The president of our medium-sized company wants a culture of openness. At every opportunity he has, he tells us to be open to him with our opinions, our feedback and suggestions. Unfortunately, he is always out of the office that we, including myself who is a section head, never get to see him “walk the talk.” Our department manager is always in front of his computer or using his celfon. He tells us: “Just do your job….” “You know what is expected of you…” “If I don’t say anything to you, it means you’re doing OK.”
I was one of a few supervisors who were made to attend a communication seminar by our HR. I like the seminar very much and I know it will help me develop myself as a supervisor if I get to apply what I had learned. I cannot, however, apply what I learned without the support of my boss, who is so distant from me, and from us, for that matter. He’s not a good role model of a leader who develops his subordinates. He does not conduct regular meetings but only when there is a crisis. Then he gets angry at us. How can I practice assertiveness skills when there is no real culture of openness? Giving negative feedback to some of my staff is uncomfortable but I think I can do it. However, I want to give negative feedback to my manager because he is not aware of how he affects us but find this extremely difficult. I’m sure I will also benefit from any negative feedback he can give to me.
What is your advice to me please?
I congratulate you for your desire to put your learnings into action in order to improve your performance and your leadership. However, you are frustrated that you cannot practice the communication skills you learned from the seminar, especially in giving negative feedback to your department manager who does not believe in open communication and your own president who is too busy to be an effective positive role model.
If you make the application of your learnings dependent on the positive role modeling of your company president and your department manager, you are putting an obstacle to your own self-development. Your “if I get to apply” attitude depends entirely on you. You can be sure that if you don’t practice what you have learned, you will eventually forget it. What a waste to let opportunities for self-development pass by. You have no control over your boss and your president. The only person you have control of is yourself. You yourself said that your boss had told you and, perhaps the others as well, that “you know what is expected of you,” so “just do it.” I see this message as empowering. He may have his faults but he trusts you that you are doing your job right. Obviously, he does not know the value of feedback or does not know how to give it.
Since you asked for my advice, here are suggested steps you can take to give a negative but constructive feedback to your boss:
- Prepare what you will say:
- Start with positive feedback. What does your boss do that help you in your job?
- Then the constructive feedback. What do you request him to do to help you make your job better and which he is not providing you?
- Tell the positive consequence to you and to him when he does as you request.
- Write down the above so you can have control over the words you will say.
Use the I-message that you must have learned from the communication seminar that you attended. In the I-message, you communicate the positive behavior or the negative behavior that the other person is doing or has done, and express how you feel about it and how it affects you.
An example of a script that you can give to your boss is as follows:
“Sir, I really appreciate your allowing me to attend the communication seminar last week. Thank you very much. Sir. I’m very eager to practice the skills I learned to improve my performance and that of my team. [Make sure you look happy when you deliver this message and your tone of voice is also happy.]
“It will help me very much. Sir, if you can tell me in what areas I need to improve. I know that you’ve told us in the past to just do our work, that if you don’t say anything it means we’re doing OK. [Silence. Listen as your boss responds to you.] I know that you trust me when you don’t say any thing.
“Sir, if you tell me specific areas of improvement in my work as section head, I would know exactly how you want things done. In this way I don’t have to second guess you and I won’t have to repeat certain things that I did which you don’t like. [Silence. Listen as your boss responds to you.]
3. Request your boss for an appointment. If asked what your purpose is, simply state that it is a very important matter to you.
4. Deliver your message, looking directly at the eyes of your boss. If he continues with his computer or uses his cell phone, stop. If he tells you to continue while looking at his cell phone, request him again to give you at least 10 minutes of his time.
5. After expressing your message, say “Thank you, Sir. I appreciate your giving me your time and for listening to me. I can go now, Sir.”
Goal in giving feedback. Your goal in giving feedback is to communicate your message clearly to be understood. Don’t expect your boss to act the way you want him to act. He is free to accept your feedback and to act the way he wants. If he responds in the manner you desired, this is a bonus.
Giving negative feedback is not easy; it can be extremely difficult, as you say. However, focusing your feelings on the negative behavior of the person gives you ownership of it. It is constructive when it is focused on behavior that the person may not be aware he is doing, or may be unaware of its consequence to you.
Receiving negative feedback from another person can hurt us if we do not see it as an opportunity to improve our self-awareness and clarify the other person’s perception.
When someone, especially someone in authority, does/says something to us that hurts us, we tend to simply keep quiet and nurse our pain in private. But this is a lose-lose situation. Neither you nor the other party gain from your silence. The person thinks that what he did was right, and he will continue to do it. You don’t give him a chance to know himself better, to be aware of his “blind spot” and negative habits and how these affect you. You are not also giving the other party the opportunity to clarify or correct your perception of him.
Meanwhile, you nourish your hurt in silence as you withdraw from the other party physically, or by being silent and passive in the presence of the other person. Worse, we usually tell others about the other person. This becomes the grapevine or office gossip. Other people develop a mindset (or paradigm) about the other person and will now perceive him according to this paradigm.
One of the three reasons given by employees during exit interview as to why they are leaving their companies, is the poor leadership of their supervisors. The other two are lack of opportunities for personal growth and career advancement, and better pay.
Being assertive in communication is one of the needed growth areas of Filipino supervisors. They don’t have the skills or the self-confidence even to give positive feedback; they completely avoid negative feedback. They are not willing to take risks that will take them out of their comfort zone. Yet, positive feedback reinforce an employee’s positive behaviors, improves boss-subordinate relationships and enhances an employee’s self-confidence. Constructive feedback corrects negative habits and improves performance deficiencies.
How to acquire skills and develop self-confidence. Applying your feedback skills to your staff is completely within your control. Your staff is within your “circle of influence”. Give positive feedback immediately when you observe positive behavior or when you observe improvements in their work, whether these are self-initiated or the result of your coaching.
Correct immediately any negative behavior (such as tardiness, not using corporate attire, using celfon during office hour, etc.) which you observe so that this is not repeated. You can also give feedback to the president of your company. If you cannot see him in person, you can send him an email. Always start with positive feedback and then follow this with constructive feedback, if needed.
As you use your skills, you develop and enhance your self-confidence.
Self-reinforcement. Don’t expect your manager, being what he is to give you a “pat on the back” when you practice your skill or when you improve your performance. Obviously, he has not undergone the same training as you had; if he did, he does not have the motivation for self-improvement as you have. Give yourself a positive reinforcement, such as a pat on your back, each time you practice a skill to improve your performance and your leadership. An example of this is the “Wow, I did it!“ feeling. .Self-reinforcement will enhance your self-confidence and motivate you to continue to use your skills until these become positive habits that strengthen your character.
God bless you.