what to do when you disagree with your boss’s feedback

It can be tough to get critical feedback from your boss, especially when you thought everything was going well. It’s even tougher when you don’t agree with that feedback and think your boss is wrong. Here’s the best way to respond when you disagree with your manager’s feedback on your work.

Don’t react right away. A lot of times when people receive critical feedback, their first instinct is to defend themselves – to explain why they did what they did, or why it was the best course of action, or why their manager is outright wrong. Resist this temptation! You can respond later, but at this stage your focus should be on listening and absorbing the feedback. Otherwise, there’s too much risk that you’ll miss some of the substance, and you’re more likely to come across as defensive.

Ask clarifying questions if you need to. If you don’t fully understand the feedback your boss is giving you, say that and ask for clarification. It’s important to do this in a non-defensive way so that you don’t sound like you’re challenging the feedback. Start by saying something like this: “I appreciate you telling me this. I want to make sure that I fully understand what you’re referring to.” Then, depending on the source your confusion, you could say, “It sounds like you’re saying X – is that right?” Or “Can you give me an example of the type of thing you mean, so that I can make sure I can avoid it in the future?” Or if it’s not clear what your boss would like you to do differently in the future, say, “Can we talk a little about how I could handle that better in the future?”

Acknowledge your boss’s perspective and ask if you can explain your own. If you disagree with the feedback, it’s still important to acknowledge that you’re hearing it and processing it. But it’s also okay to talk about your own perspective. Say something like this: “I think I understand what you’re saying. To be honest, I was looking at it differently. Can I tell you what my perspective was, in case it changes the way you’re looking at it or in case there’s something I should correct about my understanding?” (A good boss will want to hear your perspective. If you have a bad boss, you might leave out the “in case it changes the way you’re looking at it” piece of this language.)

Try to understand why your boss has a different perspective than you do. It’s possible that you have information that your boss doesn’t and which would change her perspective. For example, if she’s concerned that you’re not generating enough new business, are there factors impacting that that’s she’s not aware of, like that you’re covering for a colleague who’s on leave or that a major project she gave you is taking up half your time? Alternately, is there information your boss might have that you don’t? For example, maybe the business is in a cash crunch and for now bringing in new clients is more important than any other project. Sometimes making sure you’re each working with the same set of information can resolve differences in perspective. But if that doesn’t work…

Explain where you were coming from, but don’t be defensive about it. Even if you’re sure that you’re right, the right mindset for this conversation is to be open to the idea that you could be wrong. First, you really could be wrong, and second, you’ll come across much less defensively if you approach it this way. Here’s an example of good, non-defensive language: “I pushed X back by a week because I thought we had a few months on it, whereas it looked like we were going to miss our deadline for Y. But was I looking at it the wrong way?” Or: “In the past, the client has asked that we focus more on X for them so I thought they’d appreciate me including it in this proposal. But should I have checked with you about that before just moving forward with it?”

It’s possible that having this conversation will change your boss’s perspective, or your own. But if neither of those things happen…

Realize that your boss gets to make the final call. Sometimes you and your boss will just see things differently, and when that happens she gets to make the final call. That comes with the territory when you work for someone else, and in most cases it makes sense to move past the disappointment and roll forward. But if the disagreement is profound enough that it feels fundamental to your work there – and if you still feel strongly after giving yourself a week or two to reflect – at that point you’d want to consider whether it’s reflective of serious fit issues between you and your boss.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 76 comments… read them below }

  1. Gaia*

    I haven’t read this yet, but I’m guessing the answer isn’t “roll your eyes and cross your arms across your chest while shaking your head ‘no'” or “argue with them until you are blue in the face.” Both of which, Young Gaia thought were completely the best way to disagree with critical feedback. Young Gaia is lucky she didn’t get fired. From several jobs. Oh, Young Gaia.

      1. Gaia*

        Yes, and I share them with others so they can learn. People who know Mature Professional Gaia are shocked and amused to hear the antics of Young Gaia. She is still in there, she is just carefully controlled.

  2. fposte*

    Can I add “Don’t do it every time you get feedback”? Otherwise that suggests it’s not the content but the process you really have an issue with.

    1. NW Mossy*

      I’d also throw in redirecting the feedback to areas where you feel you’re more successful. Telling your boss that you’re loyal and work long hours when you’re getting feedback on poor accuracy is just going to make your boss wonder if you’re listening and understanding what’s being communicated.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        I think another common mistake is believing it’s unfair to get
        feedback if you worked hard on something but did it wrong.

        1. NW Mossy*

          Yeah, the hardness with which you work is only valuable if it’s creating value for your customer/customer-equivalent. Doing things incorrectly rarely makes customers happy, and the rare occasions where it does are generally pure luck.

      2. Jake*

        While I understand what you mean, I think this is a lot of peoples’ way of having the, “my workload is too much, and it is causing me to make these mistakes” conversation. Sure, they should do what Alison suggests and take some time to digest the feedback instead of responding right away, but that doesn’t mean people actually do that.

        I know I got some feedback at my last job, and that was my exact response. That being said, I had previously had the workload conversation with my boss on several occasions prior to the feedback.

        1. NW Mossy*

          There’s definitely a good way to make the argument that mistakes are the result of an unreasonable workload – it generally takes the rough form of “I can see that mistakes A, B, and C came about because I didn’t spend as much time as normal on those tasks, and that’s happening because D, E, and F are all really hot priorities right now and taking a lot of my time. Can we talk about what’s on my plate and where you’d like to see me focus?” In an ideal world, this conversation happens even before there are any mistakes to talk about as an “I see risk for error here, how can we make sure that doesn’t happen?” type of deal.

          The key is to acknowledge that you a) know that you made mistakes and are willing to own them, b) you’ve thought critically about root causes, and c) you’re open to changing your approach in the future. Just saying “I work really hard” doesn’t send that message very well, because it’s too easy to read the motivation in saying it as “I reject your feedback on Not My Fault grounds and don’t intend to change,” especially if you use it to the exclusion of other responses.

    2. Where's the Le-Toose?*

      A big yes to both these comments. I have an employee right now who does both–always challenges his feedback and always dismisses his weaknesses and tries to focus on something else he feels he does well. It’s mind numbing!

  3. Ramona Flowers*

    This was really helpful to read. All that said, I kind of have the opposite problem: I tend to just go along with the feedback and agree with it and basically completely neglect to advocate for myself. Not just quietly listening but agreeing to an extent I might prefer not to. Then afterwards I’ll kick myself and wonder why I did that.

    I know exactly why I do it – growing up with a parent who would interrogate me like I was some kind of war criminal plus some really stellar choices of ex partners – resulting in me being conditioned to agree with people as a kind of survival mechanism. It got better when I worked on it some in therapy – it emerged when my therapist asked why I was shaking and I came up with four or five possible reasons but only told him later that I hadn’t actually felt aware that I was shaking but just agreed anyway.

    This got long, sorry!

    1. CMart*

      Man, I’m just a run of the mill people pleaser and I have the same problem. I figure that what They want is for me to be receptive to their feedback, so I nod and agree and only then later reflect upon the content and impact of what was discussed. I’m wondering if the first point, not responding right away, would be helpful for us too.

      So while some people need to fully listen and take some time to fully absorb and reflect in order to think “hm, maybe I do need some work in XYZ” we need that same time to think “hm, I actually think I’m pretty solid in ABC.”

      1. Jesca*

        I do take this course, and I have learned not to react suddenly. But then my last boss would expect me to problem solve right there on the spot! Like what? I was not prepared for this. This was especially hard since it was so incendiary to me. He kept asking why projects were stalling, knowing damn well because he kept heaping other work on me. I had even stated this to him every single time he unloaded more work. Would say “hey, just so you know this will cause the timeline for X to be pushed back”. Yet every damn time we would have our 1 on 1 meetings he would interrogate me for why X wasn’t getting done. Like dude! We discuss this every day! I am one person. I guess in that instance, well I don’t even know what to tell anyone to do in that instance. I would just sit there and refuse to respond after a minute or two haha. I mean, that’s insane right?

    2. LizB*

      In the short term, can you make a habit of taking notes on feedback, so you’re busy with a pen and paper for a few seconds after you hear the feedback? It might give you the little delay you need to overcome your knee-jerk agreeing. Your immediate verbal response can be “Okay” or “All right” while you’re writing, which still leaves you room to push back once you’ve collected your thoughts a bit.

      Longer term, and if this not the kind of advice you’re looking for, I apologize: I have a similar family history to what you’ve described, and as a result any time I tried to advocate for myself tears would automatically start rolling down my cheeks. Not the most professional thing to do, and I always hated that it was happening (which of course only made it worse because it added to my emotional overload). The specific therapy that’s worked really well for me has been EMDR, which has helped me reprocess all my trauma stuff and choose my reactions with my brain rather than my body choosing them for me based on its ingrained fears. It’s been almost a year since I last cried at work.

    3. Jake*

      Raised by two life long cops. Nothing is worse for your childhood than being interrogated by people that interrogate adult criminals for a living. All it taught me was to make up lies to end the interrogation as quickly as possible, whether it was lies that made me innocent of things I actually did or guilty of things I didn’t actually do didn’t matter, whatever I thought would end it quickest. It may work on adults, but children aren’t cable of handling that level of stress. At least, I wasn’t.

      As an adult, I told my father that this was my tactic as a kid, and he was pretty apologetic, and I since telling him that, I never saw them use that tactic again on my younger siblings (all 8+ years younger than me), so kudos for him actually listening and making active changes to his parenting style.

    4. Brendioux*

      Your comment really hit close to home!
      I had parents who would do the same to me and I currently have a boss who has a tendency to twist things around to try to trick me into admitting I’m wrong. When I first started working for him (I had another manager at the same company before him) he would give me negative feedback and I would agree, in person, and tell him I would look over my mistakes and fix them but when I would go back to work on these things I would notice that I hadn’t made the mistakes he said I had. At first I gave him the benefit of the doubt and thought that maybe he just overlooked things so I started to double check my work and make sure I had answers for everything he could perceive as a mistake before having him review my work (I was training). He would still claim I was making mistakes but I knew I wasn’t so I was confident in my answers and was more than happy to discuss these mistakes, he would eventually admit that it wasn’t a mistake per say but that starting that very minute he wanted me to do X or Y differently. Eventually he knocked it off but I know that he still does the same thing to some people.

  4. H.C.*

    Well, there’s always the loop in HR or – if you’re represented – your union rep, especially in cases where your boss is factually & verifiably wrong. (Happened once w my co-worker in OldJob, who thankfully maintained a meticulous email trail.)

  5. Sup Sup Sup*

    Oh, I’m having flashbacks. PreviousJob was ridiculously toxic. They wanted me to leave, but didn’t have cause to fire me as I had been at the company a few years and had a decent reputation. So they just kept chipping away at whatever self respect I had building up a case to fire me. So, I had quite a few of these meetings. I remember one in particular being told I wasn’t proactive enough and when I asked for an example (and I swear on everything that is good and pure that I did this non-defensively as I was genuinely hoping I could salvage the situation), my boss told she couldn’t tell me because it would break the confidentiality of the person who told her. Apparently, there was only one instance of me not being proactive enough. I realized then that I was going to have to leave

  6. Lora*

    Ugh. I just went through this with my now ex-boss (thank dog). He was promoted waaaaaayyyy above his competency level with zero management training and was completely flailing. (He’s still flailing, but in someone else’s group, so not my problem.) We reviewed all feedback within a week of it happening, and discussed it, and I explained that in my experience, if you handle this issue like X, you will get result Y, and how the way he handled the issue will only result in its happening over and over again, because you have just taught Issue Person that you are happy to fix their issue for them, when really the onus is on them to handle their own nonsense. Every time he said, “OK I’ll think about that.”

    I later learned that in his particular subculture, X is just Not Done. You’re supposed to shut up and do what you’re told whenever someone says it in an authoritative voice, not push back even if very gently, professionally and politely. As a result, Issue kept happening. He had never in his entire life seen anyone push back on doing what they were told if they knew for certain that what they were being told was wrong. In his view, I am the rudest person on the face of the earth for saying things like, “that timeline isn’t realistic,” “here is the critical path, and here is the time we have available for the project, are there any parts we can eliminate or make optional?” and “yeah I get what you are saying, but it doesn’t actually work like that, we need to do ABC before we can start”. Did my half-year review and got reamed out for Being Rude. Okay.

    I really, really wish they would address this stuff in Diversity Training. It’d be a help. Not just “people from different cultures are people and you must be respectful always,” but “here are the behaviors which in the US (region) are common and normal, but which may come as a shock to people who haven’t experienced them before.”

  7. SophieChotek*

    This…so much this…these past 2 weeks. (TL:DR…going through a vicious cycle right now of this)

    Working on a big project where, unfortunately, I am the middle person between my boss and an external vendor. My boss says what she wants, I take what I understand to be her instructions, convey what she wants to external vendor, get response, relay response to my boss…and then get the…

    “That wasn’t what you were supposed to do at all!” response…

    I cringe and read her 2 page rant of how I misunderstood her instructions, etc.

    I usually apologise profusely, admit I was wrong (even though both times I think there are at least understandable reasons why I misunderstood/interpreted her instructions a different way) and do what I can to fix it…

    And get to look like an idiot with the external vendor, as I go back to say, “forget what said last week…I actually meant….”

    I need to save this post! (in this instance, maybe not “advocating” for myself, but just taking a deep breath to process the feedback I get. (And figure out how I can think outside the box, be more flexible/less rigid, and be more creative in business…)

    1. DecorativeCacti*

      The trick of repeating back what they’re asking helped me a lot when dealing with a previous boss. Sometimes they tell you you understand then change their mind without telling you, but it can help in the moment.

      1. Fabulous*

        Agreed – After you get the instructions from your boss, repeat back to her “To make sure I fully understand and can convey the instructions appropriately, this is what they need to do…”

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Or maybe email them to her. “Just to make sure I fully understand what you want, this is what I’m planning to tell Fergus…”

  8. Construction Safety*

    “Try to understand why your boss has a different perspective than you do.”

    Not just limited to the boss, but when someone disagrees with you, take a pause, re-evaluate your position and maybe, just maybe, you’re incorrect.

    1. Gaia*

      This can be a spectacularly difficult thing for many people to do (it goes against part of our basic nature) and that makes it all the more important that we do it actively and consciously. I am always impressed when someone can be prevented with an opposing view on a project or task or issue, stop and consider the other side and admit they were wrong or didn’t have the whole picture and change their stance.

      It is definitely something I’m not great at, which is why I try to avoid making decisions in the moment and instead gather feedback and information so that I can reflect before deciding.

  9. BurnBabyBurn*

    Does anyone have advice for a boss who is creating a problem with her “solution?” She does not want me to talk to anyone other than her. Literally. She becomes very angry if I interact with anyone other than her for any reason. She also does not want me to share any information with anyone. This gives me 3 options saying “I don’t know” “You will need to ask her directly” and “I have brought it to her attention.” All three of these options cause more conflicts and confusion than just answering the question. I will ask her repeated follow up questions. I will ask her if I am allowed to get ahead of something. She will say no. I will ask her exactly what she wants me to do, do it, and when the other person correctly deduces that she is avoiding them or even simply gets angry that I could not help them it is “all my fault.” I’ve had confidential positions, I’ve had direct support positions, but I have absolutely no idea how to handle this. This is not at all how anyone else in the company functions which makes it even weirder and the source of a lot of conflict. Does anyone have any advice that doesn’t involve lying? I feel like what she wants if for me to lie which would allow her to fire me if a situation goes south.

    1. Lora*

      I lean towards, “your boss sucks and knows it and is trying to manage her non-stellar reputation and also have a fall guy”. I don’t know how to fix that other than just try to do what is polite, professional and sensible and look for a new job ASAP. If the organization is big enough that you can transfer, nobody will ask too many questions about why you’d want to leave.

    2. Someone else*

      This might not work, but the next time someone gets upset with you for her having told you not to help them, maybe frame it in a way that more clearly states that? While being as little “throwing under the bus” as you can manage. So maybe rather than “you’ll have to ask her directly” try “she has asked me that inquiries about that go to her directly” or something? So it’s clear to angry person that it’s not that you’re clueless, or refusing to help, but you’re following direct instruction from your supervisor? Especially if it comes from someone who is her level or higher, it might help get you out from under it without needing to go above or around her. Since you mentioned no one else in the company seems to operate this way, if someone above her knew, they might bring down the hammer that she’s being ridiculous and tell her to stop? (Kind of like the extra guacamole update from last week.)

      1. BurnBabyBurn*

        She gets insanely angry at me when they come to her directly to throw everything over the top. Even though there is literally no other option. I genuinely cannot figure out what she wants. All I know if that if someone tried to drop a hammer on her, she would use me as a human sacrifice. This was supposed to be a senior associate role.

  10. MechE31*

    I welcome critical feedback (at least now). I try and be self reflecting and realize that I want to know where my shortcomings are, perceived or real, because perception is reality.

    There has been 2 times I’ve ever disagreed with feedback in my several years in the professional world:

    1. Feedback from year 1 said I had shortcomings, which I agreed with. I worked very hard to improve in these areas (even before year 1 review) and thought I did a very good job and got very positive feedback from technical leadership. My year 2 review had same shortcoming as a major development area. I asked for specific examples, and they had plenty from 2 years ago, but none in this review period. I was super defensive and didn’t handle it well at all.

    I realized your reputation can’t be changed quickly, even if you do.

    2. A senior technical leader did not like my role (and therefore didn’t like me) and had a reputation for being very hard to deal with. He gave me a highly negative review and my boss put a lot of weight on that 1 data point because my functional manager and said tech leader went way back.

    I handled the review very professionally, even though I disagreed with most of it. I worked with my manager to figure out how I could improve and if they had any tips for dealing with tech leader, as he had dealt with him for much longer than me. It was a very positive conversation, but I realized that the role was not for me and moved on.

    In the middle I had a boss who most people hated, but I loved (for the most part). He was super blunt and his reviews very much focused on the room for improvement. More mature MechE31 did very well with this as long as he knew where he stood, as the perception of this is you are ranked poorly if your review focuses on negatives.

  11. Jan*

    In my annual review this past year received satisfactory or excellent ratings in all categories but two. While I did bristle a bit at the negative feedback, I accepted it. However, I had an issue with my review where some of the comments were extremely sexist. For example, one of my ratings was “satisfactory” on my after hours work but the comment was a long paragraph about how I have a lot of “personal issues” and I need to leave early to take care of those personal issues but I could find someone else to take care of those personal issues. It meant my children. I work later than everyone else in the department. I am fortunate to have parents in town to watch my kids when they are off school or ill. If I need to pick them up, I leave and have either returned with a child (with advance permission) or continued to work from home, taking phone calls, etc.

    So I did think about it for a few days and I submitted a statement to attach to that with HR. I felt that it was unfair and sexist to say I am doing a satisfactory job and then talk about my family obligations. I also pointed out that I had been accepted into a prestigious internal leadership development program that only accepts 20 people globally from the entire organization and yet that did not get a mention in my entire review.

    Now I will say that I submitted this information knowing that my boss is already being worked with on his gender treatment issues so this was a problem I was aware of and that HR was aware of and I felt that highlighting his assy comments was worth it. I ended up getting promoted out of his department a few months later.

  12. Fake old Converse shoes*

    So. Much. This.
    My first boss evaluated me as a Junior. I was a Trainee. He compared me to his other Juniors with previous work experience. I didn’t have any experience at all. My performance review meeting was a complete nightmare. The worst part was when he reprimanded me for leaving early every day, without knowing I was a part-timer. I didn’t last much longer after that.

    1. Perse's Mom*

      I got very similar treatment during an interview for a full time position from my former-supervisor-who-had-been-promoted and was hiring into his new team. I had just spent months working my tail off (well over 40+hrs/wk while in a part time position) to get us through a major business-critical project for my department and he questioned in the interview why I sometimes went home early (!) because he would think I could spend that time trying to learn new things from other coworkers. All that did was teach me that I did not ever want to be on his “team” again. I left that interview SO mad and was perfectly fine with not getting the job.

  13. NW Mossy*

    I had my own practice at accepting feedback gracefully this morning, where I was told that an issue I assisted with came off to the other person as me passing the buck to another party. I was viewing it from the angle of “I’m simplifying by removing my minimal value add and bringing in the right person,” but hearing the feedback is pushing me to also see the point of view that the person seeking help wanted to deal with just me as the central hub and didn’t want to have to work with someone else.

    Part of me wants to shout “But it’s so inefficient to have 3 people in a conversation when only 2 are talking!”, but it’s a good reminder that some of the people I work with need that investment of my time to feel like they’re being heard and cared for. I’m in a role where relationships matter, and I need the gut-check to not be so ruthlessly high-D (for those familiar with DiSC) about things.

    It’s also an interesting example because it shows how a lot of feedback at work isn’t about bright lines of right and wrong, but rather a matter of preference and what’s effective in that office culture, with that person, at that moment. I could have had the exact same interaction with someone else and it would have been unremarkable, but for this colleague, it rubbed wrong. Much as it can pain me to say it, she’s entitled to feel that way and it’s on me to work with that part of her if I want a good relationship with her.

    1. Samata*

      Fellow high-D here, and I also have to sometimes check myself that the most efficient isn’t always the BEST when it comes to certain decisions/conversations/colleagues. I am awful about taking the lead on something, or delegating to someone randomly, when everyone is hem-hawing about it. Not because I want to do it, or have control of it, but because it seems like such a waste of time to go back and forth for 2 hours when it can be done in 6 minutes by anyone with a keyboard.

      Sometimes this is HARD.

  14. Jesmlet*

    The last time I received feedback from my boss/the owner, it was in response to my requesting something that under policy guidelines, I was supposed to get. His feedback was to ask if I was a perfectionist, and if not, then why should I expect everything else to be perfect, and then he asked me why I was being so assertive. Yes, I am a young female and he is an older male, and yes I do think this has something to do with his feedback. I’m not usually one to cry gender bias but I feel strongly that this was what was going on, especially compared to how he’s reacted to males with the same tone and behavior.

    I just have this character flaw where I’ll dig my heels in if I feel like something goes against common sense or pre-outlined rules and no one is able to offer any explanation for why things are being done differently. His explanation made no logical sense and literally diverted $1800/year from me to someone else. I got so mad at his inaccurate characterization of my behavior that I became defensive. This is a good reminder for me to just take a pause and calm down a bit before responding.

  15. AFineSpringDay*

    One of the (many) reasons I hated my last boss so much was that she liked to save all feedback and criticism up for your annual review – well past the time when any situations could be adjusted or fixed. She didn’t like the way you handled something? You wouldn’t hear about it for at least 6 months. It was maddening, and the final straw in helping me understand that she was unhinged and there was no figuring out how to get along with her or make her happy.

    1. Argh!*

      Mine too, and sometimes she saves things for years until she has just the right level of pique at something I’ve said that makes her want to give me a passive-aggressive smack. This usually happens when I express disagreement and I’m right. She can’t admit to being wrong, so she drags a random event up from the past to put me in my place. Oh yeah? And in 2012 you missed a deadline so what do you say to THAT you uppity underling?

    2. Someone else*

      This is the definition of counterproductive to the annual review process. One of the things I love about my company is that it is literally in the written policy that annual reviews should not involve surprises and if they do, the manager has failed the process (unless of course the person is claiming surprise about something it’s documented they’ve been told over and over and over, and then of course, that is the recipient’s issue).

    3. A Person*

      My boss did this to me about a month ago, not even in a feeback meeting. I was trying to raise an issue and his response was basically, that’s a problem but here are all these problems with you from ages ago (basically my reactions in some situations had not been helpful, I’d realised that and taken a different approach) and also, you don’t like you co-workers. To which I responded, well, I find my co-workers difficult to cooperate with on occassion because of the issue I’m trying to raise. His answer was, for all intents and purposes, ‘Rome doesn’t get built in a day’.

      It just drives me up the wall.

  16. Hiring Mgr*

    If you and your boss have discussed the feedback and you can’t come to agreement, the best thing to do is hold a rap battle in front of the staff where you each state your position while spitting rhymes

    1. Snark*

      yo check my dub/work ain’t a duck club/you on notice, Wakeen/PIP gonna make a scene/yo teapots ain’t balancin’/gonna send a letter to Alison

      *drops mic*

  17. Argh!*

    My boss is perfect, and because I am not perfect, I am not eligible for a raise. This is not a bonus, it’s a raise, so I feel the impact of this year’s non-raise every year until I retire, and my retirement income will be reduced because of it.

    Also, my boss cannot be questioned because we have an excessively authoritarian management system that has been exacerbated by the newest grandboss, who is a tyrant.

    1. CR*

      I feel you on the “My boss is perfect, and because I am not perfect” so hard. It’s one of the reasons I need to leave my job.

  18. CR*

    This is something I struggle with, because my immediate response to any kind of negative feedback (even if it’s constructive!) is to cry. It’s my first reaction when I’m stressed or upset or angry in any situation. Tearing up in performance review meetings is so unprofessional but I literally can’t control it.

  19. Anon for Safety*

    After nine years, my last boss started giving formal performance reviews. She used different forms for different people doing the same job (!)(which I found out when two of us compared reviews), and my first review was all “Meets Expectations.” That, to me, was like getting a C report card. I wrote a one-page, typed addendum and returned it to her with the original review. I explained that these things made me an above-average employee, and she had to agree. Every year thereafter, no matter what the review said, I submitted an addendum. Advocate for yourselves, people!

    1. Anon for Safety*

      Oh, and the form she used for me, clearly from the Internet, was geared to retail employees. This was not a retail business or anything even in the realm of retail or retail-related businesses.

  20. HR Expat*

    I’ve been on both sides of this. My first manager gave me some really critical feedback that I felt was unfair. He had spoken to a colleague and she told him a bunch of things that weren’t true (passing the buck, name dropping, not asking for feedback, etc.). Mind you, her first words to me when I started were “I hate people in [HR Expat’s company’s] development program.” I thought it was a bunch of BS and I told my boss this (calmly). Funny how when she quit, my performance immediately improved even though I hadn’t changed anything. I would NOT recommend ignoring feedback, but I was young and stupid. I remember my boss telling me he didn’t think I could cut it at my organisation. 6 years later, I’m still here and doing really well, and he was fired for performance last month.

    Another boss a few years later gave me feedback about communication style and not providing enough updates for his liking. I reflected on his feedback and realised that this was more about his preferences than me doing anything wrong. While we had completely different styles, I realised that he was the boss and wanted a different style than mine, so I changed how I worked with him. He also said that the reason he let me know about and recommended me for my expat role was because of how receptive I was to feedback and how I was willing to adapt as a result.

  21. AlwhoisThatAl*

    A couple of Bosses I have listened to their feedback because they were good bosses and I wanted to do a good job for them. The others… well, I nodded and agreed while either job hunting or saving up some salary for a while before I job hunted and moved on.
    My favourite was when I had a new Boss give me a terrible review, just listed 10 things he didn’t like about me and “tales” he had heard from clients – Both of which were lies. I just stood up half-way through his spiel, said “Put it all on an official e-mail so I can reply” and walked out. This was 5 minutes after Grand Boss had come in to listen. Grand Boss tried to talk to me that afternoon – told him I was busy and finally consented to talk to him the next morning. Told him I was furious Boss was listening to tales from client Grand Boss had dealt with and he knew himself they were lying. Grand Boss said he would help. He Did Nothing. Boss carried out being a W****r. So I spent the next 8 months working on getting my sideline business going with lots of study courses, essay writing and passing some exams, most of which were in work time. Worked with the clients I liked and ignored anything Boss said or did. They had a silly 3 months notice period so I quit without a job. Went on to do a couple of excellent contract jobs earning a lot more, am now a IT Manager myself and have a fully fledged side-business – Equine/Human Massage (yes, I know its a bit of weird combination). So Bad Bosses and their crap reviews are excellent at getting you to move on and up !

  22. AnonAcademic*

    My boss is known for bringing down the hammer on subordinates to deflect blame from himself even when everyone who works for him knows this is a farcical bit of theater the majority of the time. I have had good success with “let me look into that to see how I can improve things” and “I recognize the situation poses a significant problem.” I refuse to take the blame for things well above my pay grade but what he really wants is to feel in charge and like someone else is going to clean up his mess, so usually giving him that gets him off my back for a while.

    Then at a later, calmer time I follow up to “clarify” and send him whatever documentation or correspondence is relevant. In at least one case he gave me fairly harsh feedback based on a rumor he didn’t verify, and it was pretty simple to track down the persons involved and get the real story, and when I did he even admitted he had bad intel (but didn’t apologize of course).

  23. Malka*

    Ok but what if the negative part the boss focuses on isn’t supported by any actual examples, especially when you ask for them? Or the negativity comes from you actually being right and he/she was wrong which cost us the client and upper management can see it, without you ever having thrown the boss under the bus?

    1. NDC*

      Yes, I’ve had situations where boss gave me negative second-hand feedback on an aspect of my soft skills, and I honestly could not think of an occurrence that matched what they were describing. I asked for examples so that I could see what bad/good behavior looked like (in their eyes) and modify my demeanor accordingly, and boss refused to give them, citing confidentiality. So frustrating!

  24. A Certain Party*

    My boss gave me negativity ve feedback on a certain key job skill. It was based on a project I did, but two more seasoned staffers redid (I was a newbie at the time). My approach was better.

    Because I practiced CYA, I was able to produce my original project plans and show them to my boss to prove my project skills were st least acceptable.

  25. NDC*

    Any suggestions on how to manage criticism when the manager has incorrect/incomplete facts*, without coming across as defensive? Examples:
    “Your skills aren’t up to standard, because the teapot samples were contaminated.” “Wakeen worked on those samples as well, so there’s no way to know who contaminated them.”
    “You need to be more punctual. I need you at your desk and working by 9:00 at the latest every day.” “I’ve sent you emails at 8:30 every morning during the last month.”

    1. Jane Doe for this*


      For years I felt that I had to eat at my desk because someone ‘might be looking for you and you’re never there during my office hours’ after being written up based on one complaint. I found out later that the person in question was upset that I wasn’t in the office at 7:15, when I didn’t start until 8:00.

      Of course the same supervisor gave me a terrible final performance review (my reporting chain had just been changed) because a project that had needed some IT assistance couldn’t go forward when IT refused to help and he wouldn’t talk to IT about it even though he wanted the project to go forward. Thankfully the new supervisor (who actually knew how to supervise!) basically ignored old supervisor’s review, and I attached a thorough explanation to the review as to why I felt it was wrong.

      Much as these stories are amusing/entertaining/educational I think I’m going to have to cut my AAM reading back even further, since just thinking about this, four years after leaving that organization, and I can feel the beginnings of an anxiety attack.

  26. Lindsey*

    Oh man, I’ve had this problem. I’m actually very receptive to feedback, but I once had a boss who unfortunately had preconceived notions of me from when I first started straight out of college and once he became my manager, we didn’t actually work together enough for him to break those preconceived notions. Basically, I lacked some business acumen and was a shy person when I first started – but I improved drastically over time! When he became my manager though, the norm was for be to be on client calls and go to meetings myself without him, so he didn’t get to witness my behavior directly and just assumed, because he knew me as shy, that I needed to work on that.

    Not being defensive is key! State your opinion, back it up, but do not seem sad or angry. Just talk in a confident but friendly voice. My boss and I had a great discussion and after a month he told me he saw what I meant and no longer thought the issue was a weakness.

  27. Bookworm*

    I’d also recommend that sometimes how the feedback is given and the content may also tell you a lot about your boss.

    Most of the time I’ve had a good enough relationship with the person providing feedback that I could genuinely understand their POV. It was a conversation, things were cleared up, a path for each of us to work better with each other and separately was laid out, etc.

    But in one instance I had one where I had no warning, no feedback or constructive criticisms to warn me that the temp job was not going to hire me. I’ll admit that I probably didn’t handle it very well but I was genuinely blindsided and don’t know what else I could have done in retrospect because every single time I asked after a project or task for feedback or if I should do something differently I was told “it’s fine.” When I brought this up the manager speaking to me even admitted that his team just wasn’t good at giving feedback and that was something they needed to work on. Gee, thanks, buddy. I was mad but this indirectly led me onto better things (it freed me up for another position that I adored). And the majority of people I had worked with all moved on within like 2 years after I left, many of whom had been with the company at least 3+ years before I arrived. Hmmmm.

    In another I still strongly believe that the feedback was given to me by someone who was still really new to his position and did not always understand that the people he was supervising had different styles of communication or being active in the workplace. It also didn’t help that I had almost no interaction with anyone else because my main client was extremely uncommunicative with myself, my manager and the company as a whole so there wasn’t much to say since we could only assume they were at least just fine with our work. But on the flip side there was just nothing to say and all my managers would say was to keep doing the same and they’d let me know if they ever heard back. So it was disappointing that I was apparently supposed to be more active with a client that just never responded in any way to any of the people who contacted them but I sincerely think this manager wasn’t quite making that connection and/or felt he needed to come up with something.

    So I get that it can be hard but sometimes it can be worth remembering that some managers/supervisors really shouldn’t have such a position in the first place and aren’t very good in executing how their employees work.

  28. only acting normal*

    I have had a boss who just made up my “weaknesses” based on some stereotype he thought I fitted into e.g. quietly spoken = bad at presentations. I had that same feedback from him every review, when he’d almost never seen me present anything so had nothing to base it on. As a junior I briefed on of the top people in my profession *in the country* and it went brilliantly – but he wasn’t there so it didn’t happen. He sent me on courses: feedback from course: presentations are very professional – wasn’t there didn’t happen. He did however use me to review his own presentation materials, so the cognitive dissonance was strong with him.

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