Giving Feedback: Five Common Mistakes Asian Managers Make

In my work with managers in Asia, I am faced often with 5 consistent mistakes that managers make around negative feedback.  They are:

  1. Criticizing the person
  2. Assuming you are ‘right’ because you are senior
  3. Not asking for help
  4. Managing by ‘looking for mistakes’
  5. Avoiding giving negative feedback

Criticizing the person

By far, the most common mistake is to attack the person.  This includes using labels, complaining about the person to others, attacking the person’s character and assuming negative intentions. These behaviours are not helpful and give you and your subordinates much more stress than necessary.

Once you recognise that you are criticizing, stop and ask yourself about your own motives and fears in the relationship.  Check why are so ‘angry’ with this person and review your assumption of this person.   Remember that the purpose of giving negative feedback is to develop your staff so that they become more productive. Criticizing can destroy the self-esteem of your staff, so avoid criticizing and learn positive ways of managing your staff.

Assuming you are right because you are senior

Many Asian managers I speak with in my training programs, assume that when they are giving negative feedback, that they, the manager, are right and the staff is wrong.  Questioning the feedback is often labelled as ‘resistance’.  Total acceptance, deference to seniority and agreement is the preferred reaction.

I believe, while seniority and respect should continue to be a strong part of the way we manage staff in Asia, we should not forget that relationship and trust are also pillars of our culture. When a manager relies solely on hierarchy as a key element of feedback, this can cause staff to be over-compliant, angry or even irrationally fearful of the manager.

Endeavour to treat your staff with mutual respect.  You will find that that earned respect is much more fulfilling than respect based on seniority.

Not asking for help

Giving negative feedback can be difficult and, Asian managers, when encountering a difficult situation, often refuse to ask for help from either HR or senior managers or an external coach.   The manager feels out of control and ashamed that he is ‘not able to take care of his own shop’.

Recognise that there will be situations which you will not be able to handle alone.  Many senior managers are successful because they know when to ask for help.  I know of a senior manager in a large multinational bank who often gets advice and help from others when managing difficult situations — he knows that he must work in partnership with others like HR, to provide the necessary guidance and leadership that his team needs.

At times, effective feedback alone might not be able to help your staff. Other avenues such as employee counselling might be more effective in some situations — but you will never know until you ask for help.

Managing by looking for mistakes

A friend of mine tells me that her manager manages by looking and criticizing mistakes.  The manager throws a tantrum every week to ‘show’ her staff that she is in control!

Some managers feel that this gives them an air of sternness and control.  While this might be effective when leading a Mongol horde, managing by looking for mistakes can quickly demoralize your team.

Instead of looking for mistakes, you can take the opposite tack — look for good work.  Many of your staff will respond very quickly, productively and positively to consistent and genuine positive feedback from you.

Avoiding giving negative feedback

A manager told me that she had a problem with one of her subordinates but she wanted to wait for the right timing to give feedback.  Days turned to weeks and then months.  The feedback was not given and the subordinate continues to make the same mistake.   Many Asian managers find it difficult to talk about negative situations in a positive way and hence avoid feedback all together.

The result of avoiding feedback is most often repeat mistakes.   This is both frustrating for you and your subordinates and can be a real stress to your relationships at work.  When you avoid giving negative feedback your staff doesn’t have a clear picture of what you expect and you could end up resenting them for not meeting up to your expectations.

If you are making any of these 5 common mistakes, stop and resolve to learn ways to give effective feedback that builds both you and your subordinates into a highly productive team.

Stephen Yong, Principal Consultant for Blue Dot Learning, specializes in Leadership Skills for Junior to Middle Managers. For more information, please go to