Three coaches and leaders give their advice to an everywomanNetwork member who has received some difficult feedback.
‘My boss has just told me that his boss, who is the head of my division, doesn’t rate me or think much of me. It wasn’t surprising news, but to hear it put so bluntly — and for what I consider quite weak justifications — has rattled me. What are my options? Do I have it out with my boss’s boss and risk putting my own boss in a bad light; put a lot of effort into trying to change his view of me; do nothing; or leave?’
BE PRAGMATIC AND ASK YOURSELF ‘DOES IT MATTER’? SAYS HR PROFESSIONAL HELEN THOMPSON
It’s a natural human response for most of us to have a bit of an emotional reaction when we hear something like this. My starting point though would be to think about what the impact of this actually is — before you make any moves. It’s about being slightly pragmatic and asking: ‘Does it matter?’ Are you interacting with this leader on a regular basis? Is he determining your career prospects? Are you intending to stay at your company? Because the amount of time and effort you put into dealing with this ‘issue’ should be proportionate to what you’re going to get from it, and it might be appropriate to just leave things if there is no real impact to you.
If you feel there is an impact, then go back to your line manager and ask to follow up on this conversation and get clarification. Say, ‘This is what I heard it, and this is how it made me feel. And this is what would have been more helpful to me’. There is a danger here that your boss has made a throwaway comment without realising the impact it would have on you. In my career, I’ve seen circumstances where somebody has said something and the way in which somebody has received that comment has not been what was intended. However, I’m also unclear as to what this line manager was hoping to achieve, because if they are looking for a performance change then saying ‘My boss doesn’t think much of you’ doesn’t help anyone. Hiding behind somebody higher up in the organisation won’t gain trust and respect from team members.
If you then decide to speak to your line manager’s boss, understand what you’re looking for from that conversation. Are you trying to get clarification? Are you trying to understand what was said and why? Are you asking for feedback? Are you trying to defend your position? Frame the conversation in line with, ‘I am committed to performing well in my role and being well-regarded, and I hear that this is not the view you’re holding. Please can you give me feedback on what you would expect me to do differently?’ The mature way to approach it is as a point of growth and framing it like this is also less likely to get a defensive reaction. Finally, leaving the organisation feels like an extreme reaction, but it does depend on what else is going on. If this is an example of something more systematic within the culture, then there is a question to ask around whether that’s the cultural environment that will enable you to thrive and be successful in.
Helen Thompson is an HR leader in the energy industry.
Helen Thompson is an HR leader in the energy industry.
GET FEEDBACK TO TURN THIS FROM SOMETHING YOU HAVE TO ‘DECODE’ TO SOMETHING CONSTRUCTIVE, SAYS EXECUTIVE COACH RASHEED OGUNLARU
You say this feedback wasn’t surprising news to you and what this points to for me is that there may be an issue in terms of culture, working relationships or communication in your workplace. There are personality clashes and politics in any organisation, but that’s why it’s important for you firstly to think about how you personally feel about this environment and this team, about how you’re doing, how you feel about your performance and where you are in the company — before going too far down the line and becoming too worried by this particular piece of feedback. How do you feel about your role? How supported do you feel? And is it a company that you want to work in and see yourself progressing in?
This situation also brings up how effective your boss and your boss’s boss are at feedback and possibly at creating and supporting that professional development for you. If it’s an organisation and a role that you’re passionate about then what’s going to be important here is to get perspective and constructive, honest and considered feedback. You have to turn this experience from something you’re having to ‘decode’ into something that is constructive in terms of your own development.
It might also be worth getting feedback from people you know, like and trust within the company about your role and how you perform, because this situation could knock your confidence and your perception around your competence. Part of the role of a manager too is to help you develop. So, if you do want to stay, have a chat with your line manager, referencing their comment about their boss’s feedback, and saying, ‘I’m really keen to progress and in our next session could we look at where you feel I’m strong and what are my areas for development’. What this does is force the hand of your manager and your manager’s manager to make sure that they are constructively rather than potentially destructively giving you feedback — and taking control to make this situation part of your ongoing development.
However, if you don’t feel that your workplace is a constructive environment where you can progress then you might want to gently start to think about where you might want to be instead, rather than getting caught up in this — obviously while ensuring you do a good job day-to-day and letting people know in team meetings what you’ve contributed, so they are in no doubt about what you do and how well you do your job.
FIND THE EMOTION UNDERNEATH YOUR REACTION TO GUIDE YOUR NEXT MOVE, SAYS EVERYWOMAN TRAINER AND COACH LUCY BALL
If I were speaking to you in person I’d ask, ‘What does ‘rattled’ feel like?’ Try to get to the emotion underneath that — is it fear, sadness, anger, shame? Once you’ve done that, ask yourself what the need is behind that emotion — for example, behind shame is often a need to feel valued, behind anger is often a need to assert yourself, behind sadness is often a need for support and behind fear is often a need for safety or reassurance. If you can get to the underlying need, then you will be better placed to get that need met. From what I read in your letter I am guessing you may feel some anger? This can be a positive emotion because it gives you energy to be brave. And I am going to suggest that rather than do nothing or leave, you need to have some brave conversations. The aim of these conversations will be to get clear on what people need from you and to communicate what you need from them.
What you have heard is feedback about someone’s perception of you and I would suggest you try to understand this more clearly. A direct conversation with your boss’s boss could be helpful but try insofar as it’s possible to listen without defensiveness. I would also suggest you share your dilemma with your line manager first and make a plan, telling him you would like to understand the feedback better, but you don’t want to break confidentiality and ask whether he can help you to work out how to do this. When you speak to your boss’s boss look for the ‘ask’ behind the feedback — for example ‘I don’t think much of you’ suggests they have an idea of what ‘good’ looks like and therefore what they would like to see you do differently. You don’t have to agree to or comply with what they ask, but at least you will be clearer and have more to go on.
I am curious about your line manager though — what does he think of your performance? Does he agree with his boss? If he does, then it’s his responsibility to help you develop. In my view, it’s not OK for him to just be ‘the messenger’. Ask for what you need from him clearly as well. If you want some extra help with how to have clean and brave conversations about what you need and what others need from you, I highly recommend looking at the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg.