I currently work as a sales associate in a retail store. The company promotes giving and receiving feedback, which is a very good concept. Since I joined the company, I have received feedback which has helped me a lot. However, the system of feedback in the company is strange to me because it is aggressive. If you want to be a manager at the company, it is mandatory for you to give feedback at any given opportunity. For this reason, there are so many bullies at my job who are overbearing and manipulating because they want to be managers. The feedback given by these bullies is in no way constructive. There is a particular guy at my job who is so power hungry. He comes late to work sometimes without informing anyone. He has charisma, but lacks character. I do most Of the work that needs to be done, but he still makes me feel incompetent. I grew up in a very passive culture, and this makes it hard for me to speak my mind. He once gave me a feedback, “I need you to be as efficient as me”. There is really no one to talk to because I believe the company supports aggressive behavior. Please advise me on how to cope.
Fed-Up With Some of the Feedback
Dear Fed-Up With Some of the Feedback:
It sounds like your company wants to encourage communication and the willingness to discuss concerns, but has not done a good job of training people about how to give feedback, how to receive it and what to do if feedback seems incorrect, inappropriate or offensive. Feedback is supposed to be from one person to another about their own interactions and maybe about how work can be done better as a team. It’s not supposed to be supervisory-level critique of a coworker’s performance. Unless feedback is carefully taught about and managed, the “feedback culture” often leads to the situation you describe. I am familiar with a workplace where employees spend far more time telling each other how they should do things differently or better, than they do learning how to perform well themselves. Non-assertive people, such as you describe yourself, tend to just take it all and assume they must change every time someone critiques them. Aggressive, mean-spirited people use it as an excuse to pick on others and be big shot about how perfect they are themselves. That’s not the way the concept was meant to be used, but it nearly always happens that way unless supervisors and managers are training all the time. I should also point out that if you are hearing the same things from several people, you may have an issue you need to correct or deal with. But, if you think that is the case, talk to your manager or supervisor. Sometimes those who don’t like us very well, give us the most honest feedback—but often it is made unproductive because they have nothing better to offer than criticism. Remember that it’s OK to give feedback about feedback. If you have simply sat and taken it; no matter how unfair or inappropriate it seemed–and never presented your case, you may have inadvertently made your coworkers think that without their advice you couldn’t do your job well. In addition, you may be undermining your chance to be a manager down the line. A good manager and leader listens to many people, but ultimately has to do what he or she believes to be correct, based on several criteria. He or she doesn’t just sit and take criticism or go with every bit of advice they’re given. The next time you get feedback that is hurtful or unhelpful, ask for clarification. You will feel embarrassed and awkward about it at first, but if you stick a few phrases in your mind ahead of time, you’ll be prepared. Incidentally, I have found that if you ask the person who is giving you supposed feedback, to give you more information, you’ll quickly be able to tell if the person is sincerely trying to be helpful or if he or she is just being critical. The helpful person will have useful suggestions and will present them in an effective way. The critical person will just complain and will often get off-topic about other things. Examples of ways to respond: “How do you mean that?” “Tell me more about that.” “What makes you think so?” “Give me examples.” “Tell me what you’d suggest instead of what I did.” “That sounds like a complaint rather than feedback.” “Can we talk to the supervisor (use her name) about this?” “I’ll talk to our supervisor and see what she thinks.” “That’s not what our supervisor has told me.” “I don’t see it that way, but I’ll talk to our supervisor about it.” “We each have our own ways of working, but I’ll keep your thoughts in mind.” “Hmmm. Talk about that some more.” “That just doesn’t fit with everything else I’ve been trained about, so this sounds like something we should check on with the manager.” See how those phrases sound more confident and appropriately assertive, while not completely rejecting feedback? The key is to not get in a big conversation; let the person giving feedback explain more. At the end of the comments you only have to say enough to acknowledge you heard it. That’s another thing to remember about the feedback concept: You are not being given orders or directives, you are just being given thoughts and opinions. They may be valid, in which case you would benefit from hearing the feedback and adjusting your actions. They may not be. Some good, “I heard it” comments: “I’ll give that some thought.” ” I’ll run your thoughts by our manager when I talk to him and see what he thinks.” “That gives me something to think about.” “I’ll talk to some of the others and see what they think.” “It’s good to get your thoughts. The bottom line is that I have to do this the way I know works best.” “I hadn’t seen it that way. I’ll keep that in mind in the future.” As you say the words, move away from the person and end the conversation. My experience with feedback is that it can consume a lot of time because no one knows how to end it. Just move back into work. “Well, now I know how you feel, so give me time to think about it. Right now I have to get back to work.” If you think the feedback was well-meant and sincere, you can say, “Thank you for the feedback.” “Thanks for your thoughts.” Or, “Those were good ideas. Thanks.” Since you think the entire company has misused the concept of feedback, talk to your supervisor or manager about your concerns. If you received any training about the feedback philosophy or if there is written material about it in employee handbooks, look at that and see if that fits with the way things are being done. (I’ll bet it isn’t.) Then, ask your supervisor if he or she could be some retraining about the concept or bring it up at a staff meeting. You wouldn’t have to name names, if you didn’t want to. But, your supervisor needs to know if feedback is being used to pick on people and criticize them, rather than to assist communication and effective work. I think it would be better to mention specific situations. As a supervisor and manager I have often been frustrated at not knowing the source of problems because no one wants to be specific. Try that two step approach: Modify or change the way you are receiving feedback, then talk to your supervisor or manager about training about feedback. At least you could express your concerns and ask your supervisor if she has suggestions for your work or your interactions with others. Your supervisor is your best source of feedback anyway. Also consider doing some reading on the subject of feedback and conversations of this nature. Amazon is a good resource for new and used books. Also, talk to some people who know you well, especially if they also know your work well. They would be better able to give you some personalized thoughts about how you can deal with this situation. But remember, if you have a decent working relationship with your supervisor or manager, that person is usually your best resource about your work. In addition, most supervisors enjoy knowing that an employee looks to them for appropriate guidance and advice. Future organizational leaders develop strong relationship with current supervisors and managers. If you think you can’t talk to supervisors and managers and you think the whole company encourages such mean-spirited behavior, perhaps you should consider if this is the kind of company where you could ever be happy for long. You may need to look for a better environment for your style and what will help you have the kind of career you want. Best wishes to you with this situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.
Tina Lewis Rowe