How Not To Give Feedback At Work

What is it that makes a good Real Estate Agent Great?An embarrassing thing happened to me the other day that I want to share and get your perspective on.

I’m in a coffee shop with my other half for breakfast. I order him a bacon butty. The barista, a fairly new guy, doing his best at smiley customer service, puts two sachets of ketchup on the plate that’s awaiting the toasting sandwich.

“It’s one sachet, not two.”

The manager appears from nowhere to deliver this piece of “on-the-job coaching”. Her tone is so accusatory, I feel I’ve been caught stealing cash from the till. The casual, comfortable spell between me and the barista is broken. He withdraws a ketchup sachet, offers me an unspoken WTF, and busies himself in making coffee.

“He’s always getting it wrong,” she says. “He knows the rules: one sachet per sandwich.”

Without another word, I pay my money  and take my tray to where my OH, along with the rest of the shop, sits having just witnessed the scene.

“There have to be other ways to deliver feedback to your people than that,” he says. I can only shrug.

But it got me thinking, and I’m curious to ask:

Has a manager ever pulled you up for something in front of a colleague, or client? Have you ever been a client where something like this has happened to you? And, as a boss, do you think this is the kind of way to develop not just your people, but your business relationships? Share your experiences in the comment box below!

Creative Commons License photo credit: homesbythomas

Sign up for your free ebook and newsletter!


  1. I know I shouldn’t really be shocked by the way that poor chap was managed, you hear of awful managers all the time don’t you? But for you to actually see it in action (and paint the picture so beautifully for us) makes it feel more real and shocking. Thankfully it’s never happened to me in this context (I think I would probably have cried!) but I have taken verbal abuse from a customer for something was the fault of the company I was working for at the time so I know how horrible it feels to be treated so inhumanely.

    I’m no expert when it comes to managing people (unless you count the little troop here at home!) but to my mind it all comes down to treating people with respect. The manager in the coffee shop would have hated being spoken to and about like that so if she could only have engaged her brain and shown a little empathy the whole situation could have been handled more pleasantly.
    .-= El Edwards´s last blog ..One surprising way to change the world =-.

    • Ah, empathy, El. It’s much underrated at work, I suspect.

      I was just thinking that, in the business world there’s all sorts of clever words and programs about “employee engagement”. But to me it comes down to treating people respectfully in every tiny interaction.

  2. Julie Walraven | Resume Services says:

    Wow, Christine! Since I hate (should say that stronger) I HATE being embarrassed in public and that includes being embarrassed by family members, I would be mortified if someone did that to me in public. Like El, I would probably cry. Not super professional, but people note that I am sensitive.

    That being said, you captured the moment very effectively and I am still reeling from the unbelievable impact of this interaction. I feel for the employee and if I was the manager’s supervisor, I would fire her!
    .-= Julie Walraven | Resume Services´s last blog ..The secret to connecting on Twitter =-.

    • You know what’s so sad, Julie? I know that this manager’s supervisor is at least in part to blame for the behavior. See, the shop is a franchise of a successful UK brand, and I’m sure and the owner is very driven by profit as she almost certainly has to pay a chunk of it back. I can just about hear her tell the manager to manage portion control very tightly.

      Yet for me it was a classic experience where the profit incentive had obliterated human interaction. :(

  3. I have the opposite kind of story. I was working in a bar a few years back and said something without thinking to undermine the manager’s authority. Not deliberate, it was just a thoughtless offhand comment. At the time he just looked at me, but towards the end of the shift he pulled me out into the kitchen for a private telling off. I never liked him much, but always respected him completely because of that one incident. He could well have bollocked me in front of the customers and the other bar staff but showed me the respect of allowing me to save face while still making it clear that he was not happy. That’s how it should be done.
    .-= Sheree´s last blog ..Hello world! =-.

    • What a fabulous example of the whole thing in reverse. And well done to your boss for showing how feedback on that kind of thing should be given: privately and – hopefully? – constructively.

      Thanks for being here, Sheree, and for sharing.

  4. Yup I’ve had this happen to me before for certain.

    I do remember it happening though in KFC once where I was a customer just like you Christine.

    It was a busy Friday night and there was clearly a new starter on the tills (not quite sure why’d you’d start someone on a Friday night but hey!). The order was simple enough but the mass of buttons and options to press was too much for the young lady and soon the till roll was full of items and voids.

    In an effort to sort the ticket over the girl called over her supervisor who proceeded to sort the problem out WHILST giving some of the worst feedback ever to her member of staff. The girl was mortified and clearly very embarrassed.

    What did I do? On a busy Friday night when I was hungry?

    Well after telling the young girl not to worry, I rounded on the supervisor and pointed out the error of their ways and how there was a massive difference between managerment and leadership. There was no coaching, no empowering “you can do better than this” insight from me it was 100% pure “you were crap and now I’m going to make you feel the way you just made her feel.”

    Interesting as I left I did catch an apology escape the supervisors lips.
    .-= Ben´s last blog ..3 Kick Ass Videos That’ll Inspire The Hell Out of You =-.

    • Wow!

      Thanks for sharing this, Ben.

      I’m not sure that I advocate giving folks a taste of their own medicine, but it seems to have had a positive effect in this instance.

  5. This happens all too often. Let me think about my current office for just a second. My bosses can give such “great” feedback and they seem to enjoy it more when they have an audience… Often it seems like one up man/womanship.
    I have seen people told well you should have used Arial font and that should be in bold. Pretty irrelevant “details” that have no impact on the quality of the presentation (when in fact the presentation has been excellent) and for others whose presentation has been crap (but had excellent formatting) they get a muffled well done.
    Seems to me that many managers completely miss the point and can’t get themselves/issues out of the way. Often a form of bullying.

    • Christine says:

      “Seems to me that many managers completely miss the point and can’t get themselves/issues out of the way. Often a form of bullying.”

      Fascinating take on it, as usual, Tim. And thanks for sharing it!


  1. Tweets that mention How Not To Give Feedback At Work | A Different Kind of Work -- says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jen Smith, Christine Livingston. Christine Livingston said: How Not To Give Feedback At Work [...]

  2. The secret to connecting on Twitter | Solutions from Design Resumes & Thoughts from Julie Walraven says:

    [...] minutes, Christine Livingston replied: “@JulieWalraven Brrrr. Cold one, Julie. Hope it’s a good one. And good morning [...]

  3. How Not To Give Feedback At Work: Part Two says:

    [...] may recall that last November I was talking about an experience in my local coffee shop of the store manager belittling a member of her staff in front of a client. [...]

Speak Your Mind


21,559 Spambots Blocked by Simple Comments

HTML tags are not allowed.

CommentLuv badge