It’s a tough gig, being the boss.
You’re tasked with translating business strategy into business tactics and squeezing the best possible result you can out of each quarter.
You’re responsible for balancing budgets in a constantly changing business environment, a feat which can feel crossing a tightrope over a chasm on a unicycle – and the wind’s getting gusty.
And on top of all that, you’re responsible for developing people, which some people think is the trickiest job of them all.
Feedback in the “too hard” basket
A senior manager I worked with said he stopped doing one-on-ones with his staff members because they became too much work for too little result. What’s more, the greater the effort the senior manager put in to developing his team, the more his team behaved as if their career progression was his job, not theirs.
The truth is, there are a million things your boss would like to say to you, but doesn’t bother to anymore because it’s all too hard.
Here are five reasons your boss is keeping mum, and how employees who really do want feedback can overcome them.
It’s time for the boss to give you feedback, and you hang on his or her every word, listening to see if you’re getting a pat on the back or good talking-to. When it’s praise that you get, you’re over the moon. When it’s criticism, you either deflate like a balloon with a slow leak or you get sulky and defensive.
Emotional reactions to feedback are normal, but if what the boss says dictates how you feel about yourself, your job, and the world in general, then you’re placing a huge burden on your boss. Your boss is not responsible for your feelings. You are. Keep reacting emotionally and your boss will decide that the emotional rollercoaster you go on is resulting in queasiness, not results.
Stop making feedback personal and start making it business.
I remember an employee coming to my desk at various times of the day to ask me factual questions about how to handle particular queries. I happily obliged at first, but when the questions didn’t stop – questions that were answered in the procedure guide she was meant to use – I asked her to look there for the answers. Her response was “Yes, but it’s quicker if I just ask you.”
It was quicker for her. For me it was unnecessary interruption.
The same happens with feedback. Are you asking your boss for feedback on an area where there’s someone else who would be a better source? Ask that person and save the only-the-boss-can-answer-this questions for the boss.
You argue or disagree with the feedback
You approached the boss and asked for feedback, and you didn’t like the answer you got. So you argue with it, justify your behaviour, or hit back with how the boss could have done something better.
Your boss isn’t interested in arguing with you. If you want to get more feedback, follow the 24 hour rule. When you hear something you don’t like, give it 24 hours before you respond. In that time, step into the other person’s shoes and open yourself to how there may be truth in what you’ve been told.
You haven’t taken on the last feedback they gave you
I remember a keen young employee asking me to recommend a book on being a manager, and I suggested Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” At our next meeting, my employee asked me what other book she could read.
I asked her to first tell me about what she got out of the Covey book, so I could recommend accordingly. But she hadn’t read the Covey book yet.
When you get feedback on something, treat it like gold. Act on it. Then, and only then, ask for the next step, the next recommendation, the next action. Otherwise you’re an information gatherer who knows of a lot, but doesn’t actually do it. Giving you more feedback is a waste of time.
They haven’t got the communication skills
Let’s face it. Some bosses are poor communicators. They can’t seem to tell you what they want from you. They can’t put into words what you did well and what needs improvement.
Ditch the blame game – you’re only hurting yourself. Use the opportunity to learn what feedback you specifically want, and ask your boss specific, targeted questions. For example, if you ask your boss, “So how did I do in the presentation?” and the response you get was simply that you did well, then you need to ask a better question.
What type of feedback do you want? Is it about whether your volume was loud enough? Do you want to know if your message was clear? Are you keen to find out if the humour you used was at a level your boss considered professional? Then ask that question.
Your own communication skills will be exquisitely honed when you’re consistently dealing with someone whose ability to communicate leaves much to be desired, and you have to work harder to get answers.
It’s a tough gig, getting feedback.