Bad Boss BS: “That wasn’t good enough.”
The three types of feedback and the consequence of delivering the wrong message the wrong time.
Good feedback is one of the most useful things a boss can give us. No matter how committed to doing a good job we are, there are always areas we could improve. And even when we’re reflective practitioners, we’re still stuck on our inside, looking out. An external perspective is valuable. And when we combine the external observation of our impact with a solid understanding of our intent, we can compare the two to refine what we do. The problem is, bad bosses aren’t very good. If they’re bad at feedback we miss this valuable input and they fail at one of their key duties. So what are the different ways a bad boss can fail at feedback — and what can we do about it?
The three types of feedback
One way a bad boss can ruin feedback is how they frame it. Feedback that feels unfair or unjustified is likely to trigger a negative response in us. A bad boss can switch off the think-y parts of our brain and trigger a defensive response. As soon as we get defensive, we put up barriers that make it harder to hear what’s being said. So even if there’s useful information being given, the context makes it more difficult to hear and understand.
Some feedback feels unfair. It’s easy for a bad boss to assume that their observations and opinions are always valid. But without acknowledging the emotional aspects of feedback conversations, they’re more likely to fail in their objective of sharing this perspective.
There are different types of feedback. Bosses can show appreciation. This motivates and encourages us. They can adopt a coaching style of feedback which increases our knowledge, skills and capability at the same time as developing our relationship with them. And they can offer evaluation — letting us know how we measure up to their expectations. This helps with aligning and setting standards.
Good bosses use all of these styles of feedback, and have a finely tuned sense of when each is needed. Bad bosses are usually more limited in the styles they can adopt. And sometimes they misjudge the moment to deliver the wrong type of feedback at the wrong moment.
We all need these three types of feedback, both to improve our motivation and performance and to build healthy, trusting relationships in our teams and with our boss. But bad bosses are particularly prone to talking at cross purposes. They’ll arrive with some evaluation when we’re desperate for them to acknowledge the extra effort we’ve made. No matter how useful theit feedback might be, because it’s not what we expected, it’s not effective — even if it’s what we needed. The mismatch creates barriers or a background noise of resentment and makes it harder for us to hear. Evaluation is always the “loudest” type of feedback. And coaching usually contains some evaluation — even if the evaluation is self-evaluation sparked by a skilled coach. Bad bosses let us down when they deliver the wrong “type” of feedback and create a background noise which overcomes the useful part of their message.
We can help them and us by developing a stronger sense of what we need in each moment. It’s OK to point out the type of feedback you need — occasionally a boss might still need to give you some evaluation (no matter how much you’d love to be getting appreciation all the type) but being open about your expectations and assumptions will help steer the conversation into a more positive outcome.
I’m trying a new approach to scheduling these posts on feedback. I’ll post the next in the series — which is all about lazy language in feedback conversations — as soon as I get some feedback or appreciation for this post. Because feedback is valuable :-)