my boss wants a “guide to getting the best out of me” — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

My boss, the head of a foundation with 10-15 employees, switches up annual review questions each year. The past three years, the questions have been reflective and mostly for staff’s benefit, according to him, and which I mostly experience as true.

This year, there were three short reflective questions and then a sheet titled “Guide to Getting the Best Out of Me” with these prompts:

If someone has coaching for me, here’s my best advice for how — and when — to offer it so I can hear it:
• Pet peeves about feedback:
• If triggered by feedback, how can others tell?
• Advice for handling or interpreting my reactions:
• Do I prefer feedback by phone/email/chat/in-person?

Am I off in thinking this is overly invasive? There’s a serious trend in the nonprofit/philanthropic space to lead with your heart. Even compared with those approaches, this demands a level of vulnerability I am not comfortable with, as the psychological safety is not present to support it. Consultants, stop pumping out this therapy-speak!

Additionally, my boss is a massive undermanager and fancies himself a mentor while avoiding hard conversations and leaning into passive aggressive staff meeting statements.

It’s a mix of intrusive and not intrusive.

It’s very reasonable to ask if you prefer to receive feedback by phone/email/chat/in-person — a lot of people have strong preferences in that area and it’s good for managers to know what they are. That doesn’t mean they’ll always be able to comply; sometimes circumstances might require that it happen a different way — but it’s still useful to know.

The question about how to offer feedback “so I can hear it” will be a little too touchy-feely for some people, but it’s not an outrageous framing. You could always write something bland like “I’m always open to feedback” or “No strong preferences.”

But “if triggered by feedback, how can others tell”? It’s pretty weird to assume you’ll be triggered by feedback at all. And triggered in particular is such a loaded word. It would be better framed as “if I disagree with feedback” or something else less intense/therapized than “triggered.” And frankly, if someone is regularly getting triggered by feedback, there’s a problem; I don’t like the way this question makes it sound routine.

This is made worse by the fact that your boss is “a massive undermanager who fancies himself a mentor while avoiding hard conversations and leaning into passive aggression.” If your boss were a good manager, I suspect these questions would grate less — they still would be A Lot, but they’d land differently than they do coming from a boss who is already getting the basics wrong. We can debate whether any managers should be delving into this kind of therapy-speak, but it’s particularly provoking from a manager who’s asking for psychological exposure without having done any of the work to make that a reasonable or safe request.

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