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How do I give critical feedback to my manager?

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Anonymous User at Taro Community7 months ago

Situation:

I recently started a new position and I'm facing challenges with my manager's communication style. It's making my onboarding process difficult and I've noticed it's affecting our team's culture.

Evidence:

  1. On my first day, there wasn't a structured 1:1. I received a call with scattered instructions about completing 4 PRs by the end of week 1. When I mentioned needing time for machine setup, signing up for health insurance and mandatory trainings, my concerns were dismissed.
  2. By day 4, I hadn't been assigned an onboarding buddy. When I tried initiating a discussion, my manager seemed to think it was unnecessary. During an impromptu meeting, I wasn't given a chance to speak.
  3. My manager suggested working during my vacation. During that vacation, I injured myself but hadn't completed health insurance formalities to see a doctor.
  4. In the first week, I saw my manager confront our designer aggressively during a standup.
  5. In week 2, I was abruptly reassigned to a different project without clear communication to other stakeholders.
  6. During week 3, my manager had a heated debate with our team lead during standup. When I tried mediating, I was told I could leave the call.
  7. Again in week 3, I was told to drop everything to complete a security training by the end of the day.

Environment & Manager:

Speaking with peers, it's clear I'm not the only one feeling overwhelmed. Our onboarding process seems disjointed and the team's morale is low due to constant shifts in priorities. This all seems to link back to our manager's communication style.

Seeking Counsel:

While I understand I'm new and might not have the full picture, I believe this issue is beyond just my experience. I'm looking for advice from:

  1. Someone within the company with the authority to effect change.
  2. Someone who has dealt with similar situations before.

Questions:

  • Given what I've shared, how would you handle this situation?
  • How can I maintain high performance when it feels like there are barriers?
  • How should I approach giving feedback to my manager?
  • Are there any strategies to improve my current situation?

Desired Outcome:

With your guidance, I hope to find a sense of balance and detachment, focusing on my role while navigating these challenges.

I genuinely want to make the best out of my current role and contribute positively to my team. Your insights and advice will be invaluable. Thank you in advance.

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Discussion

(4 comments)
  • 8
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    Tech Lead/Manager at Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    7 months ago

    I can potentially forgive a disorganized or scattered onboarding, especially if you're at a smaller company, but the more concerning aspects of your manager are the unhealthy team dynamic:

    • Aggressively confronting teammates or designers
    • Telling you to leave a call due to an argument with someone else

    These feel like red flags to me. In almost all cases, it's not worth trying to "fix" your manager. How hard would it be switch teams or even companies? The amount of effort you should put here depends on what your other options are to simply leave.

    In terms of how to address the manager:

    • I do think it's worth stating your observations directly to your manager. Write down some points (don't expect to have them memorized) and tell your manager you'd like to do a "special" 1:1 to discuss your observations as a new person on the team. You obviously want to be careful how you present this, but you owe it to your manager to voice your concern if you do try an official channel like lodging a complaint.
    • Some of the examples seem egregious enough that you should elevate this to company staff, e.g. HR. Especially if multiple people on the team have the same complaint, I think it's worth notifying them. I would NOT expect them to do much, since HR is primarily intended to protect the company, but you also shouldn't face too many repercussions if you have the numbers working in your favor.
  • 2
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    7 months ago

    I'm going to be honest: You need to leave.

    #1 and #2 aren't great, but they're somewhat forgivable and I could see these issues being fixed. Pretty much everything from #3 and onward is very toxic behavior, and I have almost never seen someone recover from that. Anyone doing these things is just a bad person and terrible manager.

    That being said, it's much easier said than done to switch teams or jobs in the current economy. If you're going to try fix things, I recommend these resources:

    At a high-level, I recommend putting together a coalition, gathering evidence (screenshot all the things), and presenting a case to your manager. If that doesn't work, you can escalate to skip and finally HR.

  • 5
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    Tech Lead, Senior Software Engineer [L5] at Google
    7 months ago

    I concur w/ Alex and Rahul in that your manager exhibits toxic behaviors, seemingly ignoring basic well being of people on the team. It seems that you've only been here for a month or so, so I think the easiest course of action is to leave. I would want to see whether one of the other roles you turned down might still be looking and would be interested in re-offering you.

    I genuinely want to make the best out of my current role and contribute positively to my team. Your insights and advice will be invaluable. Thank you in advance.

    However, it seems you want to stay and try to make this work. I've gone down this path before and I can think of the two outcomes that can be "good": (1) your manager is removed from their position as the team's manager, (2) your manager's toxic behavior improves for whatever reason.

    The "neutral" and most likely outcome is (3) nothing really changes but you put your head down to work and protect yourself from as much further damage. However, this outcome is not something you want, because it forces you to be overprotective, is still going to be extremely stressful, and could traumatize you for future roles. So in my opinion, this option is actually a "bad" outcome - if you were thinking of going for (3), you might as well leave.

    First - take care of yourself.

    No matter the outcome, your immediate concern is to make sure to take care of yourself. This means physically and financially - make sure you sign up for your health insurance, get any medical treatment you need, and properly setup your 401k or whatever other financial benefits you are expected to receive. Do not worry about contributing to the team until you've taken care of yourself.

    And secondly, you will need to pay extra attention to your mental health for the duration of this... struggle. No matter how much you try to put your head down and work, it's going to be emotionally draining, and it's going to take a long time to resolve. I would advise against working any more than you need to - going above and beyond in this type of situation isn't likely to get recognized.

    Coalition Building Stage: Take care of your peers

    No matter which of the "good" outcome you decide to go for, you are going to need allies.

    If you've only been here for several weeks and your manager's already been this toxic, I can't imagine how much toxicity your teammates and peers has already observed.

    I would proactively schedule 1:1s with your immediate peers and support them in anyway you can. Reach out to your team lead and designer - if they want to vent, just listen and empathize.

    Your goal during this stage is two fold - provide care and psychological safety for your team, and to gather information. Specifically, you would want to have a pretty good grasp for the following questions:

    1. How long has this been going on? Has your manager always been like this, or are there specific stress factors that's forcing out their worst behavior (it doesn't excuse it, but it could point to the fact that it may be addressable)?
    2. Has anyone on the team had positive experience with your manager and would vouch for them?
    3. Has anyone reported this up to the skip manager or HR? If so, how was this received? Are there company surveys that points the issues?

    Even if you are planning to directly give your manager feedback, it's important you build allies on the team first, will at least have someone on the team looking out for you if your manager decides to retaliate.

    Giving Feedback to Your Manager

    I think you only want to attempt this if and only if...

    1. Your manager's toxic behavior are irregular - people say they are not like this normally.
    2. You have somehow earned your manager's trust.

    If either is untrue, it's extremely unlikely your direct feedback will have its intended effect. If your manager has always been toxic, it's unlikely that you are able to change something that's very fundamental to the way they manage - and you should be able to figure this out with Question #1 from above. If you manager is only occasionally toxic but usually very understanding and has expressed desires to improve (but just don't know how), there's hope.

    If you don't have your manager's trust, they are likely to see your feedback as an attack and retaliate in some way shape or form. To know whether it's possible to earn your manager's trust, Question #2 is very important. If someone else on the team has managed to establish good working relationship with your manager, that means it's possible for you to do the same using similar methods. If not... you are going to be treading in unknown waters. Ultimately, people who display toxic behavior are usually scared, isolated, and distrustful - you are going to somehow win them over and have them believe that you are one of their allies in order for you to be able to help them improve.

    Getting Your Manager Removed

    Assuming you can't safely give your manager feedback, the other possible solution you can attempt involves some aggressive action: find a way to remove your manager, or at least apply pressure to your manager from the top. Question #3 should inform you whether pursuing this path is worthwhile at all.

    If someone has already brought this issue up to your skip manager / org leadership, and they haven't done much about it, then this path is unlikely to succeed.

    If no one have, then there may exist an opportunity to bring direct feedback up the chain to compel a change. Personally I would prefer to raise those issues with your skip instead of HR.

    To do this effectively, you are going to need a lot of evidence. A lot more than what you've presented to us so far. Further, what you want need to be able to do to describe the pattern of toxic behavior, and what the effect of that is on the individuals on the team. This is also a lot more effective if as many individuals as possible speaks out at the same time.

    Note - after doing this, you may be asked to bring this feedback directly to your manager. At this point, you can do this, assuming that you trust your skip to support you. Even if your manager attempts to retaliate then, you presumably will have higher powers protecting you from harm. However, I think it's quite unlikely at this stage that your manager will change their behavior, and in fact quite likely to double down and try to defend themselves. Still, the same thing applies - you need to find a way to earn their trust that you are trying to help them, not to attack them.

    These "good" outcomes aren't very good.

    I have personally contributed to an outcome where my toxic manager was removed. Was it worth it? No:

    1. The whole thing took 6+ months.
    2. The team was dissolved/absorbed as soon as the leadership found an excuse to do so; most of my peers left soon after.
    3. The manager attempted to damage my performance rating and bitterly left the company.
      1. No one on the team gained anything from this career wise. It's almost impossible to earn good ratings during this type of chaos.
    4. I still had to find a new team within the company to join for my own wellbeing and growth.

    This is why leaving a toxic situation is usually the best thing to do.

    If it helps, manager performance depends a lot on retention. So by leaving, you are signaling that this manager has a problem, and you are likely to have contributed to the final resolution without inviting open confrontation.

  • 2
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    Career Coach • Former Head of Engineering
    7 months ago

    Rahul, Alex and Kuan raised a lot of great points already, so I would just reemphasize the idea of "not trying to do too much to fix a clearly broken situation".

    It would be pragmatic to limit the resources you spend trying to fix this issue head on. There are probably better ways to allocate your energy and career capital such as:

    • Finding ways to remove yourself from toxic situations (e.g. I think this situation is beyond the point of moderating) and get the your work done peacefully -- it's not worth cost to your mental health honestly
    • Look for other career opportunities such as internal team transfers, reconnecting with people/companies in your network that you have rapport, and working on some side projects that gives you energy
    • Spend more time bonding with others who are struggling with the same thing. Some of my deepest relationships came from common hardship at work and we've stayed in touch several years after leaving the company