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No. 137 – My boss asked for honest feedback, then froze me out of the team

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13 December 2023

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: some poorly taken feedback, a promotion that never happened and a couple hoping to bunk together.

My boss told our team he was open to honest feedback, to help him be the best leader he could be. I took him at his word and provided some candid feedback about how it appeared that – sometimes – during meetings, he wasn’t allowing everyone to speak. I was terrified, but summoned the courage, as I am one of the people who stay quiet in meetings, and I thought it may help. The problem is, since I told him, he has shut me out – so much I feel I need to resign. How do I handle this?

First, good on you for speaking up. It must have taken so much courage to do so and if you had a decent boss – one who truly understood the benefits of feedback – this fallout would not have happened. None of this is your fault. If your boss can’t accept feedback, even when he has asked, then things are not likely to improve.

Second, on the off chance your boss or any like him are reading this, I want to ask him: what on earth are you thinking? Your treatment of this team member will mean no one will ever speak up to you again. And not just about feedback for you personally, but on other important things as well. You have broken any trust you thought you might have been creating. The only response you should have had when offered this feedback was to say thank you, listen intently and be curious. You should have been curious about what you do in meetings, which suggests you only want to hear from the loudest voices. Curious about ways you can encourage those who don’t feel able speak up. And frankly, curious about why you haven’t noticed this dynamic before yourself, before some brave person mentioned it.

To our letter writer, bide your time and find a new role where you will thrive, where your voice will be heard and where you will be thanked for your courage, not excluded.

A couple of years ago, I was told I was on track for a big promotion. The process started well, but now my manager doesn’t even reference this trajectory any more. While I love the organisation and people I work with, I’ve become very demotivated. How do I recover from this disappointment? Or do I cut my losses and start looking elsewhere?

First things first, have you asked your manager about where things stand for your career progression since that conversation a few years ago? I would ask for a meeting to go discuss your aspirations and let them know you are starting to worry there may not be a future for you at the company. Let them know you love the organisation, you love the people, and you don’t want to leave. Ask for their help in getting your enthusiasm back with a new challenge. If things don’t go well in the meeting and no options are available, hold your head high and start looking for a new role where you will be fulfilled and valued.

My partner and I work for a mining company and for the first time in our relationship we are at the same site. Couple rooms are available onsite by application with the criteria being we must supply evidence of a shared residential address and utilities bills. We are a couple, but we do not officially live together when we have two or three days at home, every three weeks. Our company spruiks inclusiveness and diversity both internally and externally. What do you recommend we do to try and get this sorted?

This seems like it is straight out of the 1950s. Your company clearly wants to know you are officially defacto, married or “shacked up” together before they will let you “shack up” on site. My guess: they’ll argue the dam wall argument and say, “If we let you guys have a couple room there will be a flood of other couples wanting the same.”

I would avoid making this an ethics issue if you can and explain honestly why you continue to live separately at home. Make clear this decision is not what defines the seriousness of your relationship or commitment to one another. I would ask for the policy to be addressed; suggest it does not meet the vision for inclusiveness you hear them advocate.

To submit a question about work, careers or leadership, visit (you will not be asked to provide your name or any identifying information. Letters may be edited).

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