Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Let People Know How They’re Doing

Talk to me about my work!“I feel like my boss is unhappy with my work because I’ve made some mistakes. But, he hasn’t said anything to me and I’m afraid to ask him about it.”  That was the tone of a recent question to the Ask the Workplace Doctors website.  (Dr. William Gorden, who served on the faculty of Kent State University’s School of Communication Studies for 25 years, is the founder of the site and the driving force behind it. I am one of the three primary contributors and I enjoy the opportunity to help people–some might say, to meddle.)

“How am I doing?” is a question we all need to be asking and it is a question we need to answer even before it is asked of us, in personal relationships as well as at work.

Letting employees know how they are doing in their work should be a regular supervisory activity.  Every day is an employee evaluation time. It is unfair and unproductive to wait until a formal evaluation interview, then give a broad, multiple-month impression of the quality and quantity of an employee’s work. Even if specific instances are cited, time will have reduced the effectiveness of the critique or commendation.  

An irony about work evaluation: The longer we wait to tell people about work problems, the more likely it is the wrong actions have become a habit. The longer we wait to tell people they are doing well, the more likely it is that they will stop doing well. Supervisors and managers should be communicating with purpose–with an emphasis on what should continue and what should be done instead. Frequent, quick communications about work can achieve much more than infrequent, closed-door talks.

Letting supervisors and managers know how they are doing should also be a regular activity.  It may not be possible for you to tell your manager or supervisor that his or her communication style is frustrating or irritating  to you or that work changes have been counter-productive, in your opinion.  However, it is possible to let the manager or supervisor know when the working relationship is going well or when decisions have had positive results. The advice to praise what you want to have happen more often applies very well in upward communications.

Friends and family want to know, too.  Look for opportunities to praise specific actions by children, spouses and friends. Also,  be honest enough to let people know if you feel hurt, frustrated or angry–and be specific about it rather than acting peeved, irritated, hurt or sulky about everything, not just the specific thing.

How am I doing? Ask the question if you are wondering.  Do others the favor of answering that question before they have to ask it.

August 31st, 2009 Posted by | Life and Work, Supervision and Management | 9 comments


  1. This is so true! Once when I was talking to my boss I finally got up the nerve to tell him I was wondering if he was mad at me. He said if he was mad I’d know it and if he didn’t say anything that was a sign I was doing good work. I wanted to kick him! It means a lot to have a boss talk to you about your work (as long as it’s not always criticism). D.

    Comment by denisek | September 1, 2009

  2. Hi Tina! You mentioned this topic in your class last week. I just have one problem personally and that is that I have less time on the job than anyone I supervise, so for me to be telling them they’re doing good work or bad work isn’t easy….and they don’t really care what I think anyway. If you have ideas about that I’d appreciate hearing them. Thanks!

    Comment by HarleyDude | September 1, 2009

  3. Tina says: Thank you denisek, as always, for your comments. No kicking!

    And thank you, HarleyDude for your question. I’m sending you an email about that issue. One way to talk to more tenured employees who are doing well is to ask them about how they developed their skills or to give you details about something that happened that day. In the process you can say positive things and be impressed…which is letting them know how they are doing.

    If a more tenured employee isn’t doing so well you may need to do some acting at first until you feel comfortable talking about it…but it’s your responsibility.

    I never have agreed with the ploy of trying to flatter a senior employee who is performing or behaving badly by telling him how much he can share with others, if only he will. That’s not always true!

    I’ll send you some specific thoughts about that, via email. Again, thanks for the comments!

    Comment by TLR | September 1, 2009

  4. I’m glad you mentioned personal relationships in this article. One of the biggest issues in family counseling is that children often think their parents dislike them….and vice versa. As they talk, they are surprised to hear how much they love each other and that they are actually proud of each other. Or sometimes they learn that something has been keeping them apart and they can fix it.

    Also, we’re using the material you sent. Thanks! R.M.

    Comment by Brother Bob | September 2, 2009

  5. Good idea and something I try to do, I guess because I like to know how I am doing too. P.

    Comment by P.A.H. | September 2, 2009

  6. I feel the pain of Harley Dude. There are some people in my group who resent a junior supervisor (me) giving them approval as much as if I was criticizing them. I don’t think there is any way to make them happy as long as someone younger than them is their supervisor.

    Comment by EagleEye1 | September 4, 2009

  7. Tina says: Thank you P.A.H., Bob and EagleEye, for your comments.

    Bob: Wonderful observations on your part! Thank you!
    Phyllis: I can tell you how you’re doing—great! 🙂
    EagleEye: You mention something I’ve been talking about lately in new supervisor training. For most people, critiques and compliments by supervisors have an element of control and superiority that irritates them–even when the comments are positive. Human nature.

    Instead of making your commmendatory remarks sound like you are giving approval, be admiring and appreciative in your tone and demeanor. Instead of, “Joe, you did a very good job of calming that angry person down”, say, “Joe, I really admired how you calmed that person down.”

    Instead of, “I’d like to see you do more of that kind of problem-solving.” say, “You made solving that problem look easy, but I knew there was a lot involved! That’s what all of us need to be doing.”

    It’s easier to take when a less tenured (and sometimes less competent) supervisor admires one’s work than it is when they take the “I approve, my child” approach.

    Comment by TLR | September 4, 2009

  8. I’m looking for information on studying for written promotional tests. Do you have anything like that? Thanks!

    Comment by H.R. | September 5, 2009

  9. Tina says: Thanks for checking, H.R. I sent you a short document I have, by email. Many have found it useful. Studying is a very personal activity, in that everyone seems to have a method that works for them. However, I do have a lot of experience talking to many candidates about what does and doesn’t work for them, which is why I wrote the document. Let me know if it’s helpful to you.

    Comment by TLR | September 6, 2009

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