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How to deal with receiving negative feedback as a manager

14 min read  |   9 August, 2022   By Aimee O'Callaghan

A group of people are in an office, talking
    

We know that negative feedback is hard to give - and even more so, to receive.  

Any feedback can be used to support continuous growth and honest conversations at work – even if it can be viewed as negative (and sometimes hard to hear). 

We spoke to Breathe partner Steven Rabson Stark of 360-degree feedback platform AdviceSheet to really explore what managers can do if they receive negative feedback.  

We dig into how building a feedback culture within your organisation is beneficial for everyone. We also look at why negative feedback isn’t actually a bad thing at all - but can develop your leadership capabilities.  

 

Negative feedback isn't a bad thing

Advice for managers who have received negative feedback

A deep dive to overcome micromanagement & negative feedback

How to embed a feedback culture into your workplace

 

Negative feedback isn’t a bad thing 

Despite what we’ve been taught, negative feedback isn’t anything to shy away from – and it isn’t anything to be embarrassed about. Not providing honest feedback is what we should be more concerned about, as this causes teams to stagnate.  

It can be very difficult for managers to receive negative feedback, especially from their team about something they could be doing better, or differently. But then more often than not, honest feedback is stifled, and teams continue working as if everything is fine.  

Steven Rabson Stark of AdviceSheet explains why difficult feedback should be viewed as a good thing – and why managers & teams should view it positively, to avoid the toxic stagnation of not raising issues and moving forward.  

After all, if we never learn to give or receive honest feedback, then we’ll never grow as individuals, as teams or as managers.   

  

Advice for managers who have received negative feedback 

So, you’ve received some feedback that isn’t positive. What next? 

Steve suggests the practical steps managers can take when faced with this situation. 

  

1. Framing the issue: feedback is good, even if it’s negative. 

So, maybe as a manager, you’ve done the big thing and asked for some feedback. And then, oh my god, your nightmare’s come true – you’ve actually received some negative feedback. What next?  

Often, we don't seek feedback because we're scared of what we're going to hear. But if you never get any feedback, how could you ever get any better at your job?  


No one's perfect, so if you ask for feedback you can expect to receive some that you will find uncomfortable - everyone has room for improvement. Firstly, you need to try and reframe the feedback as a positive thing that you can learn from.  

 

2. Practice regularly requesting feedback 

As a manager, asking for feedback is great because it helps you to be better, but it also models giving and receiving feedback for your team members.  

If you normalise getting feedback, it makes it easier for you to give feedback to other people and help them grow.  

 

3.  Be truly open to the feedback you receive 

If you’re truly open to feedback and are prepared to listen, this helps your team feel safe, and it creates conditions of trust.  
 

 
4. Build trust within your team 

If you don’t trust each other, then how can people safely challenge you? And if your team members don’t trust you, they won't tell you what they really think. Which means they’ll let you walk into mistakes, and absolve themselves of responsibility - they won't have your back.  

 

5. Create a positive cycle of feedback 

If you're not prepared to bend and listen to them, why should your team do that for you? 

We find that the managers that ask for feedback (and choose to do it often) are surprised by how good the feedback is. They also learn what people really appreciate, which helps guide them and build on their strengths.  

This means managers end up learning more about what they can build on rather than what you need to stop or change.  

 

A deep dive to overcome micromanagement & negative feedback 

We wanted to ask our expert, for some specific advice for managers about covering the hardest areas to give your boss feedback on.  

We focus on a common workplace problem where negative feedback is likely to occur. So, here’s some practical advice on what to do if a reporting employee feeds back that they feel micromanaged by you.  

  

A manager is accused of being a micromanager. Now what?  

So, you’ve been accused of being a micromanager. Steve advises first trying to work out why this might be true, and whether employees are being disempowered – hindering their growth and development.  

Causes & complications of micromanagement 

“Usually the reason for micromanaging is because you're scared,” says Steve. “In general when people feel unsafe, they tend to lean in and try to take control. So, the reasons for micromanaging can range from worrying about an aspect of work, being embarrassed that the employee’s work isn’t good enough, or the manager lacking confidence in their own role. Perhaps they’ve been recently promoted and are used to receiving credit for great work. But as a manager you’re not actually supposed to do the work anymore. Managers are supposed to help other people do the work, and – crucially – are meant to get validation from bringing other people forward.” 

Steve believes that micromanagers are wired to get gratification from doing the work and taking credit for that, and that micromanagement happens when managers feel unsafe, so they revert to controlling and often (sometimes even unintentionally) undermining behaviours.  

“The consequence of that is you’re robbing your people of the opportunity to get validated by being the people that do a great job (i.e. you, the manager).” 

 

How to move forward from micromanagement 

Steve advises that micromanagement is usually caused by two reasons: either the manager is frightened and doesn’t trust their people to do a good job, or they’re frightened because you don’t really know how to do the job of being a manager. 

Either way, Steve advises that what managers need to observe is that this causes harm – and the next steps are for the manager in question to have a conversation with their team about ways they can make them feel safe.  
 
“Explain to your team the things you need them to do so you won’t micromanage them. For example, can you make sure you report to me in these ways? I don’t need to micromanage if I know you’ve done X, Y and Z. As soon as you’ve done that, I’ll feel confident.” 

If the issue is because you’re not confident in your managerial role, then Steve advises the onus is on the manager to stop and have a really good think about what their proper job is.  

“A manager’s job isn’t usually to do the work. Your job is to help other people do the work. So how do you reorganise your time? And how could you measure your success in those criteria? Maybe you need some help, such as training or coaching. 

What isn’t going to help is reverting to type and not dealing with the issue - there's a learning edge that you need to address.  

That's your opportunity, to get stronger in those things, and then you'll do less micromanaging because you won't feel so anxious.” 

How to embed a feedback culture into your workplace 

Lastly, we wanted to know how SME managers can implement feedback cultures as part of their teams – and wider organisations. 

Steve has provided some tips & advice for managers on how they can integrate a culture of feedback into workplaces.

1. Reflect 

Make sure you take time to pause at the end of each project to reflect with your team on the lessons learned and what could have been better. If you don’t do that, you’ll continue to repeat the same mistakes.  

2. Discuss 

Also, at the end of each project or piece of work, practise talking with your team about the work, how you do the work, and how you all feel about the work. It will take a few times doing this to build enough trust to enable your team to go deeper with this.  


3. Evaluate 

As a manager, you could ask ‘how was this meeting?’ at the end of each meeting. You could ask your employees to all do a thumb rating on it and then discuss how you can improve meetings going forward.  


4. Clarify expectations 

It's hard to commit to an organisation if you're not sure how you're doing. It’s also hard for teams to commit to working for a manager fully if they don’t know where they’re at.  

If you're not getting feedback, then you might be confused about what's expected of you, and how you're performing against those expectations. So, aim to build in these three questions into performance and development reviews: 

  • What’s expected of you? 
  • How are you doing? 
  • Where are you heading?

5. Managers should ask for feedback from their team

As a manager you could regularly ask your team: how am I doing? Are you getting what you need from me? Are my expectations of you clear?  
 
By modelling feedback it’ll make it easier to create a structure for feedback in your review and development conversations, so people know they're going to get some feedback.  

 

6. Use the 360-feedback model 

 Managers can use 360-feedback to invite their team to feedback on each other. Ensure to model that yourself first before you ask other people to do it. After a 360, thank your team for participating and giving you the feedback and tell them what you've decided to take away from it, and what you will be doing as a result - so there is some accountability. 



Real conversations make real change 

 
In summary, managers shouldn’t see negative feedback as a bad thing – but as the chance to develop as a leader. 
 
All types of honest, proactive feedback provide the opportunity to build a strong team that works well and grows together.  
 
Find out more how your team can benefit from rich feedback & meaningful conversations with AdviceSheet. 

Aimee

Author: Aimee O'Callaghan

Aimee is a Content Assistant here at Breathe. She enjoys writing about topical HR issues and helping readers find solutions. In her spare time, she is commonly found amongst books.

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