Subordinates need accurate and timely feedback in order to improve. Managers are particularly well placed to provide such feedback, as they have a better view of the big picture and their experiences should help them separate better the most relevant causes of performance.
In practice, however, giving feedback is not managers favourite activity, especially corrective feedback. Bosses first concern is that such discussions are often unpleasant. Emotions can run high, tempers can flare. More daunting still, these discussions often make things worse rather than better. Subordinates response often leads the boss to push harder and harder, which can result in either or both of two bad outcomes: The boss holds his ground and ends up making very critical comments, or decides to fold at some point leaving the issues unresolved. In both cases the two parties exit the meeting worse off than they entered it, professionally as well as personally.
There is no denying that subordinate defensiveness can play a significant role in these escalations. But so does the mindset with which the boss approaches the situation. In this article, Jean-François Manzoni, Associate Professor of Accounting and Control, describes how many managers approach giving feedback with a narrow and binary mindset that then remains frozen through the encounter. Based on a discussion of the causes of this phenomenon, the article proposes a more productive way for managers to think of, and approach, the difficult task of giving corrective feedback to employees.
Harvard Business Review, September 2002