Not feeling heard at work is frustrating, to put it mildly, and some new research could help explain why some bosses are so resistant to employee feedback. Managers who feel insecure may be less likely to seek out suggestions from their underlings, a team of researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of Texas at Austin report in an upcoming issue of the journal Organization Science.
The researchers surveyed 41 managers and their 148 employees at a large oil firm, and found that the lower bosses rated their competence, the less likely they were to solicit feedback from their employees, or to listen to their ideas. This could be because, as the researchers write in Harvard Business Review, insecure managers may tend to take feedback as a personal insult; they may “feel that employee suggestions are a personal and negative commentary on their ability to do their job,” they write.
If you suspect you may currently be working under an insecure manager, the study authors have some suggestions:
Take steps to disarm defensiveness: When you do speak up, consider doing it in private, rather than in front of others. This will help your manager to “save face” and minimize any feelings of threat.
Give your manager a morale boost before offering constructive criticism: Compliments can go a long way. Highlighting your manager’s strengths affirms his ego and may reduce the degree to which he or she is threatened by your opinion.
Pitch the positive: Frame improvements by simultaneously emphasizing potential gains for the company and deemphasizing your managers’ liability. And certainly, avoid implying that the situation that needs improving is your manager’s fault.
Be a little gentle with your insecure boss’s fragile ego, in other words, and they may be more receptive to hearing what you have to say. Sometimes, as the business books say, you’ve got to do a little managing up.