Why Managers Suck at Giving Feedback and How to Coach Them

Far too many managers avoid giving employees feedback, especially when it is negative. Managers suck at giving feedback because they don’t have time, training, or resources to provide employees the critical feedback necessary to improve. Moreover, providing effective feedback to employees isn’t easy. Dealing with human emotions at work can be an awkward, uncomfortable, and scary experience. As a result, managers avoid giving employees the critical feedback necessary to improve. Coach your managers to give critical feedback by helping them overcome the following areas so they can deliver the critical feedback the employee needs to improve.

If you aren’t focusing on helping your managers deliver better feedback, your employees are the casualty. Eventually, underperforming employees go into the progressive disciplinary process and ultimately lose their job. Your employees deserve better. Blaming employees for non-performance when managers don’t deliver critical feedback is unacceptable. Consequently, your managers fail too because a manager who can’t help employees improve is of no use to your business. So this article will outline why managers suck at giving employees feedback and how you can coach them through each area.

1) Managers are uncomfortable delivering critical feedback because it makes the employee unhappy

Most managers believe that when you provide positive feedback, the employee is happy. They also believe that when you provide critical feedback, the employee walks away feeling awful. Most managers naturally avoid making their employees feel unhappy. But, how happy is an employee at work when they aren’t meeting the expectations of their role? How happy are they when they don’t see their name on the leader board?


How to coach a manager to feel comfortable delivering critical feedback

Managers who focus on how unhappy critical feedback would make their employees feel aren’t thinking about how unhappy they already are. Most employees don’t want to end their shift feeling like a failure. However, that is precisely how employees feel when their manager sucks at giving feedback and doesn’t address their poor performance or coach them to improve.

Help your manager recognize that without the feedback, the employee is already unhappy because they can’t meet the expectations of the job. They go home every night feeling like a failure. Providing critical feedback on how they are doing and how they could improve helps them feel successful and satisfied in their job.

2) Managers suck at giving feedback because they are afraid of how employees will react

Managers are afraid because they don’t know how the employee will respond to the feedback. They fear the critical feedback will worsen the situation or that the employee will take the feedback the wrong way. Finally, managers suck at giving employees critical feedback because they fear it will demotivate them.


How to coach a manager to overcome their fear of giving critical feedback

Here again, the employee is already demotivated because they are a bottom performer. Giving employees the critical feedback they need to improve is best accomplished by having them self-identify where they are failing. Help your manager learn to ask better questions during their coaching session and one-to-ones that get the employee to talk about where they feel they need to improve. A well-designed questioning strategy leads the employee to the result you are looking to achieve.

Getting this step right means the employee won’t react or cause the situation to get worse. They won’t take the feedback the wrong way because it will come from themself. Additionally, the employee will be motivated to correct it because they identified it, which means they will take more ownership.

3) Managers are afraid of confrontation

Most managers, especially new ones, don’t naturally confront conflict head-on. Delivering critical feedback creates a situation where conflict will arise. They are afraid of how the employee will respond. Additionally, managers lack confidence in their own communication skills and ability to deliver feedback. They also fear they will struggle to remain confident about where the employee needs to improve. So managers suck at giving critical feedback because they are afraid of the unknown.


How to coach a manager through their fear of confrontation so they can deliver critical feedback

We overcome fear all the time but often don’t remember the pain of working through it. Think back to when you first started driving. Getting behind the wheel was scary. Keeping the car in the lines puts you on edge. No one knows how to act when each vehicle arrives at the stop sign at the same time. However, with practice and facing your fear, you were able to drive confidently and handle four-way stops. Find a story your manager would relate to and highlight the evidence they overcame their fear.

Additionally, help them practice delivering critical feedback. Conduct roleplay activities where you play a difficult employee. Avoid roleplay where you make it too easy, but at the same time, don’t make it so hard it confirms their worst fears. Roleplaying coaches your manager to overcome their fear of giving feedback so they can deliver the critical feedback the employees need to improve.

4) Managers are worried about their employees’ feelings

Most people don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings intentionally. Managers know how difficult it can be to receive critical feedback. They don’t want their employees to feel threatened, defensive, or discouraged. As a result, they withhold or sugarcoat the feedback which eliminates the value. Managers suck at giving feedback because they think it will hurt the employee’s feelings.


How to coach a manager who is worried about their employees’ feelings to give feedback

It is natural to want to avoid hurting people. However, feedback is a gift. As with the previous ways your managers suck at giving feedback, underperforming employees already feel discouraged and threatened. They rarely get public praise because they aren’t performing. Additionally, there is likely peer pressure to perform if you have team-oriented goals. Help your manager set realistic goals and encourage their employees to share concerns freely.

Coaching your managers to give feedback by helping them recognize that withholding critical feedback causes the employee to withdraw from the team. They already know they are a bottom performer or causing the team to miss its goal. Giving the employee the critical feedback they need improves their feelings about the job and improves their confidence.

When people don’t know how to do something, they procrastinate or avoid the painful process altogether. Managers are no exception to this rule. Without training and coaching on how to deliver critical feedback, the employee suffers and so does the manager. Underperforming employees are unhappy as are managers who lead them. Your managers suck at giving employees feedback, so help coach them through it so they and the employee can feel satisfied and happy at work.


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Jason Cortel is currently the Director of Global Workforce Management for a leading technology company. He has been in customer service, marketing, and sales services for over 20 years. In addition, he has extensive experience in offshore and nearshore outsourcing. Jason is an avid Star Trek fan and is on a mission to change the universe by helping people develop professionally. He is driven to help managers and leaders lead their teams better. Jason is also a veteran in creating talent and office cultures.

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