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Career Q&A: Don't argue with manager's criticisms

Q: Lately, my manager seems to have developed a very negative opinion of me. When I try to point out that she's blaming me for things that are not my fault, she gets irritated and says she is only trying to help me. She also says that I refuse to accept constructive feedback.

On my recent performance review, she included several critical comments which I felt were unjustified. When I asked her for examples, she accused me of being argumentative. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to communicate with her. What can I do about this situation?

A: Your relationship with your boss seems to be in a dangerous downward spiral. To avoid permanent career damage, you need a better communication strategy, because your current approach is rapidly making things worse.

While defensiveness is a natural reaction to criticism, that instinct is usually counterproductive. When you respond to feedback by arguing, blaming or explaining, your manager concludes that you have not received the message she is trying to deliver. So rather than trying to prove her wrong, acknowledge that some changes may be necessary.

Instead of arguing about past examples, focus on the future and try to clearly define her expectations. For example, you might ask this question: "If I had another performance review six months from now, what could I do differently to get a better rating?"

As a final step, you should propose an improvement plan and establish a feedback schedule. Even though it's probably the last thing you want, ongoing feedback is the only way to avoid nasty surprises at review time. You already have one bad appraisal on your record, so you need to ensure that there won't be another one.

Goals to satisfy a manager

Q: My manager has begun having career discussions with all his staff members. I have been told that he's asking everyone about their long-term goals. Since I personally don't have any career goals, how do I answer that question?

A: There is no unwritten rule requiring everyone to have long-range objectives. But since managers tend to be highly goal-driven themselves, they often find it odd when employees are not. Therefore, you are wise to prepare for this conversation. Even if you have no desire to climb the career ladder, you can still aspire to become more effective in your job. Work-related goals might include expanding your knowledge of the business, collaborating with other departments, or acquiring new skills. As long as you seem interested in professional growth, your manager should be satisfied.

Consider more than salary

Q: I have been paid less than my peers for quite a while, so several months ago I approached my boss about the possibility of a raise. He said he would look into it, but never got back to me. I have now been recruited by another company for a job at a much higher salary.

After giving my notice, I received a personal call from our company president, who says he will match the other offer if that will persuade me to stay. While this is a nice gesture, past experience indicates that I might not get another raise for a long time. I'm having a hard time making this decision. Should I stay or go?

A: Sadly, all too many companies fail to adequately reward outstanding employees until they are on the verge of departing. So now that you have this delightful dilemma, I hope you're enjoying your time in the power position.

When comparing these two offers, be sure to weigh all the significant factors. Salary is certainly important, but you should also consider whether the work is interesting, whether the company culture is a good fit, and whether the job will help you reach your long-term goals. While you want to be paid fairly, you also want to be happy.

Career Q&A: Don't argue with manager's criticisms 11/05/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 5, 2013 5:25pm]
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