columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader asks:

I'm a relatively new manager and trying to do my best to tailor my style for each of my team members. This week, I asked my team members what they'd like to me to do differently in our one-on-ones. I got some great feedback from most of my folks, but one has me slightly stumped.

One of the standard things we talk about are work expectations, because our roles have specific levels we expect people to hit at different stages of their development. Talking about these typically takes up less than five minutes of a half-hour meeting, just a moment for us to pause and consider big-picture thoughts.

The problem is: My team member's feedback was that he doesn't want to discuss expectations or receive feedback. I tried to probe to find out why and explained that we do this so he'll know how he's doing, how raises are decided, and how or why other conversations happen, but he says he just doesn't like talking about this. I asked if there's another method he'd prefer -- written versus talking, etc. -- but he just doesn't like any of it. I said I'd brainstorm and asked him to come up with ways to get the info as well. Obviously, I'll be giving him feedback whether or not he likes it and I'm open to other conversations, but I don't want to entirely disregard the request.

Have you ever heard something like this? Do you have any other ideas of how I can make sure he understands his expectations and work progress without overtly communicating about it?

Green responds:


It's pretty outrageous to tell your manager, "Stop giving me feedback. I don't want to hear it."

It's outrageous enough that I'm curious about how he's doing in his job aside from this, because you don't normally see something like that from someone who's excelling and easy to work with. So I suspect you actually have a bigger issue on your hands than just how to respond to this one request and that you might need to look at his performance overall.

But as for his request ... no. He doesn't get to opt out of getting feedback.

You need to frame it for him differently, though. You told him that you're doing it "so he'll know how he's doing, how raises are decided, and how or why other conversations happen," but that's missing a key part of the actual rationale: You give feedback because it's part of managing his performance; it lets him know where you need him to do something differently, where something might be going off course, and what you'd like to see more of. That's a key part of managing anyone, and you're misleading him by portraying it as just being for his personal benefit. It does have personal benefits to him, of course (the ones you described, plus the assistance in getting better at what he does professionally), but if it's portrayed as just for his personal benefit, that makes it easier for him to argue that he'd rather opt out. It's not just for his personal benefit; it's primarily for yours and the organization's, and that's how you need to frame it.

Say this: "I've given some thought to your request not to continue to have feedback conversations with me. Feedback is a key way that we manage performance here. It's how you know where you're doing well and where we'd like you to focus on doing something differently or better. Feedback is an inherent part of how we operate and what we value, and it's something we're committed to doing."

Frankly, I would also add, "I'm surprised that you don't want to receive feedback. To excel in this role, we need to have direct conversations about your performance. If you don't want that, I'm concerned there's a fundamental disconnect about how we operate here."

Also, I'm seeing a theme in your letter that's pretty common with new managers: You want to be fair and kind, which is great, but you're not exercising enough judgment in what is and isn't reasonable. It's great that you want to adapt your style to fit each team member, and that you want to take input from your staff seriously. But some requests are off base enough that entertaining them actually sends the wrong message. There are some requests where it's OK -- even necessary -- to simply say, "No, we're not going to do that, because of ___."

Don't let your desire to be accommodating make you lose sight of what's reasonable, and don't let it lead you to try to accommodate anyone and everything. You can be nice without being a pushover.

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