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From The Glass Hammer, 10/15/14, Men Avoid Giving Feedback to Women — What You Can Do About It

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

Are you sometimes confused about whether your boss thinks you are doing a good job?

Does your male boss treat you politely, but you notice he doesn’t communicate with you often?

Are you puzzled about what it takes to be promoted in your organization?

Missing feedback from your boss is a big problem

If you’re wondering what you’re missing from your boss, it may be feedback–a vital nutrient for your growth & development. Feedback is simply information—whether it’s positive, corrective, or some of both. You may think that no news is good news, you must be doing well, and you’re lucky that your boss isn’t negative. But you’re probably missing out on some huge opportunities to learn and improve. You can’t accomplish much without the crucial information that only your boss can provide.

Honest, helpful and timely feedback—what I call everyday feedback–is already a sparse commodity, with 60% of all employees saying they want more feedback than they are getting from their bosses, according to Gallup’s extensive global research on employee engagement and other employee surveys.

Men are less comfortable giving feedback to women

Men hold back their honest feedback more from the women they manage more than they do from their male employees. Whether it’s advice about company politics, a speech you gave, or even how to dress appropriately for a company event, men hold back feedback that could help women get ahead.

Male executives are often uncomfortable mentoring women and giving them the “tough feedback” they need to grow into senior roles, according to research conducted by McKinsey and summarized by directors Joanna Barsh and Lareina Lee in their 2011 publication, “Changing Companies’ Minds About Women .” Male leaders are often reluctant to give feedback to the women they manage because they fear that women will react emotionally or even cry. Kristi Hedges, in her Forbes article, “”Why Men Hate to Give Women Feedback” points out the huge problem this represents because women must have the guidance that feedback provides in order to advance.

Male mentors have a greater comfort level with the young men they mentor. Much of the literature on successful mentoring points to a mentor’s ability to easily identify with the young or aspiring professional they support as a common characteristic of the best mentoring relationships. When a male mentor doesn’t see those common experiences in the women he is advising, he fails to initiate the frequent, informal conversations so important to being able to pass along his personal wisdom.

What can you do to get the feedback you need?

  1. Make your work goals known to your boss and ask for his advice about accomplishing them. Men find it easier to give you feedback about specific goals that you identify, rather than to start with behavioral performance feedback that you may misinterpret. You are also sending a signal that you want and need feedback.

  2. Ask for feedback during quick, everyday moments–right after a meeting, in the hall, or when there’s limited time. He will be more relaxed about making a couple of helpful comments and not have time to get stressed out or to over prepare for a “big deal” feedback session.

  3. Be a role model for giving and receiving feedback in any team you lead and share learning points from these conversations with him. You will be underscoring the importance you place on feedback, and setting a tone that it can be constructive, helpful, and even enjoyable.

  4. In areas where you sense he has constructive criticism, lay out some options you are considering and ask for his recommendation, e.g. “I would value your input about the meeting I’m leading tomorrow. Should I take more structured and directive approach or is it better to pause a lot for the quiet people and then steer the meeting based on their priorities?”

  5. Ask directly for feedback on some areas you think are important for your role. Based on perceptions you think you and he share, suggest one strength you feel confident about and one weak area you’re concerned about to kick off the discussion.

Above all, don’t ignore the importance of getting feedback from your boss. Even getting an incremental amount more than you are getting today can supercharge your path to success.

Published, October 15, 2014, at The Glass Hammer

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