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I work in a company of about 100 people. Recently, the company decided to do some restructuring, which means that I now have someone new as my direct reporting manager.

The other two people on my team and I are all very disturbed by the way the new manager communicates with us, gives us feedback, and generally manages us on a day-to-day basis. We are all demotivated and morale is poor. I decided to sit down with my manager one on one and discuss what is happening, how myself and the team are feeling, and what I proposed to improve the situation. I tried to be very clear in pointing out that none of it is personal, and that I want to work with her to solve the problems that I see on my end.

She reacted badly, rationalizing every concrete example I explained, and told me that I was giving "unfair feedback." In a subsequent meeting, her first question to me was if I had any more "disastrous feedback" for her.

Another coworker on my team also tried to bridge the gap with our manager, and was told that she was rude, negative, and gave "stupid examples."

EDIT: This manager did indeed ask for us to give her feedback on how she's doing since this isn't a field she's managed before or knows much about.

How does one solve workplace problems with a manager who takes all criticism personally and in a very negative way?

  • 6
    Short answer: Go to HR or the Boss's Boss. – Sandra K May 19 '18 at 18:09
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    Short answer 2: Search for a new job. – Michael Karas May 19 '18 at 18:35
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You have a number of specific problems with this manager. You've put some thought into them, made a list, maybe seen a pattern emerge. You've tried to come up with fixes for some of them, but when you tried to share your list and your fixes, it didn't go well.

OK, plan B. Are there fixes you don't need permission for? For example, giving the boss regular status updates, or starting each day by reviewing your workflow tool (eg Jira, whatever) to see if the boss made changes without telling you? Are there fixes you could implement with the help of the other team member, such as cross-team communication that doesn't go through your boss (possibly cc-ing to be on the safe side) or a shared wiki?

Are there changes you can make to the way you communicate with your boss? For example, some bosses deal poorly with emails that have more than one action point in them. Some of them answer just one and think they're done, while others camp on the whole thing until they can answer all of them. If your boss has this weakness, you can just start sending only one question per email. If your boss uses horrible subject lines, you can be the one who changes subject lines or starts new email threads. If your boss does the "omg it's 4:30 what have we got to show for this day I think I'll go pester everyone" end of day panic, you can set that time aside in your own planning to be free for that conversation, or you can send status updates at 4pm to try to stave them off (or both.) If the boss never seems to answer an email before noon, you can make sure you have something to do all morning while you're waiting for your answers. And so on.

If two different people think your boss is not managing you well, and your boss is getting defensive when you say so, then something definitely needs to change. But it's clear your boss isn't going to let you change their behaviour at the moment. So change as much of yours as you can and things may get better. If they don't, when you go up a level to complain, you'll be able to show what you tried before escalating, and you'll have a more complete list of the problems and what fixes do and don't work for them.

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    "For example, some bosses deal poorly with emails..." Isn't that just gross incompetence in someone who is supposed to manage people? – gnasher729 May 19 '18 at 21:42
  • not really (though that's kind of irrelevant in this case, since you don't get to declare your boss grossly incompetent and get a new one) -- emails with multiple questions are hard to handle. Remembering that even though you replied you still have more replies to send is hard work. Especially if your boss is incompetent, lowering their workload is defensive working. It can also work even if your boss is competent. – Kate Gregory May 20 '18 at 0:35
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You don't normally criticise your manager without being asked to do so by themselves or their bosses (for example within the 360 degree feedback) and even then you should be extremely careful while doing so.

A much better solution is to make positive suggestions concerning communication, work organisation, etc. The clue is to formulate it as suggestions how to make your work better, not feedback on their skills. And even if you do formulate it as a win-win suggestion you should be super diplomatic when expressing it.

I've worked with many managers, some of them good, some of them disastrous, but even with the good ones I can't think of even one who would have reacted positively to me saying "I would like to give you some feedback on your communication/management style" and then proceeding to explain them what they should do better.

Basically, the main decision is how important the issue is.

  • If it's very important, e.g. your manager asks you to do things that are illegal, go against the interests of the company, they are bullying or similar, you need to be assertive but then, if nothing changes, you might want to escalate to the HR or your boss's boss, because your boss won't listen to you anyways
  • If it's less important (communication style, disorganisation, etc.), be assertive, make suggestions, "cover your a**", ask them why they did something. But don't ever "give your boss feedback" on their behavior. In some cases you simply need to let it be and let your manager commit their errors.

To be honest, I think in this case you went too far, but also your boss's reaction was very strange - way too emotional and not self-confident enough.

  • The OP may or may not have gone too far, but I don't see anything in the post that would indicate that. – jcm May 20 '18 at 10:33
  • @jcm, the question was edited after I published my answer. But yes, I do believe that you shouldn't "give feedback" to those above you without them encouraging you to. Discussing problems and giving feedback are two different things for me. – BigMadAndy May 20 '18 at 11:50

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