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How do I give honest but constructive feedback to a bad manager?

Discussion in 'Workplace dilemmas' started by FriarLawrence, Jan 15, 2019.

  1. FriarLawrence

    FriarLawrence Senior commenter

    I'm tired of my LM's style of doing things: everything is a chase or a criticism, and I can remember very few instances of praise any more fulsome than "I thought that went well", delivered in passing before moving on to a criticism.

    When there's something to be said - usually "this wasn't good enough, change it" - 9 times out of 10 you're grabbed in a corridor and left feeling like you've failed at whatever it is.

    In terms of manner, I feel completely at the mercy of this person's emotions. He/she trails MOOD like a black cloud, and if he/she is in a mood, staff get blanked in the corridor, there's an absent and cold facial expression, and staff regularly come away from encounters with this person feeling really worried that they've done something wrong.

    In terms of leadership style, someone has told this person that "coaching" is the way to get stuff done. I find this incredibly unproductive - I want clear expectations, help and support from my LM, not "what is your vision for this post?" and a bunch of questions designed to "elicit" my best performance. I just want to know what he or she wants me to do, and I want to feel appreciated.

    As it is, I feel constantly insecure, worried and unsure what I've done wrong. I've had it up to the back teeth with feeling this way, and I'm going to challenge it.

    But how can I say all this in a way which will be heard as constructive feedback, not moaning? As much as this person is a terrible manager, they are still a human being who will get his or her back up if they're just moaned at.

    Any thoughts?
  2. oscillator

    oscillator Occasional commenter

    Be very very direct with what you need in order to succeed. I would ask the LM questions like: What are things that went well? Are there any positives from that so that I know moving forward?. Could we have a quick meeting to discuss? (Instead of passing in the corridor). Can you clarify exactly what you want so that I don't do something you aren't satisfied with?

    The real problem sounds two-way to me!! ASK FOR POSITIVES. ASK FOR CLARIFICATION. You aren't a mind-reader... and they know that on some level!

    Or if you really don't understand something, lay it all out in an email and ask specific questions about how they would like something to be done. Stop tip-toeing around this person - you have a right to know how they want it done so that you can more effectively do your job. And you aren't friends - so there is no offense caused when you're asking totally reasonable questions.
  3. Flowersinspring

    Flowersinspring Lead commenter

    Fab advice from Oscillator - advice I wish I'd followed instead of enduring 16 years walking on egg shells and avoiding mood-swings.
  4. bigfatgit

    bigfatgit Occasional commenter

    And then ask to observe them teaching.

    Just so you can "understand exactly how you would like me to do it"

  5. Piranha

    Piranha Star commenter

    There is a danger that they might agree, and you lose a free period. I know my HoD would have done!
    Pomza likes this.
  6. meggyd

    meggyd Star commenter

    You are a professional doing a job. Why do you need constant feedback? Don't you get guidance during observations and in meetings?
  7. sbkrobson

    sbkrobson Star commenter

    This person is dishing out sh*t like this because it is their job.
    It is not because you warrant it.
    I think that may be an error in your thinking, although clearly that is out of your control. It's all negative, so the natural thought response is "what can I do to make it positive?"
    You can't. They are not paid to do that.
    You wont get the answers you need from them, because if they don't know already how to support productively, you wont be able to teach them.
    Your best strategy is to make them back off.
    Ask them for meetings.
    Every time they say something to you in this critical way, say to them "Ah, ok. I'm slightly rushed right now but could I meet you about it to talk it through properly?i'll email you to suggest some times"
    Do it again and again and again. Send emails asking for meetings. And if you acheive any meetings, just sit there and say nothing. Ask them only to explain what it was they were trying to say to you in passing.
    After a remarkable short period of time, when they spot you in a corridor they will turn the other way.
    Do not criticise or ask this person for something different, for it is their unshatterable conviction in dishing out sh*t which got them the job in the first place. Any reasonable request to give you something more constructive to your role will alienate and threaten them. And at that point it gets worse.
    Ask for meetings. Nod lots. Completely ignore their words, and then ask again "can we have a meeting please to clarify?"

    Eventually you will find that the absence of criticism is a supportive development in itself.
  8. FriarLawrence

    FriarLawrence Senior commenter

    Believe me, I would dearly love to just be allowed to crack on.

    Fortunately this person does not observe me, but as to guidance - no. I don’t get guidance. I actually sometimes just want to know what this person wants me to do, rather than doing something to my best ability only to be told it’s not right. I could easily have done it like that the first time - but didn’t know that’s what was required. I honestly believe LM’s view is “you should’ve known how to do it right the first time, without needing to be told”.

    @oscillator - brilliant advice - thank you. I tend to be a bit reluctant to be blunt, but your last paragraph will ring in my ears when I meet with LM next.
    ATfan likes this.
  9. sparkleghirl

    sparkleghirl Star commenter

    Depending on my mood and on how keen I was to stay there, I might

    Not say anything, let it be like water off a duck's back

    Say "So was there anything good about it?" and "Are you this negative with the kids you teach?"
    Piranha likes this.
  10. meggyd

    meggyd Star commenter

    Why don't they observe you? How can they comment on pay progression and targets if they have not seen you? Surely you can bring this up in your performance management?
  11. FriarLawrence

    FriarLawrence Senior commenter

    Our school doesn’t use observation as a factor in PM.
    Pomza likes this.
  12. meggyd

    meggyd Star commenter

    But presumably you do have observations? And you do have targets for pm? Which are agreed in advance after discussion? This is surely the forum for this issue.
  13. FriarLawrence

    FriarLawrence Senior commenter

    I do have PM targets. I’m not sure how this is relevant to raising my issues with my line manager’s leadership style, though...
  14. meggyd

    meggyd Star commenter

    The targets should be formulated to help you teach in the way your lm wants. So if he thinks you have poor subject knowledge or behaviour management issues or whatever you and he formulate a plan to help you improve. Maybe a course, maybe observe someone else with those skills etc etc. ( Not suggesting you are a bad teacher at all but this is where you can pin him down in a non confrontational way and document it properly.)
  15. FriarLawrence

    FriarLawrence Senior commenter

    It’s not about my teaching. It’s about my TLR, and a specific thing I need to do involving an INSET I’m delivering. But it’s not about my performance. It’s about me feeding back to my LM about how their management style affects my ability to do my job happily and effectively.
    ATfan likes this.
  16. ATfan

    ATfan Star commenter

    I sympathise. I once worked with a manager who talked to everyone like they were stupid children and was always flapping about everything. The person was also obsessed with communication and wanting catch up meetings all the time. In the end, I told the person that this type of management style didn’t work for me as it suggested that the person didn’t think that I could do my job and was not good enough and that I need to be allowed to pace myself. I also made a point of doing my job as efficiently as I could (which I do anyway) and telling the person about it. After that, the person backed off and was much more careful about how she spoke to me, so I worked pretty well with her in the end. I agree with those who suggested directly (but politely) saying what you need. If that doesn’t work or if you think that your LM would be threatened by this approach, I like SBK Robson’s suggestion.

    Good luck!
  17. anon7376890

    anon7376890 New commenter

    Hi, I have had a similar situation recently. I work very closely with my line manager in a small department so a close and productive working relationship is, in my view, imperative. They have a very specific way in which they like things to be done - fair enough. However, just before Christmas I was feeling increasingly unhappy with our communication as it was so negative day in and day out. I, like you, work incredibly hard and am extremely conscientious. I felt that everything was a criticism, no matter how small, and because it wasn’t balanced with any sort of regular praise the message that was getting through was that I was not good enough. In my heart of hearts I knew this wasn’t true but in a job that is already highly stressful and underappreciated, to lack this from your line manager can become a deal breaker.

    So. I asked them to spare a few minutes for a chat after school (no interruptions, no bells, no kids). I told them in the most professional way i could how it was making me feel (any manager worth their salt will care about how happy their staff are) and that I respect them, care about my job and relationship with them and really want to nip this in the bud before it turns to icy resentment (no-one wants that! It’s insidious and destructive). It has been the best decision I have made all year. Their attitude has changed entirely and I feel we have a healthy working relationship again. Maybe they hate my guts inside but ... who cares?! We can work together. I can do my job again. That’s all that matters.

    Write down your points beforehand. Agree a suitable time. Smile, tell them you respect and value your relationship and air your grievances. Praise them too (I feel it softens them) If this person is not a monster, they will respond positively.

    If not, you have evidence you have tried. That can only work in your favour and against them if it ever came to it.

    Talk to them. I cannot recommend that advice enough.
  18. CWadd

    CWadd Star commenter

    The line manager I had at my previous school was an utter *****. There was no reasoning with her over anything. I moved on, and am in a better place now, but I appreciate moving on isn't an option for everyone.
    ATfan and phlogiston like this.
  19. Pomza

    Pomza Star commenter

    One bit of good news.
  20. grumpydogwoman

    grumpydogwoman Star commenter

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