supervisor giving feedback
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What If Your Manager Doesn't Give Constructive Feedback?

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: My manager never says much to me about my performance, and if he does, it's criticism. I've asked for regular feedback, but he says that if he doesn't like my work, he'll tell me. I'm totally frustrated. What should I do?

A: We all need feedback, and I am concerned your manager doesn't understand how important feedback is to your professional development.

For some strange reason unknown to me, some managers are only comfortable giving negative feedback. I've heard people give reasons for this behavior such as, "What if I tell her she's done a good job and then she misses a deadline next week? Wouldn't I send mixed messages if I have to get on her case about the missed deadline?"

The answer is no. Giving both positive and developmental feedback is one of a manager's major responsibilities, and employees need both types of feedback to perform at their best.

Asking open-ended questions will get you more information than questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.

To get feedback from a hesitant manager, focus on a project or task you've just completed and ask, "What's one thing I could have done better on this project?" Asking open-ended questions will get you more information than questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. And remember that you don't have to schedule a formal meeting to get feedback. It's OK to have brief, informal coaching moments in the elevator, after a meeting, or over coffee.

If your manager continues to withhold the responses you need, know that he isn't the only person qualified to give you feedback. Ask for observations from colleagues or team members whom you work with on a daily or project basis. They may have some interesting insights that will help you "up your game."

Whenever your manager or peers give you feedback, ask for examples of what they've observed, take time to listen, process the information, and then apply it to increase your skill set. Sometimes it's easy to discount feedback we don't really want to hear, but any feedback is a gift for your future development.

Never stop asking for feedback. It's how we learn.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer in "Ask the Expert"? Send it to [email protected]

Career Development