By: Revanche

On feedback: when bad management strikes

April 15, 2015

A. I don’t like giving feedback, it feels confrontational.
B. I shouldn’t have to give you feedback or tell you what I’m thinking. You’re my right hand, you should already know.
C. Why are you doing [what you thought was your job], you’re not responsible for that! You need to be doing [some other thing you were never informed of]!

These are just a few of the gems delivered by Past Terrible Managers in my Past Work Life.

Bad managers drive me more than a little bit ’round the bend. Not all managers became managers because they were actually good at managing people, they were usually promoted for doing their own job well. When that happens, either they learn how to do it well, or you get a dingleberry of a supervisor and that’s just bad times.

As a manager, past and present, giving feedback to staff, or really anybody, without either feeling or being confrontational is such a necessary skill. If you need someone to change, they need to KNOW that you need them to change! Relying on strategy C above is such nonsense.

I understand that delivering criticism feels fraught, it’s not always comfortable, and empathetic people who have had bad experiences on the receiving end of feedback don’t want to perpetuate that cycle. That does not relieve you of a key aspect of your duty as a manager.

When a manager tells me they just don’t want to give feedback, I often ask if they enjoy being irritated, resented and subpar. Because that’s the situation they’re setting up: their employee will continue to do things wrong, this will reflect badly on the employee and reflect badly on you. Also, it’s likely that the tolerance of poor performance by that employee will have a sinking effect on morale for the rest of the team.

And conversely, what would it be like to be the hapless employee who doesn’t know they’re doing things wrong or inefficiently, and catching flak for something they don’t even realize is a problem? Don’t be that jerk boss who sows confusion, induces anxiety, and breeds resentment!


As I said, this is a learned skill. I didn’t come by it naturally, especially since I’m both introverted and at least a little anti-social.

So, how do I give constructive feedback?

1. I treat feedback sessions as conversations.

This isn’t intended as a confrontation but girding yourself for a battle almost certainly turns it into one. Be prepared, just don’t assume it has to be that difficult.

First time offenses? I ask them to explain to me how and why they’re doing X so that I understand where they’re coming from. It’s possible that they’ll identify a weakness in the existing protocol, or the training documentation. In other words, this could be a learning opportunity for me too.

After I solicit some perspective from them, if it doesn’t change my mind, then I explain what we need them to do and why.

Repeat offenses, if the thing is non-negotiable? I remind them of previous conversations, and ask what, if anything, is preventing them from performing their duties as asked. This is not permission to stand their ground, this is checking whether I need to be doing another aspect of my job: removing barriers to their performance. Reiterate that I need them to do it this way, and follow up as needed.

2. Understand that your goal is improvement, not chastisement.

Even if they’re on a PIP, the end goal is improvement of the work situation, whether that’s ultimately a firing or a mediocre employee understanding what’s really needed from them and turning a corner.

When frustrated by an undesirable outcome, I’ve seen managers rage and rant at their staff. What’s the point? That intimidates some, irritates others, but rarely ever produces results. Besides, it’s rude and disrespectful. Respect goes both ways and is more easily lost than earned.


3. Take the emotion out of it.

This is about the job, remain professional. It’s not your feelings or their feelings or likes or dislikes or any of that other stuff. It’s not personal. That doesn’t mean be a robot! It just means don’t derail the conversation. Focus on the thing you want improved and find a way to fix it. If someone is causing a problem, then figure out a way to fix that but don’t make it personal.

No one benefits from going several rounds in the blame game.


There’s no magic bullet, and I’m not the perfect manager, but I try to address my weaknesses. The least we can do is help people do the same. After all, it’s your job.


:: What ridiculous things have you heard from management?
:: What did you love in a good manager?

15 Responses to “On feedback: when bad management strikes”

  1. Sense says:

    No matter how busy she is, she immediately responds via email, phone, whatever. About ANYTHING.

    She respects my time and opinions. I love that she ALWAYS respects our meeting times and places her full attention on me for that time period (unless something is urgent). The most she does is send me away to get tea for myself so she has time to finish up an email or phone call at the beginning of the meeting. (I usually get her one too.)

    Gives me freedom to expand my job role and create my own niche. Full support, financially and emotionally, to move my career along, when I make a sound case as to why I feel a particular workshop or training is necessary.

    Annual meetings to discuss where my job/career is going and if I am still happy. CV reviews. Talks about the next few steps. The works.

    Somehow she ALWAYS has time to talk. About ANYTHING. If she is in a meeting and sees that I have passed by her office a few times looking for an opening, she notices and interrupts her meeting so that I can ask my urgent question. (I wouldn’t be there if it was not urgent.)

    Lots of positive feedback. If she mentions a negative, she frames it in a very positive way and couches it with a ton of “well done”s to soften the blow.

    Thanks me for even the tiniest things. It really is unnecessary for most tasks, but after working really hard on something, it means a lot to know that she notices everything I do.

    She is a political powerhouse, easily maneuvering her way through a minefield of horrible academic egos and backstabbers. At least, she makes it look easy. I know it isn’t. She protects us from all the horribleness by being awesome and silently pulling strings so that we may remain (mostly) blissfully unaware of the torture that would’ve befallen us if she hadn’t intervened. There are SO MANY examples of this. She is my best advocate.

    I don’t think she has ever said no to me. In return, I try to never say no to her, respond immediately and anticipate her needs, and overdeliver on everything I say I am going to do.

    I trust her. The main reason I agreed to the PhD is because she would be my main supervisor. I know that whatever happens, she will have my back, and that is priceless.

    She made it clear that she was on my side from the very beginning, and we were on a team together. When I started my job, she told me not to think of her as a boss, but as a colleague and friend. Without me proving myself at all yet, she gave me the confidence to start strong and secure in the knowledge that I was supported.

    I could go on and on and on.

    She is like this with everyone, and every single person I know that has worked with her feels the same way I do about her. She is superhuman and effing magic. I know I am insanely lucky. Like the tweet above said, I’d follow her to Hell. She is the epitome of a good manager and role model.

    The bad things re: management I’ve heard mostly come from ridiculous rule-following, red-tape bureaucrats. I just love it when I get in trouble for not following an inane rule that no one told me about and have no way of knowing exists. This is where having a sane, awesome boss comes in handy. She somehow manages to completely agree with me and support my side while also appeasing them.
    Sense recently posted…Sad but trueMy Profile

    • NZ Muse says:

      My awesome boss basically echoes all this (alas she’s leaving).

      I feel fortunate to have always had reasonably great bosses but I think it’s been particularly important at this job, being my 1st non journalism job and having to get used to a more corporate workplace, one that’s a lot more collaborative rather than everyone off doing their own individual thing.

      One thing I think that’s really important for me is communication. Early and often. Nothing worse than not getting looped in until right at the end with none of the context and no input.

      She’s also very interested in our development and ensuring we’re happy and working toward the types of things we want to be doing.
      NZ Muse recently posted…Link love (Powered by chocolate and crackers)My Profile

      • Revanche says:

        @Sense & @NZMuse
        That’s pretty amazing that you’ve had such great bosses, I’d love to shadow them and see how they do it.

  2. Ohh, those are g-o-o-o-d stupid manager traits. Very, very interesting.

    LOL! Managing is nice because you get to foist a lot of work onto the underlings. But to get them to do it right…not so simple.

    My stint in management by and large was pretty easy, because — with one notable exception — my staffers were self-starting, knew how to do the job, and did it professionally and on time. The notable exception darned near drove me to quit before we were all laid off, though. No matter what you said to this woman, it would be ignored. I never did figure out whether she was incompetent or just brain-banging stubborn. Probably a little of both…
    Funny about Money recently posted…Day from Hell After$shock: The Water Heater BillMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      I’d vote for both.

      I always found delegating to be a PITA if I didn’t have really sharp staff, but it’s part of the job to train and support them so they CAN perform to standard.

  3. EvilBatWitch says:

    Thanks:) if you ever need more “What not to do as a manager” from me, I’ll be happy to fuel a second run at managing techniques:)

  4. Lauren says:

    I have never had a good manager. Never. I’ve had ok ones, but mostly they have been mean or under qualified or micromanaging.

    What I would love? Someone who trusts me to do my job, who challenges me to grow, and who advocates for our team/department/etc. I’ve had bosses treat me like I’m stealing from them because they have to pay me, I’ve had bosses yell at me, slam their fists on the table, intimidate, bully, undermine, etc etc. Women and men.

    After going through a long hiring process, it would be fantastic to be trusted to do the job I’ve been hired to do. Fucking fantastic. And treated like a grown up please.
    Lauren recently posted…The Last Year of my 20s, Being 29My Profile

    • Revanche says:

      I was wondering if the fact that we’re in somewhat related fields was the common thread in why we’ve had the worst managers, also both men and women in my experience, but I’ve worked in more than one industry with the same result. Hm.

  5. SP says:

    I’ve had mostly good managers, but my last one was horrible. It was really only then that I realized all the things past managers had done that were awesome.

    My current manager is hands off and fairly lax, but willing to chat and seems supportive. It’s still new, but I generally like and respect him, so that’s a big improvement over the last guy.

    Good things to do: be honest, be available, be comfortable and adept at giving feedback/coaching, trust me to do my job unless you have reason not to (and if so, please tell me why you are concerned). Help me prioritize. Communicate your priorities and make sure I understand where I fit in – if you are less available because the company has you managing 15 people plus doing individual contributor work, that’s different than if you are unavailable because you are simply a jackass who doesn’t prioritize being a manager. Tell me how I can make your life easier. Even tell me how you prefer i communicate with you.

    • Revanche says:

      I always envied people who didn’t have to ever ask “are you serious”/”is this normal behavior??” when reflecting on managers – sorry your good streak was broken but so glad that your latest is good!

  6. My last manager or boss at my full time job is amazing…we are actually still friends. He was like a father figure to me. I can’t place what exactly he did that was so great but everyone loved him. My producer now acts as kind of a manger to me. Same dynamic. One day he wants to listen, one day he is on his phone the entire time. One day he is nice, one day you are walking on egg shells. You never know what kind of person you are going to get. It is unbelievably frustrating!
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…Listening to Life’s WhispersMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      How wonderful you still have a great relationship with your previous manager. I think it’s easier to pinpoint the specific good things when you’ve had a poor experience to compare it to.
      Here’s hoping you can trade up from your current producer 🙂

  7. […] Most of us have had our share of bad or indifferent managers, some of us have had absolutely terrible managers, and sometimes those terrible, no-good, very bad managers were Toxic Waste Phenomena. […]

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