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

I’m off today. Here’s a post that was originally published in 2017.

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.

{ 81 comments… read them below }

  1. Be kind, rewind*

    Agree with everything in the response, but I also wanted to add: if your manager is a reasonable person, they are probably giving you the benefit of the doubt as to why you need the feedback, especially if you are new in any way.
    (“Maybe she’s still adjusting to the culture here”, or “maybe I wasn’t clear enough with my expectations for participation in meetings”, etc.)

    So not only are they not holding onto that assessment of you forever (assuming you act on the feedback), but they probably never thought poorly of you in the first place!

    1. Commenter*

      Totally agree – I also think that most people (especially if they’ve been in the working world long enough to be a manager of others) have experience in receiving feedback themselves and also don’t want to be held to it for forever. Plenty of people don’t treat others the way they want to be treated, but if a manager is a decent/reasonable person who has their own experience in the workforce and has some empathy, they can probably move past it!

    2. Nethwen*

      Yes! Unless there is a pattern of me telling the employee the expectations and them interpreting what I say in problematic ways, then I assume the problem is that I didn’t do my job and set clear expectations. Especially for new people or for roles that are new to the organization, I figure the feedback is needed because of what I didn’t do, not because there is a problem with the employee.

    3. Anonomatopoeia*

      Exactly this. I try to frame this kind of feedback (the first time I give it, obviously) as “Hey so it’s not clear to me that I or anyone told you this thing. Here is the thing and our expectation. Cool? Cool.” I have in fact written reference letters which specifically talk about how someone handled this kind of feedback well, and how helpful it was to me that this was the case.

    4. It's not just you*

      100% — and also what helped me with this was to think of the other people I work with closely and things I wished they would work on. Everyone has *something* they do, either socially or functionally, that I wished they’d do different. Whether it’s “I really wish Paul wouldn’t wait till the last second every week to get me those TPS reports” or “I wish Sheryl would keep us a little more on topic during meetings,” everyone has little stuff like that to work on.

      And most importantly, that doesn’t translate in my head to anything close to “I hate Paul and Sheryl.” I think when I started framing it as an everyone-in-their-own-way problem rather than a me problem, I was able to stop internalizing feedback as “everyone hates me and thinks I’m annoying.”

    5. Cat Tree*

      Also, the manager may be thinking, “I used to do the exact same thing and I wish someone had told me sooner.” There’s often quite a lot of empathy in it.

  2. Alex the Alchemist*

    I just wanted to say how much I really needed this answer. I’m not the LW, but I’m a weirdo who’s been blessed with a sensitivity to external noise and also absolutely no sense of volume control when it comes to my own voice. I’m genuinely working on the latter (it’s tough when I get excited about something) and it’s helpful to know that it’s probably not the main thing on people’s minds when they know that I’m making a concerted effort to be more considerate in that regard.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Same! I really appreciated this. We all come from different backgrounds, and now I, from a big American family but now in Germany, an considered super loud here and have had a bus driver yell at me because i was too loud on a phone when I first came. My normal wasn’t someone else’s and i would take it so personally. Love Alison’s response!

      1. Mannequin*

        Granted, the way cellphones are made is conducive to loud talking.

        People talked too loud on landlines too, until a speaker was added to the handset so the talker could hear their own voice. Mobile phones don’t have that aural feedback.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        The fact that you’re in a foreign country often means you talk more loudly, because your mum is so far away! and nobody can understand you! (er if you’re speaking in English, they do, actually).

  3. Jenna Webster*

    I wonder if it would help to know that every staff member needs to occasionally be corrected, redirected, or coached. It isn’t something that happens to an odd subset of people – it really does come up for everyone – and those of us who do it also get the same correction or coaching from our managers. When someone responds calmly, professionally, and then works on the behavior, it is sheer joy and it makes me think of them more positively, as someone who can adjust and change – when someone takes coaching well and changes their behavior, it seems more likely that they are ready for more responsibility, promotions, etc.

  4. It happens*

    Good managers know that people coming from even similar lines of work can have stark differences in culture, and generally don’t hold it against the new person. For example we use walkie-talkie radios where I managed for communication. And every once in a while we would have someone new come in and use it like a joke radio show broadcast to be funny. I never got mad or held it against them, but explained it was a critical tool for effective communication including emergencies, so they couldn’t be hijacking the feed like that and was also monitored by the upstairs managers and maintenance team. Its when people blow off that kind off that feedback and continue the behaviour where judgements start to form.

    1. Drago Cucina*

      This is a good example. Good managers want people to succeed. I have always joked I’m too lazy to micromanage. It’s wonderful when people listen, learn, and grow into their position. Hopefully surpassing it, getting promoted or even leaving for a better job.

  5. DG*

    I very much agree with this answer, but I do think there are some egregious behaviors (anger issues, harassment, casual sexism/racism/etc.) that would leave a lasting impression on a manager even if corrected. Frankly, I would have a hard time managing “Ben” and “Jane” from the earlier post today.

    1. hbc*

      That’s a good point. I’d probably outright forget that I had to tell someone to be quieter or not be quite so flexible with their start time or to dress more neatly if they improved quickly and maintained it. And even if they still end up being the loudest/latest/sloppiest person in the office but are much better and overall do good work, it’s just not something I’m going to dwell on.

      But the guy who we had to tell that adding “she’s not too hard on the eyes either” to a text chain about a customer/partner was a bad thing? Yeah, I’m not forgetting that, and not just because the text group included that attractive customer.

      1. DG*

        I’ve been thinking about this more and I think the line is: could this behavior cause harm (physically, mentally, emotionally) to other people or not? Making an inappropriate comment towards a customer hurts someone and would permanently impact my opinion of the guy who said it. Talking too loudly or arriving to the office late doesn’t (I’m not counting annoyance/frustration/inconvenience as real harm).

    2. Allonge*

      Hard time managing – sure, but management is rarely easy. The outcome matters: if Ben / Jane take feedback seriously, and actually change their behavior and keep it up, longer term it’s also on the manager to… not forget exactly, but to be open to see the improvement (if it happens) and not just the past.

  6. Amaranth*

    Also, try not to see the fact that other employee(s) went to your supervisor as an attempt to get you into trouble. A lot of people avoid conflict, or they might have made overly subtle attempts and see this as a necessary progression. If your boss is the kind of person who handles feedback in a matter-of-fact, professional manner, the other employees rely on that, too.

  7. NotUsingMyUsualNameHere*

    Ironically I just got some very mild personal correction today*, so this is helpful. I don’t beat myself up, but I do tend to ruminate on small things for awhile and wonder if it’s worth defending/explaining myself more, or if I should have said something differently, or why I did what I did in the first place. So, trying to let it go and focus on what I know I do well.

    *I posted the AAM salary questionnaire link in our teams chat, which my manager is also part of, without really thinking about how she/others might take it. She took it as potentially passive-aggressive. It’s fine, everything is fine and we have a good working relationship, but … oops.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      Wow. The professional association for people in my job field does a salary survey every couple of years or so, and they send out an e-mail to all the members in the association to have them fill it out (everyone on my team is a member). I’ve been known to forward that e-mail to everyone on my team with “hey everyone, please take the time to fill this out. It helps others in our field and could help us as well.” I feel like correcting you for what you did was kind of along the lines of suppressing discussion about salary, which is sometimes illegal and never cool.

      1. NotUsingMyUsualNameHere*

        I decided in the moment that it was not a hill I wanted to die on, but that’s part of what I mean about ruminating on it — if I had worded something differently, been more clear about my intentions, would it have been OK? If I had sent it in an email just to my fellow reports in case they wanted to look at it or fill it out, would that? I have no idea. But I also don’t want to go back and play 20 rounds of hashing this out with her, it’s not worth it to me.

        1. Mannequin*

          Respectfully, I don’t think the problem here is you. But at least you’ve learned A Thing about how your supervisor thinks.

      2. Threeve*

        Remember that Ask A Manager is an advice column, not a recognized professional resource.

        1. InASuit*

          It’s an advice column, sure, but Allison has written recognised professional books. So I’d call it a bit of both.

  8. New ish manager*

    Also a good manager or fellow colleague does not conflate who you are as a person and your work performance, so if I have to give any negative feedback that does mean I think badly of that person. I am looking for ways to help them succeed at work. Getting negative feedback at work does not affect who you are as a person and it really helped me to look at it like that.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I try really hard to frame feedback as constructive vs negative (including in my own head, when I get feedback about me).

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I wasn’t admonishing you to be clear – we do think of it as negative and that’s clearly where the OP is coming from. But I think the word can be really powerful in this case and reminding ourselves to approach it as “this is for my benefit too and it will help me grow” can make such a big difference. Which is sounding very granola as I type it out but is just to say words have power in framing how things impact us.

    2. allathian*

      Yes, this. It’s also yet another reason why being passionate about your job is a bad idea. If your identity is tied up in your job, any critical feedback feels like criticism of you as a person. If your job is closer to something you do to pay the bills, it’s much easier to accept even critical feedback as something related to your work performance, rather than as criticism of you as a person.

  9. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    Urg! I feel for you so much LW because I was in a similar situation where because of some “bad” behavior I was labeled as the problematic employee.
    At Toxic Old Job 2 I was told I was “too loud” and “too Angry” on the phone and that “I pounded on the desk”. I tend to talk with my hands, even on the phone (call center so I had headset). And sometimes when I would get frustrated with a client, in order to try and keep my tone even I would tap my hand on the desk.
    Coworkers said that I yelled on the phone ( I was having hearing issues at the time so I did what a lot of people do when they have hearing loss and I raised my voice without knowing I did). Also, I was told I was angry on the phone. I guess because I would stand up while taking calls someone perceived this as me being angry (I would move because my foot was alseep) I also have a very young sounding voice and people would not take me seriously and believe me when I would give them news they didn’t like. I tried to change my tone and I guess it came off as angry.

    Well, I was told that I was coming across as aggressive to my coworkers because once years ago there was someone who got so angry that he stood up and threw his chair across the room and got so aggressive that he was immediately fired and escorted out of the building. Because of this past behavior of someone else I had to be careful of how I acted. Never mind that changing my tone was something I was told to do by my manager and that my coworker was able to stand during his calls without any issues. I was then blamed for “pounding” on my desk when I know I did not do it. Any noise, even me putting my glass water bottle down too hard would get a reaction from my coworker and or boss. Oh and guess what? All the “pounding” wasn’t even me. it was the guy that sat directly behind me KICKING THE SIDE OF HIS DESK! I was the one more visible so
    Basically, anything I did was perceived wrong. This didn’t happen until I got a new manager. The only problem I ever had before was talking to loud on the phone, but I was never written up for it, just a reminder that in our area voices can travel far.
    So I would say in toxic environments (like OP’s old place) an employee who has had bad behavior the boss would have a bad impression. But it a normal place, it would be fine.

    1. BurnBabyBurn*

      Hello from a fellow desk pounder! I’ve got a weirdly similar situation where I was accused of pounding my desk or throwing things on my desk. I’m guessing the accuser was the same person who gave me dirty looks when I knocked something over accidently and it made a noise. My manager didn’t bring it up ’til months later, so she obviously chose to go ahead and continue seeing me that way, and there’s no way for me to accept feedback and fix the issue b/c it’s not a real issue.

    2. Mannequin*

      When I was a 19 year old punk rocker I had a retail employee come in the public restroom & scold at me for making noise, when it was actually my grandmother who had dementia, who’d gotten angry at my mom over who knows what and started cussing her out & banging on the wall. I was standing quietly by when this woman barged in and got up in my face about wreaking havoc in the bathroom, totally ignoring the person who was actually making noise.

      My mom didn’t understand why I wanted to “look weird” but boy did she immediately rip that employee a new one for being prejudiced and making assumptions about people on their appearance.

  10. Eldritch Office Worker*

    For what it’s worth, from the management perspective it would be really helpful for me to know if an employee was carrying assumptions or behaviors over from a toxic workplace. I’m dealing with something similar with an employee not using resources available to them because they had worked for the kind of places that were really precious with resources before and don’t want to be seen as overindulging or taking advantage. That kind of thing is good to know!

    If you had a boss who would yell at you I will be extra careful with my tone, if you’ve dealt with bosses who micromanaged and you are struggling with autonomy I can help with that – you don’t have to trauma dump on your manager but knowing the sources of anxiety for you in the workplace can help a good manager manage better, if you’re comfortable sharing with them.

    1. Rocket*

      Not even just toxic environments but just…different. I went from working at a preschool where staff regularly wore onesies to work to working at a non profit with some very prestigious members/major donors. On my first day, I told them “Look, this is the kind of dress code I have just come from. I think I’m a reasonable person who can read the room and dress accordingly for this new environment, but if you see me making missteps, please let me know. And please know I’m not just a sloppy person, but someone who’s still recalibrating.”

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Totally. I was thinking more trauma reactions because of the framing of the letter but it can apply to any need for correction. Context is everything!

  11. freddy*

    Agreed on all counts! I think this generalizes to making mistakes in many contexts. Look, you’re gonna make a mistake from time to time. So am I. Promising myself I will Try Very Hard such that I will never make another mistake just doesn’t work (or at least that’s what my therapist keeps reminding me). So the best you can do is to see it as an opportunity to proactively deal with it, with honesty and accountability, and work through a plan for how to fix it and/or not have it happen again. And often when you do that, the other person ends up remembering your grace and professionalism rather than the mistake. Will some people hold it against you? Sure, there are resentful and/or grumpy people in the world. But I have had client situations like this that led to stronger relationships in the end, because of how we handled our mistake, and I bet that happens more often than it doesn’t.

  12. Phony Genius*

    Having been on both ends of this type of thing, I will say being on the receiving end sticks in my mind longer than being on the delivering end. So I can understand the feeling of the LW. But I think that varies from person-to-person.

  13. A Kate*

    Honestly, as a manager all I want is for my feedback to be heard and taken on; after that I will really never think about it again! It would only become an issue if it were something that kept recurring, with no visible effort shown (I know that behavioral stuff can sometimes be a habit that’s hard to break).

  14. why did I stay there so long?*

    I feel this in my soul! I definitely have PTSD about all sorts of feedback I received from my former boss (and so do many of my fellow former co-workers) and I still find triggers 2 years into a new job with a wonderful boss that I trust. Whenever I feel the trigger, I just have to take a deep breath, step back and look objectively about the evidence (reasonable people won’t pigeonhole you and how has your boss given/relayed feedback in the past) and remind myself not to let the old relationship generalize to the new one.

    1. Tussy*

      You can’t get PTSD from negative feedback, it is a disorder that happens to some (and not all) people after witnessing or experiencing a life threatening event. You also can’t get through a PTSD episode by taking a deep breath and looking at things objectively. What you have sounds like anxiety. I’m sorry it’s not as cool sounding.

      Calling stuff like this PTSD is spreading misinformation that harms people with PTSD by making it seem like a more common, less serious and less debilitating disease than it is, which can interfere with their ability to get the right support and have people give it the correct weight.

      If you genuinely believe you have PTSD you should get a diagnosis.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        You can get C-PTSD from a sustained environment. You’re not wrong that we shouldn’t use diagnoses flippantly, but don’t say “you can’t get ___ from ___” or dismiss others experiences either.

        1. Laura D*

          A sustained environment, yes, but again with prolonged exposure to a life threatening situation, or somewhere you might believe you were at risk of serious injury. I totally agree we shouldn’t be invalidating peoples’ experiences, but as a mental health professional, it becomes a problem when people casually use terms like PTSD in these contexts, because it takes longer to assess the problem and contributes to an overall misunderstanding of the terms.

          1. io lightning*

            You stated this far more succinctly than I did (long comment still in moderation) and I fully agree.

          2. Bennie K*

            The word “trauma” would solve this issue. I don’t have a PTSD diagnosis, but three therapists, a psychiatrist and my GP can attest that I still have trauma.

        2. io lightning*

          I agree with Tussy, using “PTSD” in the vernacular can minimize what PTSD/cPTSD actually is. Perhaps our language needs a term that means something like “triggered anxiety that developed as fallout from a bad (but escapable) event or environment” in a milder sense than PTSD/cPTSD.

          I have diagnosed complex -“c”- PTSD from childhood stuff. Per my experience, unfortunately, our society (U.S. point of view) seems to expect the symptoms of PTSD/cPTSD such as panic attacks/flashbacks/dissociation/deregulation/hypervigilance/etc. can be managed the way adults handle moderate anxiety. [Unless you’re a veteran and/or action-hero-dude with a tragic-childhood backstory: then the media portrays drinking and throwing stuff and punching people as the right outlet.]

          While I will concede that there are some similar tools to managing symptoms in both conditions, these generally become effective for cPTSD after LOTS of work in therapy, and the starting point and disruption is just not in the same ballpark. It’s unreasonable, uncompassionate, and potentially re-traumatizing to expect someone with cPTSD who doesn’t have proper therapeutic help (or is just having a particularly bad day despite therapy) to manage their symptoms the way someone experiencing normal anxiety could.
          Thus, let’s not conflate these things.

          Also to tie together Tussy’s point and Eldritch Office Worker’s point, if someone is having actual cPTSD symptoms because of an edge case where a work environment was super toxic and for various reasons felt inescapable — such that negative feedback really does induce panic attacks, etc. — then they should get diagnosed and get help.

  15. Dinwar*

    I’ve been corrected a few times in my career. I joke that I screw up until I find all the ways to possibly screw up, and after that I’m a stellar employee! It was bad enough that I was almost on a PIP (which in my company translates to “out the door”). At this point I doubt my boss remembers that; he relies on me (along with a few others) to keep the program running.

    One time I was corrected for a pretty major screw-up. Think, could have cost the company a few million dollars, a major dent in our reputation, revocation of permits, etc. Not good. My boss called and informed me, professionally but in detail and at length, of just what I’d done wrong and how bad it could have been had he not caught it, and told me to re-do the report I was working on. I took it pretty hard, but rather than being defensive my reaction was to dig into the issue and re-examine it. When I resubmitted the report I told my boss “Here are the corrections you had me make, plus three other issues I saw while reviewing this that you hadn’t mentioned but which support your point.” He informed me later that this was one of the things that made him enjoy working with me.

    Everyone screws up, and everyone needs to get an occasionally talking-to. It’s part of being human. A reasonable person recognizes this. How you respond is infinitely more important. If you get defensive, or worse hostile, your reputation is toast. If you take the criticism seriously and make an honest effort to correct yourself, that’s going to be remembered LONG after the incident is forgotten.

  16. The Starsong Princess*

    If you take feedback non-defensively and act on it, your manager will love you! It’s a hard thing to do. Some managers are great at it – I had one who would frame negative feedback as “polishing the trophy” – in other words, you are doing a great job but here’s the little thing that you can do to shine even more.

  17. Just Me*

    Social feedback is very awkward to take, and it’s often very awkward for a manager to give. Not in a managerial role now but I remember from past jobs where I managed people absolutely dreadingggg having to tell someone they had to correct their behavior specifically because I didn’t want them to freak out. Honestly, if your employer is asking for you to correct something it’s because they think you are competent and capable of correction (and trust me, you have probably had colleagues who were so incompetent that your managers just gave up trying to give them feedback, not that that’s the right thing to do, per se). It’s often not meant as a personal comment about you as a human, it’s often more like “we need to make you aware of a thing we need to do for the proper functioning of the workplace.” ex. I don’t personally care if you’re loud, but I may need to tell you to be quieter just because you may not have known that Fergus regularly has to take sensitive phone calls from clients. Alison is right that the manager loves it if you take it well and make the change. You can think of the feedback more as the manager giving you information to help you succeed in your job and to make the workplace run smoothly, rather than making a qualitative judgement (unless you’re the type of employee who regularly does wildly bizarre and unprofessional things, like my former report in college who used to pee on things, but in that case I gave up trying to give him feedback and just prayed for the school year to end so he could graduate.)

      1. Aggresuko*

        OH GOOD GOD.

        How bad does the organization have to be that a guy who PEES ON THINGS can’t get fired and you just have to wait for him to graduate?!

  18. just another bureaucrat*

    Honestly, the more feedback you can take and do something with the more positively your boss will look on you in general. I give the most feedback to the people who are the best and who are looking to build skills. Ok ready for the next thing? Great, you’re going to get a lot more feedback and some of it is going to be awkward and some of it is going to feel more personal (I know you didn’t mean to but what you just said came off as a huge insult to the people you were talking to, this is why they would have read it this way, this is how you can know going in and you are one of my favorite people for being heartbroken that you might have hurt them and they’ll forgive you and so will I just please forgive yourself but learn).

    But the more you can take on feedback the more you can learn the more you can grow the more you can do. Giving repeated feedback on the same thing over and over with no improvement is hard and will start to impact perception. But even backsliding on something once in a while is to be expected, we are humans.

    And I’m saying this in part because even when you know this and do this it’s still hard to be on the receiving end sometimes (all the time) and I got some harsh feedback and I know it’s not impacting my boss’s perception but it doesn’t stop me from feeling like shit.

  19. Another Manager*

    Popping in to second the “delight” sentiment from Alison! Everyone needs feedback, and the ability to receive feedback non-defensively, and incorporate that feedback, is one of the greatest skills an employee can have. I even try to specifically screen for this with interview questions when I’m hiring.

    To add to the “this sticks in your mind more than the manger’s” chorus – one of my former direct reports recently wrote a book, and they gave me a heads up that there is a story about me in the book (in case I read it). The story is about me having to talk to them about an error that they made – I literally have NO MEMORY of that error/conversation.

    1. Hiring for this*

      Would love to know — and use — the interview question(s) you use to screen for this!

  20. kiki*

    One thing I’ve been working on processing in therapy is that nobody is perfect and having an imperfect track record won’t destroy your life or others’ opinions of you. I got off to a bad start with a now-former boss. It wasn’t entirely my fault– his management skills needed work– but I was young and made some blunders. But he doesn’t think of me as a bad employee, not at all. He saw my growth, he saw me learn, now he texts me for input, we’ve gone to each others’ houses for dinner, and we write recommendations for each other. He knows me and likes me even though he had to deal with me being an idiot 25-year-old. People still like and respect imperfect people.

    1. AnonyNurse*

      “If you weren’t human, you wouldn’t make mistakes.” — a doctor to me (nurse) when I’d made what could have been a very big mistake but fortunately wasn’t. It’s been more than a decade and while I haven’t made that same error again, I think about and repeat what she told me that night frequently. I don’t even remember her name. But I remember how I felt and I remember what she said. And I TRY to give myself the same grace I’d give others.

  21. AskingForAFriend*

    But, say, what if you don’t think the feedback was particularly fair?

    Not that I’m struggling with some recent feedback, surely not me.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      I’ve had “feedback” in the past that was essentially a nasty boss trying to rewrite my personality into something more traditionally feminine and meek. All of the bingo words that get used against women, and then some. That went over like a lead brick as far as I was concerned. Think things like “You need to be more pleasing.”, “You need to just start saying yes instead of asking questions.”, “Why are you always so aggressive? Can’t you just be quiet and do as you’re told?”, etc. This was in a job where if I didn’t know something I would ask. If they wanted something, I would ask when they needed it so I could mesh it in with everything else on my plate. They just wanted me to jump and do stuff on command, and were expecting me to do multiple things at once with no priority, then would criticize what I didn’t get done. Everything was “urgent”, primarily because they didn’t know how to prioritize. The place was a nightmare.

      Nowadays when I start hearing that kind of stereotype gender role enforcement I start putting out resumes. Life’s to short to have people try to make you who you aren’t.

      Too loud? Sure, that’s reasonable.

      Adjusting to working with other people in an open plan can require adaptations (eg “Please stop using your speakerphone for calls, we can get you a headset so you have your hands free but still don’t disturb others.” or “Can you not kick the back of your desk? It makes Jim’s workstation wobble.”) This is different from rewriting someone personality or enforcing gender stereotypes.

    2. Forrest*

      Sit with it a little bit. Accept that it stings, and spend some time turning it over and see if you can divide it into “OK, that bit is maaaaybe fair” and “that bit wasn’t” or “the way it was delivered wasn’t kind”.

      If you’ve sat with it a bit and you’re still really not sure, you have a couple of options. Firstly, if your boss is generally a fair person and someone you get on OK with, you can go back to them and ask more questions– can you give me some specific examples, was there something particular that made you think this, how would you have wanted me to handle this instead– whatever it is that’s bugging you particularly. If they’re not, is there a third party you trust to help you sift through it and see whether there’s a kernel of useful advice in there or whether it’s all rubbish? A mentor or a good colleague who knows your work is a good place to start. If not, someone who isn’t at work but is good at helping you sort through things is a good second.

      Good luck! Sometimes feedback ISN’T fair– it’s totally possible that you have a bad boss, or a good boss who called this particular thing wrong. But it’s also possible that there’s a useful bit in there. But you will almost certainly feel better when you’d figured out which it is.

    3. Aggresuko*

      Frankly, arguing with them isn’t going to do you any good. I have just learned to accept that that’s how the person sees and judges me, and in their eyes, I’m wrong. I may not have a problem with X, but clearly they DO and I have to adjust to that.

    4. WS*

      Don’t think about why you’re doing X, think about how X looks from the outside. You might have a very good reason for doing things a particular way, but other people can’t see into your head. How can you change the part that’s bothering people?

      I worked with a very enthusiastic guy in sales who did great work but got super loud. He was asked to quieten down, but instead he got a bluetooth headset so he could walk outside while on his sales calls and still be just as loud and enthusiastic (we were in an isolated building, no privacy concerns there). I was impressed by his problem solving!

      And if it’s something that you genuinely can’t change either in reality or perception (like when I was told to wear less revealing clothing while covered up to the neck) then it’s time to nod politely and move on.

  22. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    If the problem goes away promptly and doesn’t continue to be a problem, I may or may not even ever actually remember that it WAS a problem.

  23. phedre*

    I love when my staff members take feedback well and make changes. It only reflects well on them that they’ve been able to internalize the feedback and make improvements. We all have needed guidance or feedback in our careers on ways we could improve, so I don’t think less of people who need some shaping conversations. What I do have a problem with is people who can’t take feedback. I did my first firing of one of my direct reports last year, and while there were a number of issues with this person’s work, one of the biggest dealbreakers for me was their complete inability to take any kind of feedback (even minor edits to their work) without getting extremely defensive. Even normal team edits on a proposal were taken as a personal attack. It was exhausting.

  24. Anonymous Hippo*

    As a personal anecdote, my first boss had to tell me not to play on my phone during boring meetings once (which was intensely embarrassing in the moment), then later went to bat for me to get multiple promotions and finally offered me her job when she retired.

  25. Revvy*

    I needed to hear this too – I just recently got some ‘behavioral’ feedback (I won’t even call it a reprimand, it wasn’t official or anything it was literally just my manager pulling me aside to gently tell me not to do something again), but it always freaking guts me. I am not exaggerating to say that personal criticism actually causes me physical discomfort, and it had me thrown off for the rest of the day.
    Admittedly, part of this is my being neurodivergent in a way that contributes to taking perceived ‘rejection’ very hard, and same disorder causing me to be the ‘weird girl’ ever since I was a teen (and was only recently diagnosed, so said ‘weirdness’ was always treated as a personal failing rather than, you know, my brain just being wired different). I think it also bothers me because it’s the only thing I ever seem to get negative feedback on? My work always seems to be considered really well done, the last time I can remember having criticism on that was when I was having a really bad time mentally AND was overburdened in my workload (which my managers readily admitted). It’s frustrating to think I’m the employee that would be fantastic if only I’d stop being so odd.

  26. OceanDiva*

    I would add that if you don’t make the corrections and it comes up multiple times, then as a manager yes, it does impact my opinion. Been trying to break that impression of staff once they finally do change their actions, but it can be hard.

    1. Aggresuko*

      Yeah. I’ve effed up enough at work–I’ll put it this way, I make different mistakes but they’re all in the same vicinity of things like “Aggresuko’s voice is awful” or whatever–that yes, it’s definitely tainted my bosses’ impressions of me. Like they may like me otherwise, but they NEVER FORGET about my voice being A Problem because it is forever coming up as A Problem, just in new variations.

  27. Jaly*

    Agree with this! I am a manager at a relatively new job (just under 3 months). I have someone who has not been meeting expectations. I showed her the performance, explained why/how they’re tracked. She had not seen it this way and seemed bothered that she wasn’t where she should be. I told her that the past is the past. Now that we’ve addressed it, all I expect going forward is improvement. She accepted the feedback openly and made immediate improvements. I am
    thrilled and have gained a whole lot of respect for her.

  28. MeepMeep02*

    As a boss, I would be impressed as hell by an employee taking personal feedback in stride, being professional about it, and making a change for the better. I haven’t had to deliver personal feedback rather than feedback related to work, but unless it’s something really glaring and outrageous (i.e. coming to work drunk, making racist comments, and sexually propositioning their coworkers), I wouldn’t judge someone for whatever it is. None of us are perfect and we all commit social faux pas.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, well, managers should focus on feedback related to work. Leave the person out of it, unless it’s something really outrageous. Even things like asking a report with a loud voice to moderate their volume should be framed as workplace-related feedback. Don’t make the report feel bad for having a loud voice, just state that you need them to speak less loudly in an open office environment.

      The other things you mentioned would be causes for immediate firing in many jobs.

  29. Arin*

    Echoing Suzanne, as a manager, I gave my last report feedback, and was SUPER impressed by how she heard me and implemented what I asked (and it was important – tone in speaking with colleagues that was causing problems). I ended up thinking very well of her because of how she took and implemented the feedback – it made me want to go to bat for her, because I knew how seriously she took things.

  30. Lyngend (Canada)*

    Omg, I totally relate to thus. Except I struggle to correct the behaviour because it’s not like “put x in y” and completely reliant on me. But because my job relies on how I interact with the customers it’s hard to do everything perfectly for every call. And the stuff I fail was stuff I’d asked for help with before and got “you just gotta do it” (wanted help phrasing things, so it would be easier to remember to say what’s needed in spots I struggle with).

  31. Allonge*

    Frankly, even if someone gets a ‘little defensive or show they’re upset’ upon receiving negative feedback, but takes it seriously in the end and shows improvement, they are still ok.

  32. Blarg*

    I could have written this. I don’t even need the feedback to be convinced I’m about to get fired or my bosses and coworkers hate me … just anything I think is less than perfect.

    I’m working on it,

    Thanks, mom.

  33. BB*

    I struggled with this, too. I’m in a state of constant anxiety that if I do anything wrong, ever, my bosses will remember it and record it on my evaluations and will never forgive me. But at the same time, I barely remember the times I have to correct my subordinates. 99% of the time it’s just, “Hey Bob, knock it off,” and I think nothing of it. Like, an employee would have to really maliciously or repeatedly screw up for me to remember it and hold it against them.

    There was one day, I was super stressed out about something, because I didn’t want to make a mistake. My wife asked me, “Do you think it’s a big deal if your employee makes this same mistake?” Of course the answer was, “No.” If my employee did it, the problem would be trivial. But if I made the mistake, it would be the END OF THE WORLD.

  34. Chelsea*

    Managers want their employees to succeed. Of course there are occasionally people so problematic that they need to be replaced, but we do not want to be stuck in a never ending revolving door of hiring. So someone who handles feedback well and tries to implement changes is seen as an ideal employee. Rarely do we focus on the original issue, especially if it seems to be resolved.

  35. Susie Q*

    It 1000000% depends on the behavior. Talking to loud in the office…absolutely not. Everyone I know has spoken too loudly at some point.

    Are you aggressive? Are you insulting people? Are you being rude? Then yes, it will sour my opinion of you.

  36. River*

    I suffer from this as well. I can tell you that it stems from my father. My father expected us kids to be correct all the time, know answers to everything, and know what he is talking about at all times. He did not have patience with us. He made us feel not smart and would sometimes be highly critical. Then of course we would take it to bed and then the negative spiral would start. He sometimes would make remarks about how we didn’t know things. And so I always felt like our father thought we weren’t fully capable of things and my confidence has never been all up there. I question whether or not I have a learning disability because I struggled a lot in school as well. So to this day I sometimes feel like I need to know what people are talking about or understand what is happening in any given situation, like knowing the answers to everything. It sucks having this invisible expectation that I need to have all the answers because it reminds me of my childhood. It’s rare when I get constructive feedback at work because my managers says I do a fantastic job but when I have gotten constructive feedback, I sometimes will take it to heart and it’s on my mind for the rest of the day/week. At least on the plus side, at work, my boss and co-workers don’t always have the answers to everything either and so I don’t feel alone. It doesn’t tarnish their impression of me. We don’t always have the answers to everything and that is alright!

  37. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    Seems like all the managers here are reasonable people who enjoy watching their staff blossom. I have been unfortunate maybe. My nicest boss couldn’t help but think of me as the “young one” because I was only 19 when he hired me. I was “the young one” for nearly ten years, then luckily another teenager was hired and she became the new “young one” and people suddenly started realising I had matured and gained heaps of experience and really should be promoted to manage the department.
    Then Toxic Boss2 could never forget a thing. If you screwed up on your first week, you would forever be the one that screwed up. No matter that you never made that mistake again the whole time you were there, no matter that you proved yourself more than capable in everything else. You would be compared to the Golden Girl for the rest of your tenure. Then when TB2 sold the firm to TB3, he even passed the list of all my misdeeds on to TB3.

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