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How to Communicate Poor Decisions Made by Management

Managing Up
Internal Communication

29 February, 2020

Evan Carmi, Engineering Manager at Airbnb, discusses how to approach higher-level managers and express your dissatisfaction with the poorly made decisions.

Problem

As a frontline manager who manages direct reports, I daily manage up to higher-level managers. How we approach higher-level managers when we want to raise some issues and concerns and how we communicate about them. Particularly, what should we do when we believe that our leadership team made a poor decision and how we communicate that?
 

Actions taken

I always try to fully understand the situation and learn more about why, how and who made the decision. Even if I feel impacted or frustrated about the decision I want to learn as much as I can about the circumstances that could eventually change my perspective. This is where your curiosity should come to play.
 

If I continue to strongly feel that there were some gaps in how the decision was made and communicated, I would like to share my feedback on that. I am trying to be constructive and make tangible requests. Rather than stating what shouldn’t be done, I use more affirmative phrasing like If you were to do it in the future this way, it would have impacted me more positively. Or if I would like to be informed who is the final decision maker and when the decision needs to be made by, I would phrase it like If I would have that information I would do a better job at prioritizing my tasks.
 

In the end, there is room for open-ended feedback. For example, My PM got disappointed that we did x and not y. Can we let them know sooner next time? or Can we appreciate their work even if we decide to go a different route?
 

Lessons learned

  • It is important to start with curiosity because there can always be things we didn’t know before and which can reshape our understanding of an issue. Don’t jump to a conclusion without letting your curiosity do its job.
  • Be specific with your ask since it will be easier for a manager to support you. Can you do this because it would really help me to…?
  • Oftentimes people are just too busy and things get dropped. If you are willing to volunteer and offer your help they may work out.

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