when your boss has to correct your behavior, does it impact their impression of you forever?

A reader writes:

I’m in a bit of a bind: I struggle with anxiety and PTSD-ish symptoms stemming from my last job. I was in a very toxic environment in which my boss was extremely passive-aggressive and I was basically set up to fail from Day 1. Because of this, it’s difficult for me to accept criticism or correction from work superiors and coworkers without beating myself up about it inwardly (outwardly, I’m professional and proactive).

I can easily accept criticism about aspects of my job (e.g., “You should have run X analysis instead of Y”), but “social” criticism (e.g., “I’ve gotten feedback that you’re too loud in the office”) skewers me. I immediately assume that everyone in the office feels this way and that even if I correct the behavior, my boss will always remember and hold it against me (as they did at my prior job).

I am in therapy for my anxiety issues, but since this is Ask A Manager, I wanted to ask: typically, what is the thought process of a Good Boss once they’ve corrected an employee’s behavior?

With someone who’s outwardly professional about the feedback? “Great, she seemed to take that well — hopefully that will resolve it.” (And often with a side of “whew, I’m glad that’s out of the way.”)

And then later, if the behavior in question changes: “Yay, she took that feedback really well and fixed the issue!”

It is seriously a freaking joy to have an employee professionally and calmly listen to feedback and then make the changes requested. It can actually make the relationship stronger than it would have been if the feedback had never even needed to be given, because now it’s clear that you’re willing to take feedback seriously and work on things that are brought to your attention, and that’s hugely valuable in an employee. (This is true for all feedback, but it’s especially true for the sort of social/behavioral feedback you’re talking about, since those conversations tend to feel inherently more awkward.)

You sound very conscientious, so this is probably surprising to you because you probably figure that of course people take feedback professionally and calmly and work to make the changes requested … but not everyone does. Plenty of people get a little defensive or show they’re upset, or they just don’t take the feedback seriously, which necessitates another conversation about it. And lots of managers dread giving feedback because they’re afraid of what the reaction might be (some of them put it off forever because of that), so when an employee handles it calmly and makes the conversation easy, it’s a relief and a delight.

And no, a decent manager — even a halfway decent manager — won’t forever think of you as The Person Who Needed Her Behavior Corrected. First and most importantly, you handling the feedback so well will trump the earlier impression (see: you are a delight, above). Second, giving feedback is a really normal part of a manager’s job, even the more behavioral stuff like “you’re too loud,” and so it’s not nearly as big a deal to them as it is to you. Third, no one is perfect, and decent managers know that employees are humans who have flaws or make mistakes or need some course-correction at times; it’s not a horrible, damning thing, the way it sounds like your old boss trained you to think of it.

Really, if you’re taking feedback calmly and thoughtfully and working on it afterwards, you are doing exactly what good managers want and appreciate, and in the vast majority of cases that is the impression that will stay with your manager more than whatever the feedback itself was about.

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. J.B.

    OP: I’m so sorry about your past experience! It’s so hard for anyone to take criticism, and especially given your past experience it will take a long time to dig out. Anxiety is a tricky beast. But it is so important to receive feedback and do your best to respond. You mention therapy and I hope your therapist has really good strategies. I wonder if it would help to work through approach in the moment – i.e. how to set yourself up in an initial conversation to head off the obsessing and downward spiral.

    Reply
  2. Minnow

    Alison’s comments are so, so true. I recently had to give some constructive feedback to one of my reports and the proactive and professional way she responded to that feedback raised her profile in a hugely positive way for me. You sound incredibly conscientious and like you’re a great employee!

    Reply
    1. Marzipan

      I have a team member at the moment who has absolutely blown me away by how great at taking feedback he is. It’s a huge plus, makes me look very positively on working with him, and will most certainly help earn him a great reference at such time as he moves on from the team. The fact that I had to give him the feedback is by the by – everyone will need this sometimes. The way he took it on board and acted on it is what impacted on my impression of him, and that was in a good way.

      Reply
      1. Allie

        This. I once had a boss who had a reputation for being brusque and straightforward in an office culture that was pretty passive aggressive. (As in, we won’t give you feedback, but we also won’t give you a promotion and we won’t invite you to our parties, either.) I had a reputation for being an overworker and an overworrier who wasn’t really socially keyed in. My boss gave me some actionable feedback, I listened, I asked questions, and I changed behavior.

        My boss was soooo thrilled with me — much more than I expected her to be — and in retrospect I think she was also kind of saying through gritted teeth, “This office culture is pretty messed up, it works against people like you, but you care deeply enough to work towards positive change anyway.”

        Something that makes me feel a little better about receiving feedback from a manager … whatever my manager has to tell me, he or she has heard MUCH worse from his/her superior.

        Reply
    2. WorkingMom

      I would also like to add that behavioral type adjustments, like the one mentioned above (voice is too loud), I often associate with “getting adjusted to the new environment.”
      I wouldn’t judge a new hire forever if they didn’t realize that everyone doesn’t do something the same way everyone did at his/her previous job. There is a “culture” learning curve with every new environment. What was totally normal at old job might be super weird at new job. You don’t know until you realize you’re not “the norm.” I would never hold something like against a relatively new hire!

      Reply
      1. Chantel

        This is a really great point. And especially true for people who are new to the working world or who have been at the same place for a long time. Every office is different and has little things that you have to learn and get used to, and I don’t think any reasonable manager will see those things as a detriment to your performance!

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  3. neverjaunty

    Also, OP, while this absolutely shouldn’t change your professional demeanor or willingness to accept feedback, keep in mind that it’s less than optimal for a manager to offer feedback that is nonspecific or personal; telling you that three times over the last week your phone calls could be heard outside your office is way better than “you’re too loud”. In other words, other people including bosses are imperfect too – don’t beat yourself up!

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    1. Christopher Tracy

      Yup, my manager just got corrected on a mistake he made today by his boss. It was a, “Hey, FYI – this thing you approved is coming back to you soon because we overlooked something. Give it a second look and approve the correction if you agree.” It wasn’t delivered in a harsh way (feedback in my division usually isn’t), and my manager admitted he didn’t review the file documentation as closely as he should have and was confused about a procedure that we rarely use. These things happen.

      Reply
  4. MC

    I have a standard approach to discussions like this:
    1. If it falls under the “learning how to do this job well” – I generally provide the feedback and if it’s corrected and never pops up its head, it either isn’t recorded on the annual review or it’s recorded as “discussed and corrected”. For example, making sure stuff is print ready for clients who like to print stuff out is a courtesy that is often forgotten. It looks good and avoids issues and usually doesn’t take much effort.
    2. If it’s a bit more sensitive – like common sense or the person is too experienced to act so unprofessional – then I’m going to note it and I’m going to again, document if it was corrected or not corrected. I shouldn’t have to tell you to not wear a “one tequila, two tequila, three tequila floor” t-shirt under your oxford shirt to the office.

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  5. Laura

    Also, remember that some things change office to office. “Too loud” in one office might be normal in the next. As humans, we may need a heads up. If you correct it, I don’t think anyone will hold it against you.

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    1. Mallory Janis Ian

      So, last week, I was complaining about a professor who was shout-teaching down the hall from my office. I complained every MWF for two weeks. At the end of the second week, my coworker said, “Yeah, about that. Your voice is really loud sometimes when you get excited to talk about something,” and the other coworker confirmed. I know this about myself, but I hadn’t been monitoring myself for it lately; I just assumed I was okay. It was a little embarrassing, so I just said to my coworkers, “Well, that was embarrassing, after I just complained about the other guy for the past two weeks”, and we all ended up laughing about it.

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  6. EddieSherbert

    This was a very timely post for me – I’ve been dealing with some of the same feelings! You are definitely not alone, OP.

    One thing that helps me in my “new” job (I’ve been here over a year), is to remind myself that my manager would 110% let me know if there were any serious concerns about my performance, or if my job was in “danger” (which I always immediately jump to because at ToxicJob, people would randomly disappear without warning and management handled it weird).

    Reply
  7. Voice from the wilderness

    Even excellent workers will require course correction every now and then.

    When necessary I tell my one subordinate what I think is out of whack, tell them what I expect, ask them if I was clear and if they want my help in putting together a plan to fix the problem.

    Usually, that does it.

    Those conversations can be hard for both of us, so I appreciate it when they take the criticism in a positive way.

    When I see improvement, I let them know, so that they realize that I notice the good, not just the bad.

    So, I suggest that you view criticism as something positive. If your manager didn’t care, or thought you were beyond repair, they wouldn’t say anything. They’d just replace you. The correction shows that they want you to do better, not go away.

    That’s a good thing. Isn’t it?

    Reply
  8. James

    Here’s another way to think about it: Good bosses expect to have to correct behaviors, particularly in new people.

    New people by definition don’t fully understand the policies and procedures of the organization, and such things take time to learn. They also don’t understand the culture of the organization–when to show up/leave, what lunch is like, dress codes, etc. And they can’t be expected to know this stuff; they haven’t had the opportunity to learn. Much of it is going to be picked up via cultural osmosis–they see everyone dressing in suites and ties, and they’ll quickly pick up on that being important. But other things they’ll need to be told to do, because it’s not obvious, not intuitive to them, or they haven’t had a chance to notice before. Plus, new people generally learned to do things a certain way, which may or may not be the way the organization wants them done–which means that the new person will default to their familiar protocols until we change their defaults.

    So going in, a Good Boss will expect a certain amount of behavior correction, both in terms of the job and in terms of behaviors, just as a natural consequence of the new employee being new. This isn’t hostile, or a bad thing, and can be used (if the employee does it properly) as an opportunity for both parties to learn. But it’s GOING to happen. And a Good Boss can see such an obvious fact, and plan accordingly.

    I’ll definitely agree that social criticism coming from the boss is hard to bear. I’d much rather folks come to me and say “Hey, the way you dress doesn’t seem to be office-appropriate.” It gives me the chance to respond (that event it was because I was in the field, and just stopping by the office), and seems like something adults should be able to do.

    Reply
    1. Allypopx

      This! I try to pay close attention to my new employees and correct these things right out of the gate. With newer people I try to present it less as criticism so much as “here we do this x way” or “moving forward this is a more appropriate way to handle…” insert random job specific problem at arises here.

      As a manager one of my favorite things to do is help people grow. Sometimes that’s helping them adjust to a new job or promotion, or sometimes it’s correcting soft skills and teaching professional behavior. Remember that a boss’ job is ultimately to make sure you do your job well, and they know you might need guidance with that. Take criticism as what it is: a guideline to improve, not a personal attack. It sucks it’s been presented to you as the latter in the past, but you’re free from that environment now, and hopefully in a place (or will be) that will help you thrive.

      Reply
      1. Lily Rowan

        Agreed on helping people grow — having someone take my feedback well and adjust what they are doing not only makes me think more highly of them, it makes me think more highly of myself! I must be a good boss if that person is doing so well now, thanks to my advice!!

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  9. Pari

    There are exceptions. If I have to ask you to work on very basic behavior expectations like not offending people, being a negative person, or throwing others under the bus it’s going to be really hard for me to believe that the problem will ever truly go away.

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    1. Voice from the wilderness

      While it’s true there are exceptions, it’s amazing what behavior can be changed if you are clear and firm.

      Reply
      1. Is it Monday Already?

        I have found that it goes especially well when I or the manager frames it as “I need you to………………”.

        Reply
  10. Simplytea

    What about when receiving feedback based on an issue you’ve had with someone else? I often try to give explanations and then say I’ll work on it and thanks for the feedback… but I would be hesitant to not at all defend myself especially when the other depiction is not flattering.

    Thoughts?

    Reply
    1. NW Mossy

      It’s a tough line to walk, but this type of “I disagree” tends to land a lot better if you can stick to facts and remain at an emotional remove when talking about it. It can also help to say things like “From my perspective….,” which makes it clear that it’s your take but you recognize the possibility that someone else could read the situation differently.

      Reply
    2. Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude

      I have had some success with a very, very calm statement like, “That’s surprising to hear; I recall that as happening very differently,” if the depiction is full of lies and weasels.

      If the depiction is true, but needs explaining, I would start with “I understand why that was a problem/upsetting/came across as accusing Shonda Rhimes of staging the original moon landing. I’ll absolutely work on that. I do want to add some context, though: [EXPLANATION]”

      If you lead with the mea culpa and acknowledgement of your own role in it all, I think people are often more willing to hear your defense, because (a) you’ve shown that you’re taking the criticism on board, and (b) most people have a sense of fairness, where they’re not going to hear one side of the story and then flat-out refuse to hear yours.

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  11. Anonymouish

    Another thing to keep in mind is that, depending on the structure of your workplace, managers manage more than one person, and they all need some types of feedback like this. Sure, one might be too loud.

    The next is always perfectly modulated but takes lunches that are too long, too often.
    Another doesn’t have either of these problems but people see her as being too sharp in her interactions with her staff.
    Another one is very mild in his speech, but way too greedy/selfish with shared staff resources.

    When you’re the employee it can feel monumental, but as a manager you do truly see that everyone has their own particular strengths and also things they need to fix, and that having a ‘bad feeling’ about talking to those individuals about that behaviour would be completely counterproductive.

    Reply
  12. Amber Rose

    OP I’m in the same boat. The first time I was given a correction (a polite, not angry one even) I fell apart that night worrying about it because my last job was so bad. Previous manager used my errors and missteps as an excuse to complain about me to the other employees.

    Remind yourself: that was not normal. That was not normal. That was NOT normal. Normal is fixing things and everyone moving on and more or less forgetting about it. You are doing just fine.

    Reply
  13. AnonEMoose

    It is very difficult to receive social feedback, I think because it can feel so much more personal and non-specific than feedback related to a specific task or project. And, especially when you’ve had bad experiences with it before, it can really mess with your head.

    One thing I did with a previous boss who was convinced that I was too blunt, not “nice” enough, etc., was to sit down and think about what she was expecting. Not whether it was right or wrong, but what she expected. And, sure enough, when I started doing things like starting my comments in meetings with things like “What if we…” or “I wonder if…”, and so on, Boss was happier.

    I also made sure to, in my 1:1 meetings with her, mention these things “I’m trying X, is that the sort of thing you had in mind?” There were two reasons I did this. One, I wanted to make sure I was addressing her concerns. Two, I wanted to make sure she noticed what I was doing, and that she was clear that this was what I was doing. It kind of sucked, in some ways, because really, what she was wanting was for me to conform to some of the stereotypes about women in office settings. Like phrasing things as questions when they really weren’t, and some of the emotional labor stuff. But…the feedback I received from her improved.

    Reply
      1. AnonEMoose

        I hated it, too. But the good news is, Former Boss is no longer with the company…and I still am. And I now have a boss who’s fine with me being blunt, at least with him. In bigger meetings and such, I still use more of the softening stuff, because as much as it sucks, it works.

        And it’s also true that Former Boss was going through some really difficult personal stuff at the time – and while she was and is a nice enough person, she just wasn’t a good manager.

        Reply
  14. Briene

    Are there any thoughts on if you, the person who got the feedback, can follow up on the feedback, particularly when it’s something that’s hard for you to notice when you’re doing it (i.e. “uhm” a lot when talking during an interoffice conference call) but have been actively working on it? Is that annoying to the boss who gave you feedback? Basically something like “I really appreciated that feedback you gave me and have been working on the issue but since it’s hard for me to always pick up on when I’m doing it I wanted to know if you’d noticed me still doing it during out last few phone calls?” or something along those line…

    Reply
    1. Former Invoice Girl

      I personally think that you can and should ask, but not too often. I certainly understand this feeling because I need a lot of reassurance in many areas of my life, especially at my job, so I’m sure I would ask, but would also make sure to bring it up when it comes up organically in a conversation / while getting feedback. Asking too many times might be annoying, but wanting to check in from time to tome is totally fine, I guess. I think your sentence above would work really well, too.

      Reply
  15. NW Mossy

    I have a couple of versions of the turnaround story on my team, and I can tell you that Alison’s spot-on – how you react and respond matters far more than whatever the original subject was.

    Earlier this year, I gave some social/behavioral feedback to one of my reports, and beforehand I had serious concerns about how she’d take it. I knew from past experience that she would fight critical feedback if she felt like the feedback was wrong or unfair, and I wasn’t sure how this particular bit would land. She really surprised me, though – after an initial blow-up, she settled down, took the feedback, and has busted her butt to improve in an area that I know is an ongoing challenge for her. That commitment and willingness makes me think much more highly of her than I ever did previously, because it showed me that she could be self-aware and take feedback seriously.

    On the flip side, I have a report who got shredded by my predecessor and was in a pretty bad place motivation-wise when I took over. For him, just being supportive and believing in his ability to do good work was enough to help him recapture his drive. He already knew what he needed to do to improve – what he needed was a boss who could reinforce the value of what he was doing and see his progression rather than focus on where he was still falling short.

    Learning to take feedback as what it should be (fuel for growth) is a tough skill to master, but if you can do it successfully, you’ll outshine your peers at almost every level. You’ll earn respect as an attentive, committed professional and you’ll know exactly what you need to focus on to improve. You can also then have the confidence to solicit feedback without fear, and doing that can put you into the elite class of Good Employees.

    Reply
  16. Snarkus Aurelius

    This is great advice, and the only things I would add are the feedback largely depends on two things: what is being critiqued and how the manager is doing it.  (Yes, these two elements are out of your control, but they’re good to keep in mind.)

    One of the best lessons I learned on AAM is how you critique someone.  Tell him/her WHAT to do, not HOW to be.  The former is concrete; the latter is abstract and relative.  I’ve been told how to be, e.g. be happier (in a high-stress work environment no less), be softer (no idea what that means and no examples were given), and to “quit frowning!” when that was my regular resting face. 

    As a manager, we have to be extremely careful in how we give feedback.  There is no right way to do it, but there are plenty of wrong ways.  “People have been saying you’re doing X.  I can’t say who, but that’s what I heard”  “I heard that you were doing X.  I don’t have any specific examples or context of this behavior, but stop doing it.”  “I don’t have any issue with X, but I heard Higher-Up did so it’s up to you to figure that out.”  The wrong delivery can mess with someone’s mind and trip him/her up.

    Here’s an example of what not do:

    Boss: Snarkus, I think you’re getting on Big Boss’s nerves.
    Me: What?  Did he say something?  Did I do something wrong?
    Boss: No, he didn’t say anything, but I can tell.  He’s a very busy man, and you shouldn’t annoy him.  You can’t expect me to point to just one thing.
    Me: [thinks and thinks]  I’m trying to come up with something, but it’s hard as I don’t work for him anymore so we don’t interact as much.
    Boss: Well that’s my impression of things.
    Me: I said, “Good morning,” to him today.  Last week, I told him there was cake in the kitchen.
    Boss: I don’t know about those incidents.  I’m just telling you that you’re bothering him.

    During my exit interview, I apologized profusely to him.  He had no idea what I was talking about.  Now I can laugh about it.

    Regarding your old job, I hope you think back to how this feedback was delivered and the substance of it.  I get that it wasn’t carried out in the best way, but considering these other two factors takes the burden off you a little bit.  That’s not to say you weren’t guilty of something, but your manager’s actions are just as important as your reactions.  Addressing it in terrible ways will ironically do more damage.

    Reply
  17. BSD

    From my perspective as a manager, employees who have a track record of being reasonable and thoughtful about feedback are more likely to be the ones who get professional development opportunities or “stretch” assignments. If I know that you can take feedback — especially sensitive feedback — I’m more likely to feel like I can assign you more challenging work that you’re not necessarily going to do perfectly right away! I need to know that you can handle corrections or constructive criticism. (And in a role like sales, or a role that necessitates making a lot of presentations, some of that feedback is likely going to be behavioural, i.e. you spoke too quietly, you were slouching or fidgeting, etc.) Ability to take feedback gracefully is a major strength, and one I try to screen for in the hiring process.

    Reply
  18. Real Life Leslie Knope

    As a manager, I have a hard time giving behavioral feedback vs tactical feedback. It’s far easier for me to correct an error, point out which report should have been run instead, etc. vs. coaching the loud voice/personality-type issues. As a result, if I had to go through the work of coaching an issue like that, I would likely have an outsized amount of respect for the counseled employee if they actively and consistently improved the area they had been coached on. Because they’re not only better, they’re making my life easier by not having to do something really uncomfortable again. On the flip side, if an employee were a repeat offender (this week loud voice, next week inappropriate clothing, week after music too loud) I’d likely develop a disproportionate level of frustration because they are leading me to have to do something I’m uncomfortable with more frequently.

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  19. Katie the Senual Wristed Fed

    OP – if you knew how to do everything already, you wouldn’t need a manager. We’re here to help you guys be your best, and that includes occasionally correcting issues.

    Totally agree with what Alison said. I have a much, much better relationship on the team with the people who handle corrective criticism with a “oh, ok! Sorry about that – won’t happen again!” and then fix the behavior.

    The ones who get defensive, argue with me, etc – incredibly frustrating. They’re more focused on clearing their good names instead of just doing what needs to be done.

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  20. Vicki

    “Social” criticism. Phooey.

    My “best” story was a manager who told me, quite clearly (in a review) that I “talked too much” in meetings and asked “too many questions” that appeared to be only for the purpose of clearing things up for other people. I was to Stop That Behaviour Immediately.

    So, I shut up in meetings he was in.

    Three months later, we were going to hace a largish meeting and he specifically asked me to pay attention to whether other people seemed to be having difficulty understanding and be sure to ask clarifying questions.

    I just stared at hme for a minute and then said “Are you serious?”

    Managers need to give up the notion that they are parents and employees are small unsocialized children.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      But there’s plenty of social/behavioral criticism that’s legitimate and necessary — if someone is regularly talking so loudly that they’re disturbing others, for example, a good manager is going to let them know.

      Reply
      1. Snarkus Aurelius

        Seriously! I can think of a lot of specific, distracting, and annoying habits of other people that I wish their managers would correct.

        Yes, Co-worker, please stop taking 20 minutes of staff meeting time to get a question answered that’s between you and one other person. The 38 remaining people in the room don’t care!

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      2. KTB

        To Allison’s point, letting people know that certain behaviors are negatively impacting the overall perception of them at work is definitely helpful. For example, we have an ongoing ping pong tournament going on at work. One of my direct reports was participating frequently enough throughout the day that I had to pull him aside and point out that his work and reputation were starting to suffer. Essentially, he needed to spend more time being a star employee and less time being a star ping pong player. As a result, his work output and quality have improved quite a bit, and his ping pong playing is limited to a much more reasonable amount of time. That felt like a win-win to me.

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      3. NW Mossy

        It’s true that I’ve very occasionally given an employee feedback that is essentially identical to a correction I gave to my kindergartner. But when they’re exhibiting the same behavior (calling another person stupid) and need to change course for the same reason (i.e., to not hurt others unnecessarily when there’s a kinder way to make your point), there are only so many theme variations available.

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  21. Cat steals keyboard

    OP, try to remember that while this may loom very large in *your* mind it’s not going to replace everything else your manager knows about you. Anxiety can make us a) catastrophise and b) try to ‘mind read’ and guess what other people are thinking. Part of the reason we do this is to try to make things feel more predictable and certain, but the problem is our brains make negative predictions that feed into our anxiety and round and round it all goes. Anxiety is like marshmallow: it expands to fill any available space. Having survived a toxic work environment you may well be having what is sometimes called an emotional flashback, where a negative experience in the present triggers emotional memories of other experiences as well and feelings of shame, fear or anxiety that go along with those.

    Try to be gentle with yourself. It’s all too easy to turn all this stuff inwards and become like a bad boss in your own head. I really hope you can take in AAM’s response.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      Adjacently, OP, you want your manager to give you a break, right? Treat him in a similar manner. Give him a break. Assume he means what he says to the extent that he says it. Fix the problem and wait. See what happens next. If you assume he will remember it three years from now, then you are doing a much similar thing yourself. Sure, it might feel like you are protecting yourself by being aware/cautious but you could be putting up invisible barriers between you and your boss that do not need to be there. Give him a chance to prove himself to be a good or bad boss. Treat him the way you want to be treated.

      Reply
  22. Dan

    I can throw in a story on how NOT to take feedback:

    At OldJob, I was a task lead on a section of the project. Boss actually gave me a couple of people to supervise. One of the people was a part time telecommuter, and when she was in the office, worked completely different hours than me. As in, our days overlapped by an hour or two.

    I gave this person a fairly clear task with an example already done for her. In other words, the level of rigor required was demonstrated. She had two weeks or so to complete the work. She doesn’t ask for guidance at all during the work, and turns it in last minute. (Deadlines are deadlines, so last minute in and of itself is fine if the work is good.)

    I would have preferred to have the conversation in person, but logistics being what they are, sent her an email. It was detailed and specific, describing what was lacking and what could have been improved.

    After I send the email, you know what response I got back? Nothing. No acknowledgement. So I wait a few days, and ask if she got my feedback. Response? “Yes.”

    While I was disappointed in the work product, the radio silence was certainly more memorable.

    On a side note: One thing I’ve learned over the years is to force regular checkins, both up and down. The worst thing ever is for something to be turned in on deadline and be insufficient. Regular checkins go a long way toward ensuring that the work be done is what’s actually expected.

    Reply
  23. Aurora Leigh

    Thanks for posting this! I also had a bad boss who messed with my head. I’m only a few weeks into new job and I do spend a lot of time reminding myself that old boss was not normal and new boss is.

    Still embarrassed that I visibly flinched the first time she asked me to come in her office and close the door.

    Reply
    1. Ann Furthermore

      I think anyone would get nervous hearing that, though. It has the ring of being sent to the principal’s office, and that never worked out well.

      Reply
    2. Photoshop Til I Drop

      It is ingrained to think closing the door is bad, isn’t it? I hear it constantly since I deal with private information in my job, yet hearing that phrase still brings on the dread.

      Reply
  24. Ann Furthermore

    A good manager will bring something to your attention, and then, assuming you address the issue, consider the matter closed and you both move on.

    A few years ago my manager brought to my attention that a few people had remarked to her on my personal internet usage. Normally, she’s very lax about that kind of thing, and as long as we’re all getting our work done she doesn’t care about internet use.

    In this case though, my internet usage had gone way up, and it was my own fault. It was an extremely stressful time for my husband and me. We were trying to sell our house, and buy a new one that could accommodate his parents moving in with us. Right around this time, his dad was diagnosed with cancer, so we were dealing with all of that too. The real estate market here (like so many other places) has been insane for the last 5 years or so. Places go on the market and then get snapped up before you can even get it together to go take a look, much less make an offer. We had sold our house but still hadn’t found a new one. So yeah, I was obsessively checking the real estate listings many times a day to see if any new listings had popped up. In addition, sometimes I’ll run a process or a query that takes a few minutes to complete. Not long enough to start going through emails, but too long to sit there doing nothing, so usually I spend those few minutes reading news headlines or what have you. My desk is at the end of an aisle, and people walk back and forth throughout the day. If someone was walking by and saw me on non-work sites 3 or 4 times during the day, then of course they’re going to think I’m a slacker.

    So, after taking all of that into consideration, I realized that yes, I had let my internet usage get a bit out of control, and it was becoming a problem. My boss was aware of my circumstances, and I told her that I had just let things get the best of me, I thanked her for bringing it to my attention, and I started paying a lot more attention to how much time I spent on the internet during the day. And that was that, which is how it should be. I had a boss once that would hoard that kind of information and gleefully ambush you with it during your annual review, which was really awful.

    Reply
  25. Not So NewReader

    OP, I can tell you first hand, I would jump for joy when a subordinate corrected the issue. As others have said, I felt “closer” to that person. Trust went to new and higher levels.

    If a manager is doing a good job, they realize that part of their job is to help you KEEP your job.
    This means informing you of new company policies, making sure your work is accurate and so on. When you hear a correction, tell yourself, “This is a boss that wants me employed here next week, next month and next year.” Tell yourself this no matter what the nature of the correction is.

    For me and I think for many managers, they want to forget the whole incident. They want to tell us what is wrong, we fix it and they forget it ever happened. There is too much else to do and too much else to think about for them to keep issue ABC on their minds.

    I had a subordinate who did X, which she was told NOT to do on her first day of work. So almost a year later, I had to tell her again not to do X. WELL. People were staring at her because of additional surrounding context Y. (Sorry, can’t be specific.) She was unaware of Y, so I had to explain that also. She turned BEET RED. Oh man, I felt REAL bad. I landed on, “Look, I want to walk away from this conversation and never talk about it again. Is there anything you want to ask me or tell me now before I move on to my next thing?” She said no, she understood everything that I explained. The next thing she said had me walking three feet off the ground, “Thank you. You are making sure that I know what is expected of me and I stay employed.” She blew me away. My opinion of her which was already a good opinion, soared to new levels. I did not want to have that conversation with her, I would have rather run out the door to get an emergency root canal. But I had to have the conversation, it was my job.

    While you may no always be able to give that type of response, you can carry the idea that a good boss wants you to succeed and is willing to chat with you when necessary because your success is more important than a short and difficult conversation.

    Reply
  26. DC

    OP: Thank you so much for this. This hits perfectly on something that I have been struggling with recently, and I was considering writing in. I had to come to learn how to actively make myself relax, and distract myself to stop from beating myself up internally on criticisms like this. Make sure you do things you love when you start to spiral!

    Thank you, AAM, for once gain having the answer I needed right when I needed to find it.

    Reply
  27. cofeepowerd

    OP, I’d say you’re going above and beyond already by being pro-active with your manager being receptive and listening to what they have to say. Copy to AAMs advice

    Reply
  28. Ms. Mason

    Dear OP – please put this out of your mind and carry on with your beautiful life. I supervise a solid performer on my team, with whom I’ve had to coach to modulate her speaking voice and limit her socializing in the office. She’s incorporated the feedback, and as far as I’m concerned the matter is over, done, finished and need never be revisited. I’m sure the overwhelming majority of bosses are just the same as me in this regard. I needed to see a change happen, I asked for it, and my employed delivered. Smiles all round. Please don’t agonize or lose any sleep over this!

    Reply

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