Q. I work as an assistant accountant and report to the chief accountant, who is highly skilled in the field but lacks time-management skills. For him, any time is story time, whether there is a report we are supposed to work on or not. I have tried hinting to him that I am a stickler for time but he doesn’t get it. How do I let him know that I am not comfortable with his behaviour without being offensive? He is my boss, after all.
Giving developmental feedback can be an unnerving exercise. It is not uncommon to find experienced line managers dreading the prospect of facing their direct reports to share negative feedback.
One can, therefore, understand your reluctance to share your thoughts with your supervisor concerning his tardiness.
But failure to offer developmental feedback robs those to whom it is due opportunities for growth. To quote Winston Churchill, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
There are instances where hints such as you are giving your supervisor are weak signals that can neither attract his attention nor prompt desirable change. Feedback is often most effective when it is clear and focused on creating awareness about an individual’s behaviour and its effect on others or their environment.
Your supervisor might not fully appreciate the impact of his garrulous disposition on the business or see the benefit of acting differently.
Ask him whether you could share your thoughts on how the business is affected by his behaviour, such as the impact of delayed reports. If he senses your feedback is well-intended and realises his behaviour affects others and the business, he might summon the impetus to change.
In any event, feedback is likely to achieve its purpose in the context of a meaningful working relationship. Difficulties arise when it is either vague or delivered crudely, causing unnecessary pain.
As you share feedback, consider the relationship with your supervisor and the words of Frank A. Clark: “Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.”