Career coach: Coping with bad feedback

Q We recently conducted a leadership survey, which I was responsible for administrating. When I gave the managing director the feedback, he was very unhappy. He later told his wife – who works with me – that he believed I conspired against him with the feedback. I now don’t think I can work for a manager who thinks this about me, but I can’t approach him because I’m not supposed to know what he said to his wife. Any suggestions?

A Your situation reflects a deep malaise that affects many organisations: the lack of emotional intelligence, communication and team skills that enable people to have meaningful and productive conversations. You have at least four options:

  • Do nothing. The easiest path to take but the most damaging in the long run is to carry on as if nothing has happened. While your work life may initially continue as normal and the issue may seem to be forgotten, you will always feel resentment towards your boss. This is also the path with the least integrity because the lack of honesty and openness will undoubtedly have negative implications for the entire company.

  • Leave: A bit extreme perhaps, but the issue has clearly upset you. If you cannot change the situation and if doing nothing is not an option, it may be that the only way you can be comfortable is to leave. For many people it is too wearing to work in a climate of fear or oppression, unable to operate in accordance with their values. If this situation is part of a pattern then it may be time to move on.

  • Speak directly to your boss. This will be difficult because you must find a reason to re-open the conversation around your boss’s feedback that doesn’t betray what his wife told you. Opening words such as: “I am concerned that I did not present the feedback in the most helpful way” come to mind. This approach can be a little manipulative. You need to be very clear of your intent because if it is for the wrong reasons – for example, to be proved right or protect your own career – then your boss may realise this, causing further conflict. If your intent really is a genuine desire to help your boss understand the feedback then that in itself will communicate and pave the way for a meaningful conversation.

  • Speak to your boss’s wife. The most preferable option of the four and the one with the most integrity is to ask your boss’s wife to tell him that she revealed his views to you. I appreciate this is difficult, but because she has been indiscreet, she should take some responsibility. This is the most authentic, transparent and least manipulative approach. If you get it right it may open the door to better communication all round.

By Myles Downey, founder, The School of Coaching

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