As a manager, there’s an invisible and unspoken wall between you and your staff. It would be great if it didn’t exist, but it does. And even though there are times when you feel like part of the gang, at the end of the day, you’ll still be the boss…and that creates a barrier.
You have a sense that group cohesion isn’t where it needs to be and that a few people are frustrated with your management style but you feel the “boss barrier” is keeping them from sharing their feedback. So you decide to create a brief anonymous survey. And that’s no small task because the questions you ask (or don’t ask) will obviously send signals to your team.
In hopes of opening the lines of communication, you come up with three to four questions designed to get at what you believe are the underlying issues and you elicit their response. But that was the easy part. Once you get their feedback, you have to decide what to do with it. And that is particularly difficult because the feedback you receive wasn’t constructive, but more of a personal attack.
Do you confront the group? Meet with each member of your team individually? Do nothing? Do you respond to their feedback in general without mentioning specifics? That would keep you from repeating some of the negative comments from some that might not be shared by all. Or, do you read each response to the group and talk through what you’re going to do to address their concerns while making sure not to come off as defensive or angry?
How you handle their feedback, from the moment you receive their responses, is more important than the questions you asked or the feedback itself. You can’t sit on it, waiting for the right time. The more time that passes, the less likely it will be that you can get to the underlying frustrations that led to their negative comments. Plus, waiting gives the impression that responding to their feedback isn’t a priority.
Whether to respond to their comments in general (without mentioning specific comments), or to go over each comment is a judgment call. If you’re worried that voicing some of the negative comments could poison those on your team who might not feel that way, keep in mind there’s a good chance that they’ve already heard the comments from their peers because there’s a good chance they’re talking to each
other about it. If anything, it could provide an opportunity for those on your team who are in your corner to stand up and speak out about some of the negative comments they might not agree with.
Regardless of your approach, you’ll want to drive the discussion, keeping comments from others to a minimum. The last thing you want is for the meeting to turn into a heated discussion or argument. No matter how calm you are (or think you are), it’s likely that others will be pretty tense. It’s okay to have a little group discussion, but for the most part, you’re the one steering the ship.
And don’t forget about tone. If you don’t think you can talk about their feedback without appearing defensive or angry, don’t do it. If you do, you could accidentally make things worse than they already are—especially if some of the feedback you received was that you get defensive when you get negative feedback.
As a manager, it’s hard to open yourself up to potential criticism by asking for feedback on your performance. But it’s even harder to put it all out there and process the feedback with your team. Even though it’s uncomfortable, asking for and addressing feedback from your team will make you a better manager.
Shawn Graham is Director of MBA Career Services at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (www.courtingyourcareer.com).