Your Career: Make the Most of Negative Feedback

An employee receives harsh criticism during an evaluation and wonders if it is a “plot” to avoid compensation or promotion.  Some specifics from the boss would help.  

Q During a recent evaluation, my boss provided harsh feedback about my communication skills, citing issues like lack of clarity and being overassertive in my ability to communicate with my team, and that my tone often is perceived as combative. When I asked for examples, he said others spoke confidentially and declined to divulge their identities. I find this difficult to believe. How can I determine if this information is true or simply a plot to avoid the compensation/promotion discussion?

A Let’s approach this from three perspectives: you, your boss and your team. Do you believe there is any merit to what your boss has described, despite the anonymity? It’s often important to focus on the substance of the feedback (the “what”) rather than the “who.” Be careful about marginalizing it because of the source. Although some individuals enjoy poisoning the well, if similar feedback comes from multiple sources over time and in multiple settings, there’s probably some truth to it.

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It would have been better if your boss had provided details about your words, tone and body language to give you information about what to preserve and what to modify. Without those details, it’s challenging to know what your boss means. Three ideas:

Ask your boss to share with you a time when you exhibited these behaviors so you can “see” what your boss is sensing or what others are saying.

Invite your boss to give you private, direct and descriptive feedback right after an experience your boss finds problematic.

Encourage your boss also to share times when you interact with others in an exemplary way, and what those behaviors are.

I’m curious whether your interactions with team members are uniform, or varied by individuals and situations. For most of us, interpersonal communication varies by individual, situation, roles and current emotional/psychological drivers. If you have some team members who have your best interests at heart, consider asking them how they perceive your communication with them and others — specifically, if you come off as harsh, overly assertive or unclear. Also, consider a 360-degree/multirater feedback tool, which allows others on your team to share their experience of you in certain domains such as interpersonal communication.

The good news is that you care enough about your team to pose the question. The next step is to reflect and then take action.

Topics: Career Planning Journal

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