Listen up: feedback is important

Dear Joan:
I need your advice in dealing with issues of confrontation. I am hoping you could publish my concern and your response in one of your articles in your weekly column.

I find many times when my manager is confronting personnel about a situation she doesn't agree with she turns the table so she doesn't look like the bad guy. Instead of boldly saying she has a problem with something she uses other people's names, saying they complained or were upset.

My name has been used and others have been used during my conversations with her. After meeting with her on one occasion, I felt so bad about upsetting another employee that I sent an e-mail to apologize. The employee (another manager) came back to me and said that he never said that and if anything it was my manager that had a problem with my course of action.

How many other times has this happened? I am trying to grow in my ability to correctly handle people issues. How can I learn and grow with this going on? My manger holds a high level position in the company. There isn't anyone I could go to, outside of the president, who doesn't need to be bothered with little issues such as this. Do I confront the issue head on? I don't want my name dragged through the mud and I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.

Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

The irony here is that the more your manager tries to avoid looking like the bad guy, the worse he'll look. Apparently, he is worried that any negative feedback is going to damage your relationship with him. He needs to understand that you not only need that kind of straightforward information, he owes it to you if he wants you to be successful.

One approach is to go in to your boss and say, "Do you have a minute? I'm confused...You know that conversation we had about Bill and how much I upset him by my actions? Well, I felt so badly I e-mailed him to apologize and he was confused too because he said he wasn't upset at all. In fact, he said he never said that."

"Maybe you were mistaken and you were so upset about what I did you just thought he said that. Anyway, in case he says anything, you'll know what he's talking about. The point is, I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the feedback. I can't grow unless you let me know what I need to do to improve. I'd like more feedback - both positive and corrective - and I hope I can count on you to give me some personal coaching."

As you can see, this approach will put him on notice that you know what he did. However, the disclaimer allows him to save face and avoids a direct confrontation. If he's smart, he'll also appreciate the advance warning about his fellow manager's reaction so he can do some political damage control. The final portion is some positive reinforcement that says "give me more feedback...but give it to me straight."

This is likely to be a bit more confrontational than you are used to. You know your boss's typical reaction. If you think he needs this to be delivered softly, make sure you are pleasant and almost off-hand in your delivery about what his fellow manger said. If you sound accusatory, he'll be backed into a corner and could be so embarrassed, he'd come out swinging. Although I suspect you'd like to see him squirm, the long-term affect won't be good for the relationship. It's usually best in a situation such as this to let the other person save face.

If this approach worries you, another tactic is to wait until he gives you the next piece of feedback. If he uses the same old "Oh, it's not me who's's the other guy" routine, you can say, "I appreciate the fact that you're telling me about how upset I've made him. I'm going to set up a meeting to apologize to him right away." There's a good chance he'll admit it's his own feedback he's delivering, rather than get caught in a lie.

Another way to continually reinforce and encourage him to be more straightforward is this: every time he says, "So and so said this or that." about you or some other employee, reply with, "Is that how you feel?" It will coax him to be more honest with his feelings.

Since you are trying to grow in handling people issues, there is no better place to start than with your boss. Managing upward is one of the most difficult communications feats. It requires tact, diplomacy and finesse.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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