How to draw out coaching and feedback from your manager

Dear Joan:

I have been on the support person’s side of the situation described in your recent column, “Manager has a Responsibility to Tell it Straight’ Anything Less Shortchanges Employee.” Could you please provide some ways for the support person to initiate the conversation with the professional? I guarantee that “Sue” is aware that “Jack” isn’t happy, but doesn’t know why.

If I don’t know what’s wrong, I can’t fix it. 


Here is an excerpt from the column you mention: 

…One of the professionals will engage his support person for administrative help on a project – a detailed report, a complicated spreadsheet, a marketing project, a presentation, etc.  The administrative person will complete the project. Then the professional will find mistakes, errors, omissions, or other errors on the project.  “It is horrible – all wrong!”  The professional will sit and stew about it, and redo the entire project himself.   “I have to do everything myself!”  

Two weeks later, the professional will come into my office and complain about the incompetence of the administrative person.  “Don’t say anything to her, but she can’t get anything right!”  

This aversion to direct feedback has reached pandemic proportions in many organizations. Managers are worried about creating a hostile relationship, getting sued or losing an employee in a tight market. Nonetheless, avoiding a little honest, straightforward conversation is not a cure—it creates a festering situation which only makes thing worse. 

Anyone who thinks they are “holding it in” is only kidding themselves. It’s shouting from every roll of the eyes, flip of the wrist or frown on his or her face. And right you are—the employee senses things aren’t right but he/she doesn’t know what to do about it. 

Here are some techniques for drawing out someone’s feedback, when they are reluctant to give it: 

  • Ask for regular face-to-face meetings weekly. They don’t have to be more than fifteen minutes to a half-hour. They will get you more comfortable talking with each other and give you both a forum in which to raise issues before they become critical. 
  • At least every six months, ask for an informal review of your work. If he or she waves you off with, “Oh, you’re doing fine,” or, “I don’t have time,” say, “I only need a half hour—I want to ask you about a few things in particular.” That will usually result in a conversation.
  • Check in after major projects and do a debriefing to discuss what you both think went well and what could have been done differently. 
  • If you sense tension (as in your case), chose a time when schedules aren’t rushed and approach the person with, “I get the sense lately that you are frustrated with me or unhappy about my work. I would like to correct whatever it is and I’d appreciate your honesty. I can’t fix it if you don’t tell me.” If the person denies it, site some behavioral evidence, “I noticed that you redid my work on the Comtec report, which suggests that you wanted me to handle it differently. Perhaps if we met briefly before the next project and discussed your expectations it would help me give you what you are looking for.” 
  • If you aren’t getting enough direction on the front end of projects, be proactive the next time you get an assignment and be ready with the following questions: What outcomes are you looking for? What do you want the finished product to look like? What are you going to use this for and who else will use it? Who do you think I should be working with/getting input from on this? What specific, key things are most important? What are issues/risks you want me to be aware of? When do you need the first draft on your desk?

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
About Joan Lloyd
Joan Lloyd & Associates provide
FREE subscription to receive Joan's article by email

Email Joan to submit your question for consideration for publication, request permission to reprint an article for distribution, or for information about carrying Joan Lloyd's weekly column in your publication, or on your Internet or Intranet site. Visit to search an archive of more than 1700 of Joan's articles.
© Joan Lloyd & Associates, Inc.