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This is follow up to my earlier post "How can I professionally and politely disagree with Management about my performance review?" I don't like to mix the scope. Hence I am creating separate post.

The key thing which contributes any employee success in an organization is, understand their organization and management objectives better and accurately. Sometimes we fail to understand the situation or objective accurately. In such cases we often fail to take most appropriate actions to further the objectives.

I have faced this problem many times and often over or under-react because of my misconceptions. I really need to avoid these perception problems. How to perceive the objectives/situation accurately at the work place in order take action which is most suitable to the situation?

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closed as too broad by jmac, Michael Grubey, Paul Brown, jcmeloni, RWY Sep 9 '13 at 13:51

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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In my experience, every time the employees did not have a clear objective it was always the manager's fault. Are you the only one having this problem on the team, or is it widespread? –  MrFox Dec 5 '12 at 16:17
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+1 Conflict over perceptions of employee performance is a big issue in many workplaces. Once it happens, it can be very difficult to resolve it in a positive way for both the line manager and the employee. –  GuyM Dec 5 '12 at 19:56

3 Answers 3

First and foremost, if your boss thinks you have a problem, you have a problem whether you agree with him or not. This is the person who can fire you or promote you or get/deny pay raises. It is important to meet his or her expectations.

This doesn't mean that I think you should just be a sheep and do what ever he says. This means that when there is an issue brought up you have to take some action to resolve it (it may be an explantion or an actual action, but it is not resolved until your boss thinks it is resolved). Doing the same thing and expecting different results just doesn't work.

If you are not clear on the expectation, then ask. The best time to ask is when you start on a new task not when you deliver it (take written notes) and they are unhappy with the results. You should make it a priority to see to it that they are never unhappy with results by making sure you clearly understand what results are expected before you begin and then checking your work against those expectations before you tell them it is completed.

Learn a technique called reflection. When someone tells you what they expect, reflect it back to them in your own words to ensure that what they said and what you interpreted it to mean are the same thing.

If you are told that something was not aceptable performance, then you need a road map of specific actions they expect you to take. Not every manager will give you this road map up front inthe discussion. You may need to ask questions. If he says fix XYZ without a list of specific task he wants you to do, then you can make suggestions to ensure that what you do to fix the issue is what he is expecting. So you counter with, If I do ABC and then DEF will that fix the problem? Make sure you leave a meeting where performance is discussed with a specific detailed list of the actual actions you need to take. And then take them.

I suspect that the one thing you need to understand is that there is a time and a place for technical disagreement and that is before the final decision is made. Discuss possble alternatives with the boss at the start, but when he says this is the way he wants you to go, then do that even if you don't want to. By genuinely trying to do what is requested, you build more credibility with the boss and when you have given a real effort and if things don't work out (as you pointed out earlier they wouldn't) then your opinion will have more weight the next time. And sometimes you will be surprised to find out that what he wanted worked just fine (bosses aren't always as stupid as we think.) But your boss has to know first that he can rely on you.

Next learn to pick your battles. There are some issues you should go to the mat for but make sure they are the important ones. If you go along with the less important things, then when you disagree, it will have more impact.

Next you probably need to understand more about the underlying business needs behind what the boss wants. People tend to get so concerned about their own work specialty that they forget to look at the larger picture. If you feel that you need a better understanding of the business end of things, ask the boss if you can spend some time attending meetings with him (as an observer) on those topics. Or go talk to people in other positions and see what their needs are. Getting to know the finance people has always been helpful to me in understanding how our business works.

Attitude counts as much or more than technical competence. Make sure you don't come across as arrogant, argumentative, or defensive.

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When it comes to performance reviews and feedback, it can be very difficult to really hear what we are actually being told.

Part of this, as you have indicated, is about perception. We all have a "percpetion filter" that governs how we see the actions of others and what they do and say to us. Two people - as you have found out - can see the same meeting or discussion in very different ways - its the same meeting, they just percieve things differently.

So - I would suggest you don't have a "perception problem", so much as you don't really understand the nature of your own perception filter - and that of your managers - and never really consider that your first and instincitive reaction, response, or understanding may not be the one that produces the outcome you want.

In leadership/management type training this is often refered to as understanding communication styles, which is a complex field. To reduce the complexity, various personality/psychology models are employed; the first simple one I came across was the DOPE model, as it is quick and simple, but others like MBTI are more comprehensive and widespread.

The communication style is important when dealing with negative feedback. Turning negative feedback into a positive outcome (a win-win) is hard because it tends to trigger negative reactions in people - either aggressive ("yeah, that might be true, but you always...") or passive/aggressive (ignoring, withdrawing) - essentially the "fight or flight" resposes. Sometimes both - such as storming off angrily and resigning.

We get these responses because we feel threatened, especialy if we have a positive perception of ourselves (self image), and we are being told aspects of this are not correct.

As a result, managers will often try to soften the blow when they need to give negative feedback, and use indirect language or give a lot of positive feedback alongside the negative. The disadvantage of this is that someone who is confident, with a strong self-image might "perception filter" out the negative aspects, and focus only on the positive.

So - they key things I would suggest are :

- find out more about your communication style, and that of others

You could do this through a self test, but courses are usually better as the course leader will coach you through some aspects of this. DOPE is a good starting point.

- understand how you communicate under stress or pressure

Under stress - like a performance review with negative feedback or a customer complaint - we tend to use a much more limited range of communication styles, and all to often our first, instinctive response is one that takes us further from our desired outcome.

- pause and reflect

Take time to think over the options, don't just go with your first reaction. Never try and "explain away" or "negotiate away" someones percepetion of your performance, but, if you disagree, try and think why they may see things this way.

- Seek first to understand and then be understood

This is one of the Seven Habits from Covey's book; they are covered in many management programmes and trainign courses. This is probably one of the most powerful in terms of receiving negative feedback, especially when it is more indirect.

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Wow - I like both answers so far, and I'm hopefully going to fuse them and add to them, but I suspect I'll suggest referring back to GuyM and HLGEM to get more details.

Place in the Universe

Your company, your division, your team, and you all have a place in the unverse. While no one can usually understand all of the elements of an entire corporation, you need a really solid idea of how these things fit together and you need to be ready as time goes on. Things you should usually be able to answer:

  • why does this company exist? how does it make money? how does it save money?
  • what is my divisiion/department/subgroup doing that is unique? how is it different from others? what is similar? What makes us particularly good, what are our limitations?
  • how does my team fit into the department? What are we doing as a group? How and why do others depend on us?
  • how do I fit in my team? What skills does everyone have, what are my unique strengths and weaknesses?

These things are a big factor to knowing when to panic and when to relax. If you can't understand the drivers and the key elements of the work, you will always over-react or under-react to an unexpected change, as you won't have the basis for understanding why you do/don't have a problem.

It's good to check in on these answers yearly or more frequently in a rapidly changing business. I often rethink this stuff after large company meetings and at the end of each year. It's worth asking your boss some of these questions, even if you think you know, just to make sure you are right. I don't, however, suggest barraging him with all of these at once! If you're not a new employee, take it slow and demonstrate your knowledge rather than asking unbiased questions.

Work assignments

Check in early and often. At the start of an assigment, avoid any assumptions - take good notes, and ask as many questions as you can. Take time out of meetings and reflect on whether you really know all the answers or if you made some assumptions. Be aware that in tricky situations, it's your boss who really matters, and when unsure, let them restate their needs.

Reframing (see HLGEM) is a great tool. So is making sure you've got this checklist done:

  • what is the over-riding deadline?
  • what are key milestones?
  • what does "done" look like - be aware of all deliverables and their importance
  • where does my work go when it's done?
  • what are the gates to work being completed (if someone needs to approve it, peer review it, etc - how does that impact schedule?)
  • what does the boss see as the risky areas? What do you see? I mean "risk" in the sense that things going not-according-to-plan will cause a delay in schedule or a growth in cost or a weakness in quality.
  • what are the quality standards? how do we attain them?
  • how do other assignments fit with yours?
  • what will management be doing to help? What are they counting on you for?

This is a must-do at the start of a project, but don't think that because you missed a few answer in the first meeting you are sunk. It's more important to do and think through the project, and the anticipated results and ask more questions after than to try to slam in all possible questions in one meeting.

Then - routinely check in. How frequently has a lot to do with scope. In a two week project, daily or every other day check ins may be best. In a year long project, it may be weekly.

Communication Style

Absolutely important. Chances are good that you and your manager don't have the best communication pattern. GuyM has some good info on this. But also, I'd check in - when you think you've tried to do what he asked for - ask for his feedback privately. "You told me in my review I need to do X, was what I just did what you were looking for?" and "if no- please give me an example" is a fine thing to ask for.

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