Appraising your boss: Is honesty the best policy?

 
Alan Palmer
Ali Vs Patterson
Reproach begets defensiveness, which will most often manifest itself in counter-attack (Source: Getty)

Q: Human resources have asked me to fill out an anonymous “360 degree” appraisal of my boss. Should I seize this rare opportunity to tell the truth (that he’s an aggressive glory seeker with one priority – himself) or would that be career suicide?

This quandary – whether to tell the truth, or not, about your boss – suggests that you suffer from a delusion all too common in workplaces, and in life generally. You consider yourself to be a guardian of “the truth”. You’re not. You’re the guardian of your truth, which is something of great value and relevance, but it’s not the same thing as the truth.

Only your boss – and, if you happen to believe in one, some higher being who sits in the clouds dispensing omniscience and omnipotence – knows whether he’s aggressive towards you or not. What you know is that, when he talks to you, you feel under attack. If you tell your boss he’s an aggressive glory seeker (especially if you do so anonymously), he will legitimately feel aggrieved and possibly vengeful.

If you don’t like the way you’re being managed, then tell your manager face-to-face. Don’t wait for the “poison pen” opportunity offered by an anonymous appraisal.

Chances to tell your boss what you really want him to hear shouldn’t be rare. You should feel able to create those chances whenever you think it’s appropriate. There’s nothing more damaging to relationships and productivity than the unspoken.

Here are two principles to adhere to which will allow you to give feedback legitimately, comfortably and constructively to your boss – or to anyone else, up, down or across the hierarchy.

First-person

First, use “I”, not “you” or “it”. There’s a world of difference, particularly for the person you’re talking to, between “you’re not managing me properly” or “that’s no way to manage someone” and “I’m uncomfortable with the way in which I’m being managed”. The last is legitimate in a way the first two are not, because it’s clearly your perspective and not presented as an objective truth. It’s not a value judgement and it contains no criticism.

Focus on the future

Second, make requests for the future, rather than reproaches about the past. No-one can change the past and no two people will have the same view of what happened last month, last week or even yesterday. Reproach begets defensiveness, which will most often manifest itself in counter-attack.

“In the future, I’d like you to set me objectives and judge me on whether I meet those, but allow me to be the one who chooses the strategy for doing so,” will always lead to a more constructive conversation than: “you’re always on my back, micro-managing me. You never let me decide myself how best to meet my objectives.”

Accusing your boss of being a glory seeker is a value judgement which you should avoid. Try instead to analyse what’s happening to you which leads you to that conclusion, and think about what you want to happen differently in the future.

Perhaps you feel that your project is not getting enough of your boss’s time because his attention is constantly fixed on broader horizons. In that case, “you’re a glory seeker” becomes “I feel I need more of your time on project XYZ, and I want us to agree on a review process which makes me happier and which is doable for you”.

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