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No. 105 – Am I the perfect boss? Why don’t my team give me feedback?

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3 May 2023

I am a relatively new manager and lead a team of eight people. I am really keen to do a good job, and I am always asking for feedback on how I am going. The problem is, in meetings or even one on one, when I ask for feedback I get nothing but silence. If anyone offers anything, it will just be to say everything is good. I am not naive enough to think I am doing a perfect job, so how can I do better at getting feedback from those I lead?

First, there is a power differential that is always going to be an impediment to someone feeling they can offer you completely honest, unfiltered feedback. Until the people you lead trust you can handle the feedback and won’t react poorly, or take it out on the person giving it, your team will naturally be fairly cautious. One suggestion might be to acknowledge this. Next time you ask for feedback, let them know you understand you have a long way to go to earn their trust and confirm you intend to do so. Let them know you plan to do that by listening and learning from them and their experience. When you do get any feedback, make sure you thank the person who offers it (regardless of whether you agree with the actual feedback or not) and then be sure to reflect on what they have said. Make any adjustments you think are valid and be sure to go back to that person to acknowledge the changes you have made.

Next time you receive no feedback, also think about the context when you are asking for it. If it is in a group setting, that is always going to be tricky. While your team is getting used to giving you feedback and learning how you will respond, try and ask for feedback in one-on-one sessions. If the person says everything is good, let them know you appreciate their thoughts but also acknowledge you, like everyone, have areas to work in. Let them know you will ask again next time you meet, and you would value them thinking about an area you could change that would help them in their roles. Slowly but surely the trust will build and feedback culture will grow.

Our boss loves data and seems scared to decide on a course of action without seeking what seems like endless reams of data. Half the time the stuff we are chasing down isn’t even relevant to the decision being made and all it does is waste our time. My boss doesn’t seem to notice and just sends out more requests for just a bit more information before she will finally make the decision. What is going on, and why does she do this?

There is a fabulously titled research paper called ‘On the pursuit and misuse of useless information’ that describes perfectly your situation. The researchers found we can pursue information that might seem relevant, but ultimately doesn’t impact the outcome of the decision we need to make. We convince ourselves the information is relevant and become so immersed in the search we can’t step back to be aware of the impact of this endless loop of information seeking.

Often this endless search for data and evidence before deciding on a way forward is common in organisational cultures where there is no psychological safety and mistakes are looked upon as fatal. Your boss may feel the need to use data and evidence as a shield of sorts, thinking it will protect them if it turns out the wrong decision is made. Do you work in a culture where there is a lot of blame? Is your boss’ boss someone who does not allow for mistakes to be made? If so, your boss may feel this is their only way to get by in case something goes wrong.

Do you think women can wear sneakers to work and still look professional? I just can’t bear the thought of wearing heels any more, but I am nervous about making the change and being judged for it.

You can wear whatever shoes you think work best for you and suit the occasion. If the Vice President of the United States can wear sneakers to work, so can the rest of us. Expectations about footwear for professionals have, thankfully, forever changed. I am no fashion influencer, that is for sure, but I am an advocate for wearing whatever you are comfortable in and whatever you think looks great and appropriate for the situation.

To clarify, I am pretty sure the sneakers you wear to the dog park could be a stretch for work. If those sneakers are anything like mine, they have no place in public places. So be discerning about the sneakers you choose but fortunately, there are endless examples of good quality, stylish sneakers available which look fabulous with professional wear – go for it. And if it is an ‘anything but heels’ approach you are after, I have also bought some leather loafers recently which are another fantastic alternative.

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