Dear Manager, I am sorry I suck at feedback.

Dear ,

I have been failing our company and failing you – personally. I withheld valuable feedback.
To say that feedback is essential is an understatement. All human progress comes from experimentation, analyzing results, and tweaking the actions, one small challenge at a time.

I would even identify the most significant societal challenges as breakdowns in feedback cycles:

  • Obesity would not be an issue if a tasty cookie did not deliver faster ‘positive’ feedback than years of exercise and proper nutrition,
  • Climate Change is a result of quarterly profit cycles providing more immediate data than decade-long weather pattern changes,

We do a thing that we think is good, we get a consequence three decades later and are surprised what exactly is behind this result. Humanity is not built to work at this scale.

But let’s get back to business and the case at hand. Lack of feedback UP the „chain of command” is how companies fail. On paper, big organizations have every advantage. But as the company grows,  „The franchise blinders harden” – as Safi Bahcall phrased it in Loonshots. Ben Horrowitz agrees, and in  Hard Thing about Hard things identifies that „The biggest problem is the one that blindsides you.”.

No wonder that effective leaders not only shy away from feedback but crave and ask for it. I know you are the same way. You ask for feedback, you act on it swiftly and everything is better after the exchange. And yet, I haven’t been giving you enough feedback to you, and I find it hard to pinpoint why.

Following reasons come to mind:

  1. I consider myself a competent professional. As such, I pride myself in taking on challenges and solving problems. My default is to take your suggestions as a challenge and run with it.
  2. I noticed it’s easier for me to disagree with “two levels up” than with you. I am not sure what is causing this. Maybe I am afraid of bringing this up so you won’t retaliate on my performance review? I know this is ridiculous!
  3. I am pretty outspoken and have publicly passionately argued with the company direction. Everybody (including you) assumes that I will have the same force in private conversations, but it’s not true. Privately, I tend to concede much faster.
  4. I optimize my career to work with smart people on exciting projects. You can teach me a lot, and I always assume that you know a little more (or a lot) than me and have stuff figured out way better than me.
  5. Lastly, we all work remotely. I know blaming this on the remote environment is a noob move, but it’s tough to catch the misunderstandings early. When we are not on the same page, it’s really hard to see if it’s a communication problem, or we have different points of view.

Because of these points, I have robbed you of valuable feedback. There were situations where we disagreed, and I conceded when I shouldn’t have. I did not want to introduce more tension or come off as stubborn because I have behaved so in the past.

What can I do?

I don’t think being more outspoken is the way I want to pursue. I am plenty vocal already so that I will try a different route:

Whenever the „I don’t think he’s right”  thought appears, I will note it diligently and set time before our 1:1 to make sure my opinion still has merit. If that will be the case after a few days, I will bring this up on our 1:1. That’s what they are for.

I know this feedback is valuable for you, and I know you will act on it. I need to be better at giving you the opportunity to improve.

Sincerely, Artur.

PS: Dear commenter, if you have any tips on how to be better at giving feedback to your manager, please share!