I manage a large team of people. I am respected and know that I add value to the organization. Recently, however, my own manager has been giving me a lot of negative feedback. It seems that some people perceive me as cold, condescending, and unapproachable.
I am a little stunned at this since I really thought I had a good relationship with all of my people. I have convinced myself that my own manager is threatened by me and is trying to build a case to get rid of me. How can I know what is really going on here? –What’s Going On?
Dear What’s Going On,
This is a tough one. It can really throw you when negative feedback comes out of left field. I would encourage you to consider that your manager might actually have your best interests at heart, unless you have some prior evidence of ill will. Anything you do to increase your own awareness of your impact on others can only help you grow—both as a person and as a leader. If, in fact, your manager has it in for you, it will become clear over time and you can deal with it later. In the meantime, you have some options for dealing with this feedback. Here are a few ideas.
Self awareness is all about you. Begin by honestly examining your actual intentions as well as the impact your actions have as you navigate through your day.
- Do you judge others? Even if you don’t say anything, people can sense it if you have a negative opinion of them. You may not be hiding it as well as you think.
- Do you keep a neutral expression when you think someone has said something inappropriate? Or do you let it show? Even a raised eyebrow from a boss can cause a rush of adrenaline and cortisol—stress hormones—in a direct report. I worked with a lovely guy who used to roll his eyes at his people. He had no idea the negative affect this had on others—he thought it was funny. Individual contributors can get away with all kinds of behaviors that will need to be given up when they start managing others.
- Do you a have dry sense of humor and a sarcastic wit? Lucky and wonderful for your pals on your own time, but this kind of joking often doesn’t fly at work. What is hilarious to one person can be interpreted as snarly and mean to another. Notice if you make jokes at others’ expense and cut it out.
- On the other hand, if you are extremely serious and businesslike, that’s great in terms of staying focused and getting things done. However, many people need to feel a connection. It can be as simple as saying, “How is your day going?” or “How was your weekend?” and really listening to the answer. It can also be good to share a little bit about yourself. This is known in my business as “warming it up.” You don’t have to get a personality transplant—you just have to slow down a little and show you care.
- Just smile. This tip might be annoying or seem dumb, but it absolutely works with people who need this kind of feedback. Smile when you say hello. Smile when you say goodbye. Smile at people when they are talking in meetings. Try it.
Next, check in with others.
- Sit down with your manager and ask exactly what behavior changes would make a difference. Get concrete examples of what hasn’t been working and what would work better. Don’t get defensive by arguing or asking questions about who is tattling on you. Be prepared to manage your emotions and take notes in this conversation.
- In one on ones with each team member, tell the person you have received this feedback and are aware you need to change some of your behaviors. Ask their opinion about what you might be doing to make others feel negative toward you. Most people won’t tell you, but a couple of them will. Tell each person you are working on improving your behavior and ask them to hold you accountable by pointing out when you do something off-putting.
Seemingly negative feedback such as this from a manager can actually be a valuable gift. If you periodically self assess as well as solicit others’ perceptions of your working style, you will be a better, more self aware leader.
About the author
Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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