A colleague was struggling as to how to get more feedback from her supervisor and asked for my advice:

Is it the responsibility of the supervisor to modify behavior to meet the expressed needs of the employee or is it the responsibility of the employee to modify expectations of what the supervisor can provide? For example, the employee says she would like feedback from the supervisor as it would help her morale and let her know the supervisor is invested and confident in the employee’s success.

The supervisor says she has multiple employees and it is not possible for her to function that way. She cannot be proactive but is committed to being immediately reactive when asked. So now there is an impasse – the employee made a request that will improve performance and the supervisor is not willing to accommodate that request. Is that where things sit? Should the employee now change her needs or should the supervisor attempt to accommodate the employee? Or is it a combination of both?”

Two thoughts come to mind.  One is the Marcus Buckingham quote about clarity in supervision that I have written about before. The supervisor was clear that a) she won’t be proactive and b) she doesn’t have time. While not the employee’s ideal answer, it sure beats having a supervisor that is wishy-washy. Really.

My second thought is for the employee to take the supervisor’s answer and run with it. The supervisor said she would be responsive, so ASK. I have been working with some younger staff members that also want more feedback than their boss is giving them. I suggested that they frame their question around “one thing.”  What is the one thing I did best this month?  What is the one thing I could do better to improve?  What is the one thing that worked best for you to close sales?  What is the one thing that you see as a gift I have?  What is the one piece of advice you would have for me before I meet with Company X?

What I heard the supervisor say is that she doesn’t have time. Whether explicitly stated or not, it is true for many supervisors, so I suggest that employees frame their questions so they don’t take a ton of time. By asking for F.E.E.D.B.A.C.K., it requires a lot of thought (aka time) to formulate a response and to be inclusive. The supervisor doesn’t want to say A and B when later she might think of A and B and C and then get caught because she left something out.  By asking for “one thing” you let her off the hook by saying just A. It could be A-Z, but she doesn’t need to take the time to think of all those things. And the thing that is top of mind is the most important to her anyway.

The desire for more feedback is an on-going struggle, especially between Baby Boomers and younger generations. Try the question approach as a way to meet in the middle.



About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

Dr. beth triplett is the owner of leadership dots, offering coaching, training and consulting for new supervisors. She also shares daily lessons on her leadershipdots blog. Her work is based on the leadership dots philosophy that change happens through the intentional connecting of small steps in the short term to the big picture in the long term.

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