Mar 27, 2023 | Advancing Your Career

My boss never gives me any usable feedback. Should I quit?

Q. Dear Zenagos,
I just had my annual review, and it was terrible. My boss can only see what I’m doing wrong and never gives me any usable feedback. Should I just quit?
–Malik

It’s not unusual to quit due to frustration with your manager. A Udemy survey (2018) found that nearly half of employees had left a job due to dissatisfaction with their manager. However, you should examine your other employment options carefully before you quit. There is nothing to guarantee that your next manager will be any better at giving feedback.

Focus on being a good receiver of feedback
In their book Thanks for the Feedback, authors Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen posit that most managers are not especially skilled at providing feedback. They suggest that if you want to improve your skills at work, then you need to ignore how feedback is delivered and become an outstanding receiver of feedback. If you happen to have a boss who provides outstanding, actionable feedback, then consider yourself fortunate. However, quitting over a boss who provides poor feedback might be biting off your nose to spite your face. It is likely that your next boss will be equally poor at providing feedback.

Keep your cool
To be a good receiver of feedback, you need to listen carefully to the feedback and thank your supervisor for providing it. If you react defensively, it will be difficult for you to process the feedback – and your boss may stop providing it. Even if it is delivered in a way that you find unpalatable or even unpleasant, there is almost always a grain of truth in the feedback provided by a supervisor. If you are not listening closely, you may miss the important advice that you need in order to improve your performance.

Try not to attribute negative motives to others
When emotions are running high, it is natural to speculate about your boss’ motives. However, it does no particular good to assume that your boss doesn’t like you – or is even actively out to get you. Unless you can read minds, you will never know your boss’ true motives. Speculating about them can take you down a negative path unnecessarily. When you are feeling truly emotional, try to leave the building, so you can collect yourself and avoid saying something that you cannot take back. Often, if you just wait a day or two, you will realize that your boss actually likes you. It is safest to take the mindset that your boss is genuinely interested in helping you.

Your boss probably can’t tell that you are upset
Research by Cannon and Witherspoon (2005) at Vanderbilt University demonstrates that people experience a “false-consensus bias,” overestimating the probability that others will view things the same way they do. This bias “reduces the feedback-giver’s ability to see the need to provide more concrete, useful information” (Cannon and Witherspoon, 2005, P. 125). So, your boss most likely thinks that you two see the world in the same way and therefore believes that you have received appropriate and helpful feedback.

Make sure that your boss knows that you want to improve
Minnikin, Beck, and Shen (2022) studied how feedback-givers perceive the motives of feedback seekers. They concluded that if the feedback-giver (your boss) believes that the feedback seeker (you) is seeking feedback out of a genuine interest in improving skills and performance, then the feedback giver will provide more feedback and will make a real effort to make the feedback actionable. However, if the feedback-giver thinks that the feedback is being sought just to create a good impression or gain a promotion, then the effort is far less energetic. So, if your boss believes that you want to improve, your boss will make extra effort to help you. Be sure to tell your boss directly that you are really trying to improve and are open to all feedback.

Get curious
If you want to be a terrific receiver of feedback, be as curious as you can. Ask questions (without interrogating or annoying). Try to filter through the information you receive, searching for the nuggets that can lead to improved performance. You can reflect back what your boss says as actionable feedback and see if you receive confirmation. For example, if your manager tells you that your writing is too jumbled, you could say something like, “If I were to reduce my reports to just a few bullet points, would that make them more digestible?”

Only you can gauge your tolerance for your current manager’s style. It may be that quitting is the right course of action for you. However, if you don’t want to be receiving the same feedback six months from now, it might be wise to see if you can learn more from your current situation.

 

References

Cannon, M.D. and Witherspoon, R. (2005). Actionable feedback: Unlocking the power of learning and performance improvement. The Academy of Management Executive, 19(2), 120-134. Retrieved on March 26, 2023, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/4166182
Minnikin, A., Beck, J. W., & Shen, W. (2022). Why do you ask? The effects of perceived motives on the effort that managers allocate toward delivering feedback. Journal of Business and Psychology, 37(4), 813-830. Retrieved on March 26, 2023, from https://uwspace.uwaterloo.ca/bitstream/handle/10012/17695/Minnikin%20Beck%20Shen%20JOBU.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
Stone D. & Heen S. (2015). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood. Penguin Books.
Udemy Business. (2018). 2018 employee experience report. Retrieved on March 26, 2023, from https://research.udemy.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Employee-Experience-Report-2018-2021-Rebrand-v4-gs.pdf

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