the “There are too many meetings and too many emails and also I want emails about all the projects and want to attend all the meetings” variety! They also tend to be the employees who say that their performance is poor because they are excluded from meetings and left off emails…but also overwhelmed with meetings and emails.

  49. sc.wi*

    I left my last (toxic) job shortly before they asked for staff feedback, because of high turnover. A friend there kept me updated throughout: first, no employees responded (it was anonymous but they were still scared that they would somehow be tracked), and then they were all reprimanded for not completing the survey. Then, once a few employees had responded, the (horrible) director sent out an email to “keep in mind that many things are out of our control.”
    Ultimately, the results were not shared with management; only the director and his HR manager saw the data.
    So, the director’s solution to high turnover? Stop posting jobs online, and instead promote internally even when the employee does not meet the qualifications. This way, he said, external applicants wouldn’t be able to tell how high the turnover is.

  50. Purrscilla*

    This remind me that I sent a survey out to my team asking how we could make their jobs easier – unfortunately most of the responses were problems with tools that were maintained by other groups or controversial process improvements. For I while I was bringing stuff up in leads meetings, but eventually gave up since I was making no headway.

    So in my case I genuinely wanted feedback but then wasn’t able to do anything with it. :(

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      If it’s any consolation, I’m on a team that maintains tools for other teams, and suggestions of how we could serve our internal clients better is as DoA from within as it is from outside.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Yup, same thing here. To be fair to my office, if it’s a problem we can deal with without having to reach out to anyone else for help, it gets done. But too many things require someone else’s buy-in, and we are not going to get it.

  51. tw1968*

    We want feedback on why we can’t retain people. “We want better work/life balance, increase pay and benefits to market levels in our area”. No that’s wrong. You’ll get one lukewarm pizza that you can split among 12 people..and you also get the extra work from the 6 people who quit, to split up among the 12 of you with no extra pay. Hmm, why do people keep quitting?

  52. But Not the Hippopotamus*

    As a lowest rung manager I once had an employee who… Got really difficult all of the sudden. I genuinely wanted to know what was up, especially as it became glaringly obvious that it was directed at me and I was Very New to management. All I got were complaints that made zero sense and we’re patently false. Like “you said ‘cat’ in your email” when the email said “dog” we looked at it together and saw the word dog, and then a month later, it’s a complaint about cat again.

    I left management.

  53. pcake*

    Some managers want honest feedback, some only say they want honest feedback, and some may be very self-unaware, expect all the feedback to be good and react very poorly when they get negative feedback.

    And a problem can also be a company that requires the managers to request honest feedback when the managers don’t want it or when the company penalizes them or abuses them when they get negative feedback.

    I always wanted feedback as a manager, but I didn’t ask new employees as they might not feel safe giving feedback until they had time to adjust to me and to the company culture and see for themselves that feedback truly was appreciated. I also wouldn’t give honest feedback till I had time to trust that it would be welcome with no penalty to me.

  54. Anonosaurus*

    I think it can be easier to seek and receive feedback as a manager if you make it more specific. I like to ask things like –

    “Is there anything I can do to help you succeed in your role/get the job done/etc?”

    “Is there anything about how we work together you’d like me to do differently?”

    “What additional help do you need from me to do X?”

    It is scary to ask for feedback but the reality is that you will get it anyway (in the form of behavioural reactions, implicit body language feedback and so on right up to people quitting) so you might as well make it explicit. You can have a tremendous impact just by being seen to be open to even small comments and that can empower someone to tip you off about the bigger ways in which you can learn.

    Equally I have had times when I (temporarily) didn’t feel able to cope with potentially negative feedback and I have avoided asking for it at that particular time. I think that’s better than risking making a mess of handling the feedback as long as it’s not your default state.

    Signed, someone who once got 360 degree feedback and cried in the room with the management consultant!

    1. Ama*

      I think it is a good point that if you are going to ask for feedback, you have to be prepared for it to be not what you want to hear. I do think far too many people think they know what the problems are and then get blindsided by something negative they weren’t expecting.

      I also think people need to realize that you can disagree with feedback, even constructive feedback, without getting defensive about it. I get a lot of feedback in the course of my work that is just not actionable; sometimes it is even something I’d love to implement, but we just don’t have the budget/staff/other logistics that would allow for it. I have become really good at saying some version of “this is great feedback, but right now we don’t have the means to make that change.”

    2. Fily*

      I had a manager who would ask me those types of questions, but then not only tell me she couldn’t provide any of the things I suggested, but then punish me for coming up with suggestions she felt were inappropriate to begin with (they weren’t).

      Open ended questions about what support you can offer, besides being terrifying for that reason, can also be really unhelpful if someone doesn’t know what the options are. A much more concrete version is something like “Between these three options, would you find any of these helpful?” and it can often be a lot more productive. And frankly, as a manager, you are often better positioned to know what supports are available than the person being managed.

      1. Helewise*

        This is a really helpful insight. Sometimes I know exactly what help I need; sometimes I know, “help, I’m drowning and don’t know how to fix it.”

  55. A Pound of Obscure*

    There are managers out there who not only ask their employees for feedback, but appreciate receiving it and who take it to heart. I have worked for a couple of those managers over my long career. My current and favorite manager is the executive director of our organization who also answers to a board. He asks us all to participate in the annual survey to share anonymous feedback with them. He’s quietly brilliant, shows no ego, and makes changes where possible based on employee feedback. A few of these unicorns do exist!

  56. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    My last four employers (all in same industry) all did 360 feedback as a mandatory part of annual performance evaluations, which included providing feedback on one’s manager’s performance. The very first time I was asked to do that, I made the mistake of doing it. Never again. It was supposed to be anonymous, but of course my manager could easily guess who had given particular critical feedback, AND he held it against me, and it very much soured my manager’s attitude towards me.

    Since that initial learning experience, I have politely declined (and point-blank refused) every request to provide feedback on my manager and others at a higher level than myself.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I didn’t get the option to decline, but when I was forced to review a manager with issues, I gave her the absolute highest rankings on everything.

  57. CL*

    This hits home. We have a process that we go through twice a year. I recently gave some feedback early in this round that was given lip service and then ignored. I just saw the result and everything I warned about happened. Now they are asking for feedback again for the next round.

  58. Workfromhome*

    This is just the way most organizations are. sure there are exceptions but its mostly the rule its just a matter of degree.

    Last job they did these Surveys and had annual reviews and feedback sessions.
    Then they stopped giving bonuses and the “annual review” process stopped so they didn’t give you an excellent rating and then have to tell you it didn’t matter because there were no bonuses or raises no matter what your performance.

    Then people starting really bashing them in the surveys so the solution was to stop the surveys.

  59. Weixi Tan*

    Thank you for the comprehensive example! Will share it with my new manager for her pleasure reading.

  60. batcat*

    I believe that if you are a low to mid level employee, don’t ever share your thoughts unless they reflect on you positively. PERIOD. management, HR, all of it, is there for the company, and no one wants to change unless they HAVE to. If you have the power to make changes, go for it. Otherwise I keep to myself any opinions that might come back to me.

  61. frustrated trainee*

    I was once tasked with creating the employee survey at a company. I was on pretty good terms with lots of people all over the company and knew exactly what we needed to ask to get real, usable responses that would actually create the change that would help us retain these people (It was a tech company, we got bought out and lot a lost of the benefits of a start-up feel but still weren’t paying out like huge local tech giants were paying, when the quality of life had become about the same).
    Once I wrote it and presented it to the HR manager, I was forced to change every question to something worthless. “If you salary stayed the same, would your satisfaction increase if you had more say over the projects you worked on” became “Are you happy with the snacks in the break room?”
    “Do you feel like you like the direction the company is heading” became “Which type of fun office day should we plan: hawaiian shirts, donuts, or (another) beer Friday?”
    We literally lost people after the survey came out because they were so incensed at being asked such inane questions when the company already had our best employees hanging by a thread. Some of the people confessed to me that it was literally just the inconvenience of job hunting that kept them there but nothing else was doing it. It had a great culture which kept dissolving as more and more people left for higher pay and the same hours/stress level/conveniences. Eventually people looked around and realized everything they’d liked about the company was gone.
    Oh, we also gutted snacks and lost extremely niche, long-term developers to save like 5K a year in snacks. Guess how expensive it was to replace them? That’s actually misleading, they were irreplaceable. It was POWERFULLY expensive to attempt to look for anyone else that could fill their job and also wasn’t being courted by tech giants who could pay much higher.
    They also trapped people in salary bands so we’d have people who worked there 5 years being paid less than new hires who didn’t have nearly the relevant experience because there’s just no way we could attract people otherwise. That also took a wrecking ball through our teams – no one wanted to be making 20-40K less than a new hire they had to teach everything to and wouldn’t be useful for at least a year of learning our proprietary systems.
    ALL of this was given over and over as feedback over the course of years, all of it was ignored or met with hostility from managers who frankly weren’t empowered to implement said feedback even when they wanted to, it just became an awful mess.

  62. hobbithaus*

    Ha. Reminds me of the time Management called an All-Hands meeting to demand feedback on why our safety numbers were so low and how we could retain staff. I was in a position where I could afford to be honest, so I said “We’re constantly understaffed, everyone is operating at 120% capacity, and frankly we’re not paying competitively for the market we’re in.”

    I was called in to HR right after the meeting, where I got Talked At for half an hour about how “anyone here could earn $28/hour if they work hard” and “we can’t just throw money at it.” Yeah. Right.

  63. zertnert*

    At a given workplace, I think those of us who started as something else before being a manager are more conscious of how our communications will be received, how our policies and practices may affect our team, etc.

    At my current workplace, I started as a clerk and now I’m an assistant manager. My former boss would not take feedback. She would either snap at you or HR-speak her way out of it and just keep doing the same things.

    For example, her assistant used to do the schedule, but this assistant started changing it without telling us. My boss wouldn’t rein it in. One day, I came in at my scheduled time (or so I thought) and my boss snapped at me for not ‘checking the schedule’. I did–when it was posted–and I literally always took a picture of it with my phone. I cried.

    Months later, she asked for feedback and I told her that whole thing made me feel weird. She apologized for the assistant not telling me about the schedule changes. I told her it’s fine if there’s a mix-up here and there, but not okay for anyone to snap at me for them, and she cut me off and said “Zertnert, I think we’re being too polite to each other right now.”

    And of course, nothing changed. I literally overheard her *training a new clerk* to “check the schedule for changes in case we forget to tell you.”

    Now, I do the scheduling. I have never once made a change without *asking*, let alone forgotten to *tell* someone.

    And another story: a few years back, for example, we got a huuuuge list of ‘friendly reminders’ sent to us that we had to initial. We all felt super weird about it.

    Now that I’m a manager, albeit a new one, I almost sent out a list of reminders (but not one people would’ve had to inital, fer chrissake) and I had to check myself. Now I know that it may not have come from a passive-aggressive place, but I remembered how it felt.

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