my boss wants a “guide to getting the best out of me”

A reader writes:

My boss, the head of a foundation with 10-15 employees, switches up annual review questions each year. The past three years, the questions have been reflective and mostly for staff’s benefit, according to him, and which I mostly experience as true.

This year, there were three short reflective questions and then a sheet titled “Guide to Getting the Best Out of Me” with these prompts:

If someone has coaching for me, here’s my best advice for how — and when — to offer it so I can hear it:
• Pet peeves about feedback:
• If triggered by feedback, how can others tell?
• Advice for handling or interpreting my reactions:
• Do I prefer feedback by phone/email/chat/in-person?

Am I off in thinking this is overly invasive? There’s a serious trend in the nonprofit/philanthropic space to lead with your heart. Even compared with those approaches, this demands a level of vulnerability I am not comfortable with, as the psychological safety is not present to support it. Consultants, stop pumping out this therapy-speak!

Additionally, my boss is a massive undermanager and fancies himself a mentor while avoiding hard conversations and leaning into passive aggressive staff meeting statements.

It’s a mix of intrusive and not intrusive.

It’s very reasonable to ask if you prefer to receive feedback by phone/email/chat/in-person — a lot of people have strong preferences in that area and it’s good for managers to know what they are. That doesn’t mean they’ll always be able to comply; sometimes circumstances might require that it happen a different way — but it’s still useful to know.

The question about how to offer feedback “so I can hear it” will be a little too touchy-feely for some people, but it’s not an outrageous framing. You could always write something bland like “I’m always open to feedback” or “No strong preferences.”

But “if triggered by feedback, how can others tell”? It’s pretty weird to assume you’ll be triggered by feedback at all. And triggered in particular is such a loaded word. It would be better framed as “if I disagree with feedback” or something else less intense/therapized than “triggered.” And frankly, if someone is regularly getting triggered by feedback, there’s a problem; I don’t like the way this question makes it sound routine.

This is made worse by the fact that your boss is “a massive undermanager who fancies himself a mentor while avoiding hard conversations and leaning into passive aggression.” If your boss were a good manager, I suspect these questions would grate less — they still would be A Lot, but they’d land differently than they do coming from a boss who is already getting the basics wrong. We can debate whether any managers should be delving into this kind of therapy-speak, but it’s particularly provoking from a manager who’s asking for psychological exposure without having done any of the work to make that a reasonable or safe request.

{ 139 comments… read them below }

  1. Antilles*

    The last paragraph about him being a massive undermanager makes me wonder if he’s simply looking for a way to reinforce/justify he’s already handling things.

    See, I knew I was right to send out staff-wide emails rather than having direct chats; they want it that way!

    1. My feet, like my feelings, are numb*

      That was my takeaway too.

      My petty butt would submit that I prefer and require daily direct face-to-face feedback.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      • Pet peeves about feedback:
      When it is not direct and delivered privately to me. I don’t like receiving feedback in all-staff emails.

  2. Kelsi*

    It feels like they had one interaction with a specific person (my guess: someone who cries at certain kinds of feedback because it’s triggering for them, and who asked the boss to handle that in a specific way–e.g. politely pretending they weren’t crying, or sending feedback via email first so they had time to process and manage their reaction, or similar) and then decided they never ever wanted to have that again so they were going to get ahead of it…when it doesn’t actually apply to a lot of people.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree, I don’t think this seems invasive at all–just overly specific in ways that most people don’t need

      1. Carl*

        I agree. I don’t think this seems invasive. I read it as an earnest (but a little hokey) attempt to communicate with people on their own terms.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        I think that asking a report “how can I tell if you’re upset [and choose not to tell me]” is pretty invasive. A lot of professional advice is on how to accept feedback without getting very emotional. I don’t want my boss to know that I’m upset and trying to hide it when getting feedback, particularly if they’re the kind of boss that avoids tough conversations in the first place.

    2. fidget spinner*

      This sounds likely to me as well. It sounds like the boss is actually trying to make sure to give feedback in a way that’s not upsetting to the employees–but he didn’t word the question well because most people aren’t “triggered” by feedback.

      Also, I’m a slower processor when it comes to my own feelings, so I’m probably not going to react very strongly… even to negative feedback I entirely disagree with… until I’ve thought it through later.

    3. Starbuck*

      Totally agree this seems in reaction to a bad experience and trying to be more thoughtful. I think it’s fine and you can just opt out of the questions that you feel are too much, if you’re not picky about feedback. I wouldn’t sweat it.

    4. Clare*

      Especially coming from a massive undermanager. It speaks “I like to think of myself as tactful, but I don’t want to put in an iota of work figuring out how to deliver difficult messages to you tactfully. Can you just tell me how to do it instead so I don’t have to think?”

      1. AskJeeves*

        I’m thinking it’ll end up being, “Can you fill out this overly-personal survey so I can congratulate myself on being an amazing manager but I won’t actually implement your responses in any way?”

    5. Green Goose*

      Ugh, the old “I can’t manage this one person so I’ll change rule/policy for everyone instead of learning how to deal with it”.

    6. Esmae*

      Yeah, the “triggered” phrasing makes me think they’ve had an employee who actually is triggered by negative or very direct feedback, in the sense of having a really overwhelmingly strong emotional response to it, and they want to get out ahead of that in the future. I’ve had a similar experience and I understand the impulse!

  3. mcm*

    I had a great manager who, when I was hired, asked similar questions regarding how I prefer to receive positive feedback and negative feedback, how I prefer to communicate (when possible) and my preferred working hours/things like that. I found it tremendously helpful for our working relationship, especially to be able to say things like “please don’t share any new information with me after 4:30 because my brain has left the building, but feel free to slack/email me on the way to work if you want me to jump right in.” However, she avoided therapy-speak (the word “triggered” has been soooo often incorrectly used), and, it made a really big difference that she was, overall, a very good manager and clearly used this information to be more effective, not to abdicate responsibility.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah I think there’s a version of this that’s really good, I’m just not sure this is it, plus OP is already not enthused about this boss

    2. WantonSeedStitch*

      This. The manager here has the right idea but is asking the wrong questions, or asking them in the wrong way. This manager seems to want to ask “how do I best manage you,” and instead, they’re asking “how do I manage your emotions?” The former is their job; the latter is not.

      1. JSPA*

        Yep–“how do you want people to manage you” (useful!) lands differently from “how are you best manipulated” (creepy!).

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Exactly! The first and last question were fine, but the middle two went way too far. Especially since the boss has shown that their way of managing reports’ emotions is to abdicate responsibility for actually managing the reports.

    3. I AM a Lawyer*

      There is definitely a way to do this that I would have appreciated from my current manager who tends to give feedback inappropriately and in ways that I find unproductive (he’s on his way out, so it’s moot now). But, agreed that there’s a fine line between it helping the relationship and putting the managee in a difficult position.

    4. tommy*

      “the word ‘triggered’ has been soooo often incorrectly used”

      i so appreciate this comment! the word is being used politically and sarcastically, which is awful; and it’s also being (earnestly but annoyingly) diluted into meaning “upset,” which makes it less available as a term for one serious thing that can happen when a person’s past trauma gets poked.

    5. Name Anxiety*

      I was going to say exactly this! My onboarding conversation with my manager at the small non-profit I worked at was just like this and she shared her preferences as well which was very helpful. It was not phrased like the letter-writer’s boss did. That probably would have seemed weird to me too!

    6. works with realtors*

      I just started a new job and my manager asked similar at our first meeting – it really seems like, if asked correctly, these questions set the tone for working together. But when asked incorrectly, it becomes this post!

    7. Phryne*

      Yes, if I apply this to my current and previous manager, I don’t see a real problem. I do have mental health issues that make me be triggered by things one cannot reasonably expect, and my manager is aware of this. I can burst out in tears without warning over something tiny because of a weird neural pathway in my brain I have no control over in the moment, and I find it important when this happens that people around me know that my reaction has little to do with what they said to me, or even with my own actual emotions at that moment.
      But I’ve been lucky with my managers, and I can very much imagine that this is not a level of communication you want with managers you have no confidence in.

  4. Shoes*

    From Alison’s response ” And frankly, if someone is regularly getting triggered by feedback, there’s a problem; I don’t like the way this question makes it sound routine.”

    As a person who is often quiet/introverted, it is not unusual for people to be surprised when I react [to anything]. I think that’s what’s being referred to here.

    Those people have often asked me how to interpret my reaction. “Shoes, finally said something?! How do we interpret this? How do we react?”

    I just want to point out this is not usual for everyone.

    1. nofiredrills*

      BTW- Alison seems to be using the classic definition of triggered, not the way it’s often used now to just mean “reaction.” I’m also quiet but reacting does not mean I’m triggered by something.

      1. JSPA*

        the oldest and newest meanings are nearly identical (abrupt causation) except for transitive vs intransitive grammar.

        The specialized psych meaning is intermediate in age.

        1. Laura*

          ok, but the newest version of the word is directly from edgelords on the internet making fun of psychological meaning. It’s a purposeful misinterpretation of the word so the psychological term is relevant here.

    2. Ace in the Hole*

      But reacting to something is not the same as being triggered by something. Nor is being noticeably upset/bothered/aggravated/uncomfortable/offended by something the same as being triggered.

      “Trigger” has a very specific meaning. It’s something that provokes symptoms from a mental health condition (e.g. phobias, addictions, eating disorders, OCD, etc) and/or brings up seriously distressing thoughts, feelings, or memories from past trauma. Diluting this meaning by using it synonymously with “bothered” or “upset” is a way of minimizing and dismissing genuine mental health issues.

      Also, to be clear, triggers often don’t cause people to noticeably react in the moment. Someone genuinely triggered by feedback might get vocally angry or start crying. But they also might quietly accept the feedback and then spend the next few days so anxious they can’t sleep, or be so distracted and off kilter they can’t focus for the rest of their shift, or get headaches and nausea, or seem checked out for the rest of the conversation because they’re having flashbacks to childhood experiences, or immediately quit their job because they’re convinced they’ll be fired, or have a resurgence of suicidal impulses… there are a LOT of possibilities. Most of which do not look particularly reactive on the surface.

  5. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

    I think I’d respond to this by framing everything as positively as possible. So, I wouldn’t say what my “pet peeves” are, but I’d say something like “I prefer feedback to be kind but direct.” For the “triggered” questions, I might say, “I feel like I and my manager can handle uncomfortable interactions in the moment. If I have concerns, I will communicate them openly.”

    1. Saturday*

      That’s what I was thinking.
      “Advice for handling or interpreting my reactions” – I’ll be open and direct, but please feel free to ask any clarifying questions.

    2. Phryne*

      Pet peeves could be useful. You could for instance say,
      ‘I really hate it when mental health therapeutic language gets appropriated into normal work interactions’.
      But more seriously, mine would be something like ‘please do’n’t sugar-coat stuff, I prefer direct communication over empty niceties. If I’m doing something wrong, just tell me, don’t drop hints or subtle nudges’

  6. dkdkdkdkd*

    If my manager asked me for a “guide to getting the most out of me” I would be horrified. It’s not my job to figure out how to squeeze out the maximum amount of value in exchange for my (presumably unchanging) salary. And even if I had answers, I wouldn’t want my employer to know them!

    In my opinion – as someone who’s worked in a wide variety of fields but currently holds a unionized position in the university sector – the only answer I would provide for “how to get the most out of me” would be “a raise and/or financial incentives for x y z”

    (I do get they asked about communication preferences, not directly about productivity, so that wouldn’t necessarily make sense in this specific context. But I am still offended on OP’s behalf! Ugh.)

    1. TechWorker*

      This is a bizarrely hostile take on the situation and the conversation. No one performs their best at work if they are having a crap time, would you also object to the question of ‘how can I work with you to maximise your enjoyment of work?’ There’s also the fact that in order to get those raises and promotions you need to do good work, so the chance to work in a way that suits you and.. allows you to do that good work is a positive for you AND your employer.

    2. Still*

      I feel like that’s an extreme way to interpret it! It could just as well mean “what kind of support do you need to do your best work”. Even if it could be phrased better, I think the best thing to do is to answer it assuming good intentions: tell the employer what would actually make your work life easier. There’s a ton of non-monetary things that contribute to satisfaction and productivity at work.

    3. Lisa B*

      I think Alison’s point about an underwhelming boss really hits here. These questions from Bad Boss = intrusive and demanding; These same questions from Good Boss = boss wants to connect to his/her employee and ensure they have a good working relationship. If you have a bad relationship with your boss and/or the institution overall it’s sort of looking for the bad in things deliberately. If my boss asked how to “get the most out of you” I would interpret that as the opportunity to say “I love new challenges so keep throwing new projects at me; repetitive assignments bore me and I don’t feel engaged.”

    4. Aha*

      I think that I agree with you. Yes, I’d have a surprisingly negative reaction to this type of communication. What it boils down to for me is that “how can I get the most out of you” is a very…. transactional and gross feeling. Intellectually I understand what’s being asked, but it feels unpleasant in this context. Having that followed by “what triggers you” feels extra gross. It’s the Transactional + Therapy that would have my skin crawling. He should’ve framed it as asking for people’s preferences, and then steered clear of therapy speak.

    5. Jake*

      I’ve been working for 13 years now in a mixed industry of blue and white collar, and I find this attitude fascinating. My entire family holds this exact mindset of me vs. boss, and I find it more prevalent in the union side of things.

      I can tell you, as somebody who has had both good and bad managers, there is a lot that a manager can do to make you more happy AND more productive that has nothing to do with finances. A LOT! Having a manager that has your back when you did a good job but the result don’t really show it is a perfect example.

      The reality is, the wording of this request by this manager is problematic for exactly the reasons Alison pointed out, but saying that under no circumstances would you reveal to your boss the best way to manage you if you knew is very strange. This isn’t a zero sum game. You can both get benefits by talking to management about your own preferences!

      1. amoeba*

        Yes! Honestly, at my current (comfortable) salary level, those things are actually much more important that a raise. I’d change jobs for slightly less money in the blink of an eye if I had a bad boss!

    6. I should really pick a name*

      I’m going to guess that you’ve had a number of less than great work experiences if that’s what your mind jumps to.

      I interpret it as “what conditions do you work best under?”. Personally, I WANT to be doing my best work, so I don’t consider that to be a threat.

    7. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      I 100% get this perspective, because I work for people who wake up in the morning thinking, “Dammit, who SAYS you can’t get blood from a stone!” My direct manager is a gem, but the company takes a squeeze-until-dry approach and the last thing you want to do is give them ideas.

    8. dkdkdkdkd*

      original commenter here!

      Totally not opposed to answering the question of “What can I do as a manager to improve your experience of working for me?” and I do understand that happy, satisfied employees are, overall, more productive.

      Also it seems I misread “best” as “most” which is really driving my hostility here! :)

      Workers vs bosses is just…..the nature of the game. It’s in your employers’ interest for you to be convinced otherwise. They want to get the most value produced per dollar spent on payroll, and you want to get as much money per “amount of work” performed (I tend to think of amount of work in terms of time x intensity, personally: basically the fraction of my life energy, mental and/or mechanical workload I use on performing work for my employer each day. Sometimes things like risk and other stuff plays into it too).

      Good managers know that happy satisfied employees are generally more productive, and 100% I agree that non-monetary aspects of every job go a long way towards employee happiness (and therefore productivity).

      If my employer wants to maximize that equation? Good for them. I am trying to maximize my own, different, equation. But given that some of the variables involved in our equations are the same (money), we can’t both come out on top.

      It would be ludicrous to go to my boss and say “I would like to receive maximum possible compensation for my work, i.e. I think you should give all the profits directly to the employees of the business.” Why would they do that? The whole point of having employees is getting to keep some of the profits from what they produce.

      Asking your workers “how do I maximize your productivity” is equally ludicrous, is all I’m saying.

      Where any given business and any given employee land on “solving” those equations together is a negotiation that is determined by what both are offering as well as the local labour market, geographic/cultural norms, regulatory regime, etc etc etc.

      For more context: reading “How can I get the best out of you?” induced a strong but, I would still say, reasonable reaction to working under conditions of “lean management,” ie deliberately understaffing which creates urgency and stress for workers, who are pushed to complete the work of sometimes 2 or 3 additional workers for no additional increase in pay (or at least, for a disproportionately low increase in pay).

      Very different question than asking “how can I keep you happy at work or how do you prefer to receive feedback”

      1. TechWorker*

        Ok, I can see where ‘most’ sounds worse than ‘best’ as in the original letter. I still sort of disagree it’s impossible for you both to come out on top, at least if the company is a stable functional one with a vested interest in low attrition. (Which is not the case in all companies for all departments, but absolutely is the case in some places). Of course your interests and your employers won’t perfectly aline but I disagree it’s ‘usual’ or always in the employers benefit to get away with pushing people as hard as possible for as little pay as possible. I guess that does rely on a functioning job market where people have options though & I have probably been lucky in that with my career thus far.

      2. I should really pick a name*

        Workers vs bosses is just…..the nature of the game

        I strongly disagree with this. It’s definitely the case in many workplaces, but it isn’t inherent to the worker/boss relationship.

        My boss is a person. He isn’t out to squeeze every last drop out of me.
        He wants the department to perform well and provides me the tools to facilitate that.

        1. dkdkdkdkd*

          Sure, my boss is a person. But she is one level above the bottom in the hierarchy of my organization. In a sense her interests could have a lot more in common with mine than with the great-grandbosses she’s being asked to identify with. Except her interests don’t align with mine, because her job depends on how successfully she disciplines the people who actually produce value and makes sure the money tap keeps flowing.

          Also replace “bosses” with “owners” (or shareholders, or c-suite, or really any head honcho whose bonus would get a lot bigger if they found a way to fire several of my colleagues in the name of cost-saving) and my point still stands even more clearly.

          I didn’t invent this idea you guys. It’s a widely held common sense to working people all over the world who can directly observe the power dynamics present in their own lives. But for some reason I find this way of thinking seems to be much less common in the United States…..seems related to only getting a week or two of vacation time a year! :)

          (I have had some great bosses. I currently have a job I am happy with, a good relationship with my boss, a relatively high degree of autonomy, stability, and overall good working conditions. I do get how the good situations make it harder to see the “workers vs bosses” dynamic. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there.)

          1. TechWorker*

            Again I think this is going to be more of a thing in some workplaces than others. I am a manager and 0% of my job is ‘disciplining people’

            1. TechWorker*

              I also work in a field/company where a shittonne of non managers make a lot more money than me :) so the bosses vs workers setup is just not quite the same?

              1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

                Agreed. And I think that I to some extent take more of a long view than upper management does, because I’m the one who’s having to deal with these people every day, and if they get unhappy and quit, I’m the one who’s going to have to find their replacements, and train their replacements, and manage a short-staffed team until those replacements are up to a comparable level of productivity to the original team members.

                If Rebecca has something challenging going on in her life right now, I will 100% take the short-term hit in order to support her, including giving her more flexibility and letting deadlines slide, even if that means that I have to tell my managers that we aren’t going to hit all of our targets. Because that is a) better for my personal relationship with Rebecca, which aside from being more pleasant to me, means that we will work together more effectively long-term and b) more likely to keep Rebecca as a satisfied employee long-term, which makes MY long-term job easier, and c) doesn’t make me feel like a shitty person.

                It’s like that letter about the person whose boss didn’t give them a day off to go to their own graduation. Sure, you didn’t have to find coverage for one Saturday in May. BUT you lost your most experienced and productive worker, and now you need to replace them.

                As long as I believe that keeping someone on the team is better than having to find and train a new person, I am willing to do a lot of things that do not result in “maximum productivity” in the immediate or perhaps even the medium-term.

                I know not all bosses think like that, but to me it’s a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

          2. I should really pick a name*

            That has been your experience, but your experience is not universal.

            Claiming that if someone disagrees with you it’s because they just don’t understand the real dynamic is dismissive and really leaves no room for a useful discussion.

            (Also, I’m not in the USA)

            1. AskJeeves*

              I am in the USA and this is not my experience at all. My manager’s job is not “disciplining,” it’s helping me strategize/prioritize my work and supporting me in getting it done. The CEO of my company doesn’t go around looking for people to fire in order to keep more profits, because they understand that the employees are creating value for the company, and understaffing would mean less profit as our productivity would suffer. Obviously the labor system we have is based on capitalism, not altruism, and it has many problems, but individual managers are (by and large) not evil overlords worshiping at the altar of money.

              1. Hermione Danger*

                Lucky you. because the CEO of the company I work for does go around looking for people to fire to keep more profits. He’s much less concerned with quality work than he is with immediate sales growth, and is convinced that talented, disciplined people essentially grow on trees. This is also true of the last organization I worked for as well. There are many, many companies out there of various sizes run by people for whom money is the primary motivator, and that belief affects who moves up in the organization.

        2. Yellow sports car*

          Yeah I find this super weird. In my job I see my boss as being responsible for making my life easier. Sure they have to make sure I’m doing my job, but if I’m doing my job well they’re the people I go to to get rid of obstacles.

          You doing necessarily like every boss, but the us vs them mentality causes more problems than it solves.

          1. Phryne*

            Yep, every manager I had the last 15 years had the same attitude: how can I help to make sure you can do your job the best. The team does not need to be told what to do, we know. We need a manager to have our backs so we can do what we do at the best level, and they know this.
            Probably helps that I work in non-profit education, our end goal is not to make money but to deliver the best possible service within a fixed budget.

        3. amoeba*

          Also, who’s even the worker and who’s the boss in this equation? Like, I manage a small team. Then I have a boss, who obviously also has a boss. And then there’s two more levels until we reach the CEO.
          Maybe if the CEO was writing that, it would land differently. But my boss is also basically just a person who happens to be one step above me in the line. Also, that doesn’t even necessarily mean more power or money whatever! We have senior individual contributors who report to him who probably earn more and have more influence in their area.

          The difference is just that he chose people management as his career path, and they chose to be an SME. Which actually makes it (the main?) part of his job to enable us to do our best work.

      3. Claire*

        “The whole point of having employees is getting to keep some of the profits from what they produce.”
        Except in the government or nonprofit sectors, which are pretty huge sectors.

    9. Hermione Danger*

      Every employer I’ve ever had except for one has expected my entire life to be about the job. This wording is also really concerning to me for that same reason. “How can I get the most out of you?” has always been interpreted–by them–as, “You’re too lazy unless I am pushing you to produce every single minute of the day. Don’t think; do your work.” Even though I’m in a creative industry and thinking is a big part of the work I do.

      1. Unkempt Flatware*

        I was very put off by it and I’d be very guarded if my boss said this. In fact, I did have a boss say this after months of him fawning all over me, bragging about having me on his team, and exclaiming that I’m doing so much that he can’t keep up with me. During my review, he wanted me in the office more because he thought I could be doing even more. I quit soon after. I’m a person, not a piece of fruit.

    10. ariel*

      I agree – “get the most out of you” sounds very extractive. Especially when coming from a bad boss but – work doesn’t own me and you don’t get everything!

  7. nofiredrills*

    We need a society-wide lesson that the word triggered does not mean “any sort of reaction.” It’s a trauma response, and if routine feedback genuinely triggers you I hope you’re getting help for your peace of mind.

    1. Melissa*

      Agreed. “I felt upset about the feedback” should not be called “triggered.” Upset, nervous, defensive, even angry or scared– all very normal emotions!

      1. WillowSunstar*

        As someone who has had bad bosses in the past and has gotten unreasonable, unconstructive feedback (to the point of literally raising one’s voice in front of the entire team back when we were in person), and grew up with having a toxic, highly critical parent who wanted nothing less than perfection from a small child, some types of feedback can be triggering. But more often, it’s just plain regular stressful.

        If bosses would take into account that not everyone grew up having a perfect home life, to past PTSD from bad managers, just be polite when giving feedback. There’s no need for voice raising or harping on minor mistakes unless said minor mistakes actually cost the company money or something.

    2. Holly*

      Yes, as someone who has trauma and actually can be triggered by certain things, I hate hate hate HATE that society has taken this word and largely made it mean “upset”. No. Words mean things and “triggered” has a very specific and important meaning. And I doubly hate that usually people use it in a condescending way. I am all for language changing, I am a descriptivist through and through but I really think that this particular simplification undermines a lot of people and their experiences. Argh.

      1. Kyrielle*

        YES. If you haul in a large barking dog and hold it just shy of reaching me, I’ll probably be triggered and it will probably be obvious.

        If you yell at me for breaking the TPS reports when I haven’t been working on them, I’ll be annoyed. If you yell at me for breaking something I have been working on, I may be distressed. But in neither case am I (personally) triggered. (Someone might be! It depends on what their trauma is around. But the TPS reports, or hard conversations at work, are not where *my* traumas lie.)

    3. Hrodvitnir*

      I think that ship has sailed, and it’s very upsetting (heh). Super cool that the entirely deliberate campaign against the very concept of triggers has lead to a general understanding of the word to mean “upset” with a possible side of “unreasonably or excessively”.

      And in related phenomena, I cannot handle that well-meaning people will now just say “trigger warning” before anything violent. How on earth is that supposed to work? You are meant to be warning of a specific trigger. There is zero use to it without specificity.

      I now use “content note” because it means the same thing and the whole concept of a trigger has been utterly confused for the general public.

    4. JustaTech*

      When my coworker used to send me her audit reports of my data tables I would make sure to not open them around anyone because my face would do a thing and I would be very frustrated (with myself, because I have unreasonable expectations of perfection in my data tables).
      But I would never, ever say I was “triggered”! Because I wasn’t! I was frustrated and irked, and my face would do a thing and I would look very mad (hence trying to make sure no one would see me when I read those reports), but if someone had said I was “triggered” I would have been more frustrated because that’s not what was happening.

    5. Flare*

      I agree, and also, people often understand ME to have been actual-triggered and unable to continue when in fact it’s just that some things make me cry. Water jumps out my eyes because something I care about happened in some way that carried an emotion, there is nothing I can do about it, and also the quickest solution is to just keep working. I have told colleagues that I work with very much, sooooo when this happens, this is just biochemistry being a jerk. I can’t make it stop without taking meds whose side effects are worse (I bore the F out of myself and can’t think of a good reason to bother life-ing — we have to flatten my affect and experience that much to lose the tears thing and it’s A Very Bad Time), so if it makes you uncomfortable I can go to another room and we can pick this up on Zoom with my cam off, or if you can deal it’ll probably cease in five or ten minutes if we just keep working on [thing we were working on.]

      To be clear, I manage not to actually cry at the room (but maybe need to walk away for a minute like 3 times a month, and have actually-crying complicated responses like ….2-3 times a year? More 2 than 3? So not constant, but enough.

      I don’t love that this is how my body is, and I get that it isn’t great that other people might have to just be uncomfortable because of it, although I am also not exactly floating on a pillow of luxurious comfort, but in any case, people perceive me as triggered and very upset (usually what I am is moderately irritated about whatever happened and extremely irritated about the waterworks) and I would certainly rather they asked me how to proceed rather than conclude I am super hard to work with. *shrug*

  8. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    The intent seems ok here, but it sure puts a lot of the responsibility on the staff person to manage up in a very “out front” way.

    I’d be a lot less anxious about getting this communication if it were a message of: “Hey, as a boss, I feel this kind of way about providing feedback and coaching to people on my team. My go-to preferences are X and Y. If I do X or Y and it doesn’t work well between me and anyone on the team, I hope that you’ll tell me and let me know what would work better. For example, if you’d prefer it to be in scheduled one-on-one meetings instead of in-the-moment (or vice versa), let me know and I’ll try to accommodate that where possible.

    Asking staff to come up with a perfect description for their boss about positive and negative feedback that they may or may not get, completely unconnected to a specific example is A LOT.

    1. Happy meal with extra happy*

      See, I think this shows how there is no one true answer. I think a ton of people would feel more anxious or nervous having to “correct” the boss on the boss’s preferences as opposed to being welcomed to share their own preferences first.

  9. Weaponized Pumpkin*

    I don’t mind this — it’s written poorly in spots, but I have a similar tool when working with new teams. At a minimum, knowing communication / feedback preferences is crucial. (If it’s awkward, would you rather I call or email? Stuff like that.)

    But other things like what to offer/say if I’m stressed can be helpful. For example, when I’m struggling the last thing I want to hear is a cheerleader pep talk. If I seem to be getting stuck, it’s helpful if you offer to take a break. I do my best to advocate for myself but (as an ND person) it’s nice when others can help me out. A lot of this will come out over time in work relationships, this just speeds it up.

    I get why this is too touch-feely / intrusive for some people and I am much more of an open book at work than many folks, but I have found this one of the most useful tools from business school.

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      Oh, and it should definitely be a two-way street. (I do it with whole teams.) Not something where the boss asks all the questions and doesn’t have to answer them.

  10. Dawn*

    Quite honestly after my experience on the internet over the last ten years, if someone used the word “triggered” in any sort of official capacity I’d assume they were a teenage Twitter edgelord who never grew out of it and proceed accordingly.

    I am perfectly aware that it has a valid application in a therapy context and was coopted from that, but unless you are a therapist using the word appropriately it should just never come up outside of that context and I’d be tempted to be rather abrupt about it coming up here.

  11. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

    This reminds me of book I read; trying to remember which one…it had a list of questions to ask new employees to make it so that you actually understand how they want to be managed and rewarded (i.e. don’t give a Starbucks gift card to the person who doesn’t drink coffee). I think it was How to Talk so People Listen by Sonya Hamlin? Does anyone else remember a book like this?It had a recommended questions list about receiving feedback.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      I bet the manager saw these questions listed in some sort of management advice article and decided on a whim to make them part of the annual review.

  12. EmoZebra*

    Minus the word “Triggered,” I would be pretty happy if my manager sent this. It’s nice that they are taking the steps to better coach me. As others suggested I would frame my answers in a more positive way. But then again, my manager is great and I have no issues with her, so I know if she had asked me these things it would come from a genuinely good place.

    1. Jake*

      That’s a perfect example of the same thing from different people meaning different things.

      A good manager has likely earned the trust of their employees to be able to ask this. A bad manager that hasn’t earned that trust is just going to make people think they are going to have this used against them in the future.

      1. Dek*

        True. I’m thinking that if a new boss sent something like this out, I would appreciate it because it indicates an openness to working *with* me, not passing a hard and fast rule that no, you can’t ask questions over email, you have to do them in person, or something silly like that.

        But if a boss that I didn’t have a great relationship with sent it, I would assume it was boilerplate and Anything You Say Can And Will Be Used Against You

  13. Jane Bingley*

    I’ve had these kinds of conversations with my current boss, but under a different framing. The big picture question remains – how do I get the best out of my employee? – but it really is about workplace preferences, not personal/psychological information.

    Some specific examples: I like to be given a general direction with the freedom to figure out the best way to solve it; another member of our team thrives on specific instructions and directions. My boss generally doesn’t give detailed feedback on nitpicky/smaller issues, but I welcome it and don’t feel attacked by it because I always want to improve. And my boss knows I hate phone calls, so he will occasionally name that a problem would be best solved with a phone call because he knows my default will be email or online services – but he loves voice messages, and I don’t mind if he’s not up for typing out his thoughts and leaves me a voicemail instead.

    There are two reasons why this makes sense – first and foremost, my role as an executive assistant means I work very closely with one person and it makes sense that we’d want to know as much as possible about one another. Second, we have a positive and healthy relationship that leaves room for us to get detailed about how we best support each other. Without those, this kind of detail is mostly a distraction from real problems that need addressing by standard professional work.

    1. Sharon*

      ” It really is about workplace preferences, not personal/psychological information.”
      I agree! Your boss just wants to know how to improve your workplace communication. OP may be thinking about responding in a way other than intended if they find it intrusive.

  14. ferrina*

    It’s so cute that the manager thinks that people will actually be able to answer this accurately.

    These kinds of questions require a pretty high degree of self-reflection and self-awareness. Which some people have, a lot of people don’t. You’re going to get a lot of useless answers from this, and a lot of answers that are wishful thinking. You’re also going to set some weird expectations- “I get triggered by being told I did something wrong, so I only ever want positive feedback” (this is not an exaggeration- I have dealt with quite a few people who have this approach to life).

    1. Silver Robin*

      I was thinking the same thing!! I see a version of this kind of advice in a variety of relationship contexts (professional, personal, etc) and I always have to add the caveat that this is going to be iterative because the necessary self-knowledge to do this well the first time is exceedingly rare. And beyond that, folks’ situations change all the time!

      Having a relationship where both feel comfortable speaking up about support needs as those arise/change is super important and these kinds of questions can help build that, but we cannot expect that the responses are going to be accurate/feasible every time.

    2. Jake*

      Very solid point. Having the self-awareness to be able to give a useful answer to this is probably rare enough that a lot of managers won’t have a single person that is able to answer this usefully.

      I’m generally pretty good at being self-aware and walk into my annual reviews with basically the same list that my boss has independently come up with, and I wouldn’t really know how to answer this because so many of the answers require a lot of context.

    3. Caramel & Cheddar*

      This was where I landed as well. I don’t think most people are this self-aware, but also I think there’s a chance people just straight up lie or misrepresent because they think the truth won’t fly based on their priors with the boss or whatever.

    4. Irish Teacher.*

      And on top of that, even people who can answer this accurately might not always choose to do so. For example, one way you can know if I am displeased with what you are saying is when I go quiet and don’t respond, but the reason I do that quite often is that I don’t want you to know I am thinking, “well, that feedback is completely out of touch and unhelpful.” I’m not going to say, “well, if I go very quiet and respond with bland non-committal platitudes – ‘I see,’ ‘thank you for telling me that,’ it quite likely means I think your feedback is completely useless and am mentally dismissing it.”

      (OK, this makes me sound like a nightmare to manage. I promise I don’t do this on a regular basis.)

      Or if somebody has a specific way of hiding it when they are really upset, they aren’t likely to tell that.

      1. ferrina*

        Great point! Sometimes I withdraw because that’s the most tactful way to respond to disagree or respond to a dumb suggestion!

        An added complication is that my “that’s dumb” response looks the same as my “cool, sounds fine” response. If I’m smiling pleasantly and looking interested, it can mean either 1) I’ve heard it before and tuning out, 2) I’m not quite sure what I think of this and need time to figure that out, or 3) I completely disagree and I’m figuring out the most effective way to get you to change your mind. My poor supervisor would get paranoid if I gave them a list of things that could signal I am displeased, because a lot of those will overlap with things that don’t signal displeasure. I’ve got an expressive face and I’ve literally spent my life honing it to give diplomatic responses.

        If I want you to know that I disagree, I’ll tell you. I’m very good at doing that….when I want to.

      2. Janeric*

        It sounds less like you’re a nightmare and more like this is an adaptation to maintain relationships with people while not encouraging them to weigh in with useless advice.

    5. Ama*

      Yeah, I have to say in my twenties I would not have been able to articulate responses to this that would tell you anything — I hadn’t really been working long enough to know what my preferences were.

      Probably around the time I hit my mid thirties (after going through several bosses, including some notably bad ones) was about when I could say how I preferred to be managed.

      I’ve noticed that my less experienced direct reports struggle with my version of this question too (I don’t ask it as part of their performance review, but I do talk with new reports about communication preferences, are they the type of person who wants a firm due date for everything assigned to them or do they prefer a general idea and they manage their time themselves, etc.)

      I don’t think on the face of it it’s a terrible thing to ask (in concept if not wording), but if you are the manager asking you have to be prepared for the fact that not everyone is going to be able to give you a detailed and specific response to what they prefer.

  15. Le Vauteur*

    Well boss, if you think I’m likely to lose my sh1t over something you’re going to say to me, start by asking yourself ‘is this feedback accurate?’. And then ‘why am I raising it with Le Vauteur?’. ‘Do I actually need to, or am I just pandering to someone else by doing so and is that someone else actually the issue?’. If you answer yes, particularly to the last one, then save us all the stress and tell the other person they are being a dick instead.

    If you decide LV does need to change something, be respectful and do it privately. You might get some snark back, but it will be minor in comparison – probably along the lines of ‘it would be great if have that info before I do X activity in future, kthx’.

    And if the feedback is that I need waste my time to change something because you’ve f-d it up, or not provided the info, start with that. And yes, if it’s something I’ve mentioned before, I will say ‘I told you so’. Possibly with names, dates and an email trail as evidence. Just sayin’. Basically, don’t be a dick and we’ll be fine. If you cause me to have to flap my wings and use my beak, we have a problem.

  16. Someone Else's Boss*

    This is less horrifying to me than others, apparently, although I fully agree that asking how to tell if something triggers you is weird and therapy speech is unwelcome at work. I have fifteen direct reports, and I absolutely want to know how they like to receive feedback, any pet peeves they have that I should know, and other similar people-focused things. I tend to try to determine this based on our interactions, but I can see the appeal of asking folks en masse. I do think this list is too invasive, and I wouldn’t handle it this way, but I’m a bit surprised at the vitriol in this comment section. Is it really so weird that a boss would want to know what makes you happy, what would upset you, and how to make your work life better so that you’re more productive? Is it just that people don’t like that this boss is taking a shortcut to getting answers to these questions? My job is to get my employees to do their jobs as well/efficiently as possible. I also care about them and want them to be happy and fulfilled. Finding out what makes them tick is pretty central to both of those goals .

    1. PotsPansTeapots*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t mind questions like this provided I generally respected the boss and thought they were trying to do good. If I had the OP’s boss, though, not so much.

  17. Ellis Bell*

    This is like a play within a play. How to feedback to the boss that you are very put off and annoyed by the very questions asking how best to communicate with you without annoying you in an off putting way.

  18. Angstrom*

    “Thanks for asking, but let’s rephrase some of those questions…”

    Wanting to know how to communicate effectively and comfortably is fine, but one should approach it without negative assupmtions.

  19. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Pet peeves: vaguebooking, passive aggressive statements, and anything else that isn’t specific, objective, and actionable.

  20. Irish Teacher.*

    Yeah, the term “triggered” stood out to me as…kinda problematic here. I know people are starting to use it to mean “annoyed” or “offended” or “hurt,” but I think that kinda trivialises genuine triggers and increases the risk of them being ignored, if people think they just mean “that mildly irritated me.”

    And if we used “triggered by criticism” to mean “upset that the boss was a bit harsh,” then what do we use when we mean that somebody has PTSD from emotional abuse and harsh criticism can trigger a trauma reaction?

    And honestly, I’m not even sure what they mean to say when they say “triggered by criticism”? Do they mean if you disagree with the criticism or if you are personally hurt by the criticism or that you are having a particularly stressful day and not in form to take criticism on board? My reaction in each of these cases would be very different, so I would have no idea how to even answer that.

    I’m also not mad about “advice for handling my reaction.” “Advice for interpreting my reaction” is cool, but handling sounds a bit like you’re a kid and they need to help you manage your emotions.

    I think a lot of the problem is that it’s poorly written and in a way that comes across a bit…therapyish or like a teacher asking a parent for advice on how to give correction to their child.

    If it said something like:
    “If somebody has coaching for me, here is my advice as to what I find most useful:
    Things I find irritating/unhelpful when getting feedback.
    How can people tell if I am finding the feedback difficult or unconstructive?
    Advice for interpreting and responding to my reaction.
    • Do I prefer feedback by phone/email/chat/in-person?”,
    it would be saying almost the same thing, but it would come across more as “what kind of feedback I find helpful and what I don’t” rather than “how to manage my reaction when I inevitably overreact to feedback.” Terms like “triggered” and “handling my reaction” in particular seem to assume the person responding is very sensitive and bound to overreact and to a lesser degree “pet peeves” also implies that as the point of “pet peeves” are “minor things I tend to overreact to.” And possibly the adding on “so I can hear it.” Obviously, that would be somewhat implied anyway, but saying it directly like that sounds a bit like the person is a child who needs things sugarcoated so they don’t go into a sulk and ignore the point.

    I assume they do mean to ask what kind of feedback you find helpful rather than how to manage your reaction when you inevitably overreact. I think they have just gotten a bit carried away with the…sort of “wellness language” to the point that it comes across as if they are speaking as your counsellor or primary school teacher rather than to an adult professional.

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      I really like the way you re-worded these questions. It captures what I’m charitably assuming was the intent, but in a way that’s helpful instead of condescending, confusing, and invasive.

  21. Echo*

    Yeah, I’m on team “this is mostly innocuous and it’s just a bad use of the word ‘triggered'”. We use something like this at my office that also has questions about working style, communication preferences, and engagement/motivation. It’s basically just something I can reference to make sure I’m working effectively with the people I manage. Things like – Manny likes to get constructive feedback in writing so he can process it but Olivia prefers to hear it in person so it feels less impersonal; or, Domino thrives on public praise but Meche is embarrassed and flustered by it; or, if Glottis seems unhappy in his work lately it might be because he hasn’t gotten an opportunity to work on something creative or collaborative and I should be on the lookout for something like that.

    (Yes my names are from Grim Fandango)

  22. Ground Control*

    I actually love these questions and didn’t read them as invasive or touchy feely at all! I’m neurodivergent and my default setting is basically 10/10 so I have to constantly remind myself that I can come across as aggressive and angry when I’m just excited or trying to make myself clear (switching to video calls during the pandemic helped a ton because I can watch myself when I’m talking and see when I look/sound more worked up than I actually am). I got a new manager last year who’s been great about giving me guidance/insight when he can tell there’s a disconnect between my intended and actual reactions in my communication in general and I realized I’d love to be able to give higher-ups a user guide on how I work. But I can absolutely see how this would be annoying coming from someone you didn’t trust.

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      My version of a similar questionnaire is literally called “user’s guide to me” — and maybe because I’m ND too, I find a team exercise like this incredibly helpful to both let people in on how to understand me and meet my needs AND make it easier for me to understand them and figure out what they need!

      1. dmreffitt*

        We did this at work to try to improve our small team’s collaboration after some major org changes. We asked everyone to complete a personal user manual based on this templete from Atlassian.

        I thought I was an amazing idea, and still use mine, but I was surprised that some people thought it was pretty invasive or that it would be used in some nefarious way. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    2. My Cabbages!*

      Also ND and found these questions incredibly thoughtful, especially since I have what may be considered by some to be a “triggered” reaction to criticism. I cry easily, and my eyes will leak even if I’m actually relatively emotionally controlled. So I would love a boss that would proactively let me ask to get feedback first by email so I could have that first response in private before having an actual conversation once I got past it.

  23. Telephone Sanitizer, Third Class*

    This really sounds like he expects to be giving a lot of negative and/or upsetting feedback, I’d be alarmed to get such a survey.

  24. Desiree*

    An exec I used to work with lead by sharing similar info about herself when she joined the org – she was my boss’s boss, and in a meeting with our team of ~10 people, said stuff like “I’m a night person and often send emails late, but don’t feel pressured to respond outside your hours” and “It’s my job to help you do yours. I want to hear about problems you’re facing, and it’s easier for me if you come with suggestions, too.”

    And then asked us to (privately) share our working preferences or needs. She both covered less sensitive/emotion-focused material and didn’t use therapy-speak, but I think sharing her answers first is the right way to handle the power dynamic – her approach made this feel and in support of collaboration.

    1. Echo*

      Oh this is a good point! I do share my own form about my own working/communication style with my team before I ask them to fill in theirs.

  25. HonorBox*

    In principle, I don’t hate the idea of a manager or supervisor asking how people prefer to receive feedback. A couple of questions sent to the team in advance of 1:1 meetings to get them thinking would be helpful, but asking for pet peeves and the use of the word triggered is too much. Ideally, in a 1:1 a manager would ask how the employee likes to receive feedback. They could follow up with “are there any things feedback related that you don’t like?” And the employee would have an opportunity to explain their thought process. As in, I like to receive feedback in the moment, in person, and not have someone wait until the next week, or our next 1:1 to bring it to me. But I don’t want to be blindsided either. I’d like to have the feedback come when I have a clear mind to process, so please don’t just drop by and interrupt me to let me know I’ve done something wrong. But asking how to interpret reactions or pet peeves is the wrong way to handle this. It feels both too deep and too general. I might respond differently when feedback is minor – there was a typo in the memo and the extra 0 exaggerated the attendance at our event – than when the feedback is major – you called the donor by the wrong name the entire luncheon and they called me to complain. I think it is a good conversation to have because everyone has a unique way of receiving feedback. But digging too far in and asking people to project how their reactions might be interpreted is just too much.

  26. Olive*

    I am triggered by these questions.

    Not just “triggered”, but “pet peeves”, “handling… my reactions”, and the implication that I might not be able to “hear” feedback if not presented in the right way, all sound as if the employee is expected to react negatively or poorly.

    I think “how do you prefer to receive feedback?” and “is there anything you’d like me know about how you receive feedback that would make the review process easier for you?” would be much better questions.

  27. The Person from the Resume*

    If triggered by feedback, how can others tell?

    My answer:
    N/A I am not triggered by feedback.

  28. Laura*

    “Triggered” is also a bad word to use because there’s a strong chance the boss is using it the way the internet has started using it which means something more like “angry” or “upset” and not triggered in a clinical sense.

  29. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    • Pet peeves about feedback:
    Having to deal with it.

    • If triggered by feedback, how can others tell?
    I’ll kick the feedback giver up the arse.

    • Advice for handling or interpreting my reactions:

    • Do I prefer feedback by phone/email/chat/in-person?
    None of the above.

    1. Irish Teacher.*

      I’m actually laughing out loud at this.

      And you’ve reminded me of one of the worst online training things I did, that included something about “ways to know if a student is angry – they shout at or hit somebody” or something to that effect. Equally, I think being kicked up the arse would indicate the feedback receiver was unhappy with it.

    2. Trillian*

      * Pet peeves about feedback:
      People to beat around the bush, walk on eggshells, and assume I can’t cope.

      * If triggered by feedback, how can others tell?
      You’d have to ask my mother; she was convinced she could read my mind.

      * Advice for handling or interpreting my reactions.
      If you have to ask, then I don’t want you to handle or interpret.

      * Do I prefer feedback by phone/email/chat/in-person?
      Whatever it is, promptly. I’m not a delayed gratification sort when it comes to feedback. If you want to know what triggers me, the whiplash of suddenly finding out that I’ve been doing it wrong / making someone unhappy for months.

  30. Prismatic Garnet*

    “If triggered by feedback” OOF. Somehow both hideously cloying and dismissive. How much do I bet that this is presupposing that someone disagreeing with / surprised by / even frowning at feedback will be labeled as “triggered”.

  31. Dulcinea47*

    Run, run away, run far…. this person has encountered someone with a really twisted idea of what feedback should be and they’re leaning into it instead of away from it. I’m “triggered” by the thought of someone asking me this nonsense.

  32. Daria Grace*

    I hate the way the meaning of triggered gets watered down in stuff like this. Language meant to explain the implications of things bringing back up serious trauma and resulting mental health impacts for people with things like PTSD is co-opted and weakened to be an edgy way of describing things that get on peoples nerves a bit

  33. Ally McBeal*

    I dunno, I could see where this questionnare is coming from. I’ve seen letters on this site that essentially say “I cry easily but I don’t want it to derail my manager from giving me feedback.” Alison’s advice has been to name the issue with the manager and suggest responses like “just ask me if I need to take a pause and believe me when I say no.” This doesn’t seem all that different. And I think the word “trigger” has been weaponized over the last decade or so, but it’s an accurate word – some topics or communication styles really set people off and it’s helpful to know that about the people you manage.

    For example, my high school science teacher would spend an entire class period ranting about that awful “Christmas Shoes” song if someone mentioned it, a quirk we obviously exploited every year. My coworkers know not to bring up a controversial auto exec unless they specifically want my hot take on his latest BS. As for communication style, my boss knows that I prefer to know the “why” behind a decision as often as discretion permits, or else I’ll get frustrated.

    1. Irish Teacher*

      “Triggered” doesn’t mean “really set off” though; it means that it evokes a memory of a previous trauma and/or causes the person to experience trauma or mental health symptoms. Somebody who gets really mad at something minor and starts yelling at them isn’t necessarily triggered and as somebody pointed out above, somebody could be triggered and react completely appropriately, but have trauma related nightmares the following night.

      I agree it is helpful to know what really annoys the people you manage and what makes them take what you say less seriously (some of the phrasing in the message itself is indicative of that) but they can ask that without saying something that actually means “what feedback brings back memories of your past trauma and causes you to experience trauma related symptoms?”

      Being annoyed or disapproving of something or even reacting irrationally is not being triggered.

  34. Tobias Funke*

    Pre-emptively treating everyone as incredibly fragile and unable to handle normal day to day interactions? Great!

    Also, it’s a great way to shut down discussion of legitimate issues – oh, Bernie is just triggered, we will have to support him in managing his reaction. GTFO with that.

  35. Warrior Princess Xena*

    Other people have touched on other parts of this letter, but I wanted to point out this one: I don’t like that the boss wants a “guide to interpreting my reactions”, because honestly workplaces should not be relying on the finest points of peoples’ body language/initial emotions as a guide to working with people. This is especially true since to my knowledge no one likes getting negative feedback, no matter how valid and valuable it is over time. I would want my manager/coworkers to rely on what I say and do in response to getting negative feedback rather than what I feel or think. There should be no need for a “guide to interpreting my reactions” because if I say “OK, I will work on X in this and that way”, the way to interpret that should be “WPX will work on X in this and that way, and if I see them failing to work on X or working on X but having a huge attitude/temper about it I can bring it up then”. It shouldn’t need to be more in depth than that. I really don’t like having the style of communication wherein when someone says “FINE” it means “it’s not fine at all and I expect you to read my mind and figure out what you are doing wrong” in the workplace. To me, that’s what this request is implying – the boss expects people to be using this style of communication and is enabling it rather than squashing it.

  36. Starbuck*

    Yeah these questions seem honestly pretty par for the course to me, also working in a non-profit. For the ‘what makes you triggered’ question, yeah it stands out but it could definitely be useful for some; I’d just write N/A if it didn’t apply or I didn’t feel comfortable answering, and I’d assume that would be fine.

  37. Daria Grace*

    I also hate how this kinda treats people as mechanical- input feedback that is poorly structured in way x, get outcome y. In reality people and their reactions are complex. Most of the time I’m able to take feedback in a professional manner without too much reaction but there’s all sorts of outside variables that might mean on a given day I’m a little less polished. Unless its a very major life crisis I’m predicting will really disrupt my work, I’m not disclosing whatever personal stuff that may impact my reactions I’ve got going on to my boss.

  38. KOALA*

    It reads to me like he is trying to find out peoples “work languages”, like the love language concept but for the workplace. Which I respect the intent, but the delivery was just a bit off. As WantonSeedStitch mentioned it put the onus on them to explain “how do I manage your emotions” instead of “how do I best manage you” or how can we communicate together the most effectively. I think if the questions came from a better manager they wouldn’t read as invasive because the intent would come through rather than the poor question format. However when it comes from a “passive aggressive undermanager” it gets read via that lens and seems much more inappropriate.

  39. Underemployed Eein*

    One thing that has become trendy lately is “a personal users manual for work” that basically discusses the best way to communicate with you and allow you to do your best work. there are a lot of examples of these out in the world.

  40. That Girl*

    I would define “triggering” as an intense emotional reaction that makes controlling subsequent behavior difficult or impossible to control (fight, flight, or freeze). It’s not just something angering or hurtful, and sometimes the “trigger” is something is not even anything directed toward the triggered individual at all

  41. Hrodvitnir*

    Heh heh, this letter got me. I’m replying without reading the comments first, apologies if it’s repetitive.

    • Pet peeves about feedback:
    • If triggered by feedback, how can others tell?
    • Advice for handling or interpreting my reactions:
    • Do I prefer feedback by phone/email/chat/in-person?

    My feeling was mostly-positive about this in the first instance. The “pet peeves” one you could ignore, but I genuinely do have a pet peeve about being told to do something I’m about to do by someone who had no reason to assume I wasn’t going to, and would probably be willing to share that. Do [you] prefer feedback by [method] is pretty helpful and non-invasive on its own.

    Then thinking more about the list, the stuff about being “triggered” and how someone should “handle” you is… weird. And I agree with Alison the use of the word “triggered” vs something like “annoyed” is unhelpful. But also… I think it’s my responsibility to manage my reactions. I don’t want you trying to analyse my feelings.

    And then I got to

    Additionally, my boss is a massive undermanager and fancies himself a mentor while avoiding hard conversations and leaning into passive aggressive staff meeting statements.

    I see. Yeah, I wouldn’t trust someone like this with questions like that either. It comes across more like an attempt to rules lawyer than communicate better.

    I’d expect you should be able to side step the overly invasive stuff unless Boss is super pushy, but my sympathies.

  42. TheBunny*

    This is one of those questions that got worse as it went.

    I was horrified by the title. Somewhat lessened in horror learning that it was part of a review. Horrified all over again by the actual questions and then my cup runneth over by the last part.


    1. Helen Waite*

      Yeah, the thing that rubbed me the wrong way was the assumption that we’re all a bunch of ticking bombs about to overreact and that we need to be “handled”. I’d skip those entirely.

      That said, the last question about communication methods is fine.

  43. Yoli*

    Echoing the managers who talked about how this info (albeit not in this exact language) can be useful. I do something similar with the people I coach (labelled “working styles”) and there are questions like:
    – How do you prefer to receive feedback?
    – What support is most helpful when you’re on a tight deadline?
    – What makes meetings most productive for you as a participant/facilitator?

    I send mine out and send it to folks, and they have the option to fill out their own template or discuss in person (either way, this is a chunk of our first 1:1). The nature of our work and this level of role is such that a core competency is the ability to answer these questions with a high degree of self-awareness. (For some questions, “no preference” would be fine; but “I can’t see why this matters” would be a flag.)

  44. Bob Wilson, Anchorman*

    I would love this kind of openness around feedback, but it’s materially different when it comes from a boss who doesn’t feel safe or trustworthy. I can think of previous bosses from whom this would have felt really kind and supportive; if it came from my present boss, I would think I was being set up. The lack of meaningful support and psychological safety is the issue here, I think. My boss and grandboss know the right words to say, but there’s not a shred of genuine support or substance behind those words- OP, you’re not alone!

  45. Nontriggered*

    I wouldn’t answer the “triggered by feedback” question directly–I’d probably use the opportunity to say something like “Not sure how to answer this, as I don’t usually feel upset by constructive feedback! I’d prefer to get more one-on-one feedback.”

  46. Gawaine*

    Just on the note on the word “triggered”, I don’t think that was a word that was widely used a decade ago. The discussion on whether it’s being used right now seems weird to me, especially in conjunction with talking about how many other people use it wrong. Wondering how many of the people complaining are young enough that this is the first linguistic drift they have encountered.

    English is a descriptive language, we make up new meanings for words, and thry mean what the speaker thinks they mean. I probably heard “triggered” at least four times at work yesterday, and in a handful of blog posts last night. I’d just chock that word choice up to it being common usage now.

  47. Pdweasel*

    Ooh for me that’d be easy:
    Put my job duties and expectations in writing and the leave me alone to work. I’ll get ‘er done lol

  48. Lacey*

    My employer makes us all fill out – and occasionally update – “employee guides” that cover how we like to communicate, what our pet peeves are, what type of work we like to do, etc.

    At this point my pet peeve is my employer expects us to be familiar with the guides of everyone we work with… and I regularly work with 30 different people.

  49. Lizzianna*

    I have no idea how I would answer some of these questions. As a supervisor, it is helpful to know someone’s quirks about how they prefer to communicate, like I have some people on my team who prefer to get information in writing before we talk so they have time to think of questions, and others who prefer to get info in a forum where they can ask questions immediately. I do try to tailor my feedback to what individuals prefer (although I also ask that they give me some leeway to communicate in ways that I prefer).

    But this list of questions seems to assume that everyone is a delicate flower whose emotions need to be managed, and that’s just not the case in a professional environment. I can manage my own emotions, thank you.

    My “triggers” (I don’t love that framing to begin with) are mine to manage. I’ve spent a lot of time practicing mindfulness to take ownership of my outward reactions. Hopefully, you wouldn’t know I’m “triggered,” because I have to tools to take in feedback, and if I disagree, express that disagreement in a professional way. But my boss doesn’t need details about my own religious/spiritual journey (which is where I did a lot of this work).

    I guess I’d say, “My preference is to have open communication with my supervisor, so if I disagree with feedback, I will let you know. As far as advice for handling my reactions, I’d prefer if you take my communication at face value and trust that if there is something I feel the need to address, I will bring it to your attention.”

  50. Elf*

    I’m part of a group of volunteers who started last year using a thing called the “manual of me”, which sounds a bit like this but better – we’ve found it genuinely transformative for helping us work together, ensuring clear communication, etc.

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