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I received the following feedback from my boss:

  • when I smile I come across as arrogant
  • I haven't managed to establish friendships with anybody from the office yet (I like some people, but no, I don't have an office bf which is fine for me, I like keeping a bit of friendly distance. They actually asked me to name a single person that likes me)
  • people view me as pushy

As you see, the feedback doesn't refer to actions. It refers to my personality or/and soft skills. When I asked my boss about examples, some were given, like: "X claimed you didn't greet them in the hall" (I didn't see X in the hall). They also got very upset when for example, while taking notes during our conversation I happened to smile ("What are you laughing at?").

I tried asking for specific examples and suggestions what he wants me to change, but it didn't bring much. The examples were like the ones listed above. No suggestions were made apart from "you need to change" (no details what exactly needs to change was given).

I feel hurt and have no idea what I should do now. I live long enough to know I should try to fulfil my boss's expectations for both of us to be happy. However, in this case, I've no idea what I should do.

I made some suggestions (e.g. "I will make less pressure, so that people don't view me as pushy"), which he turned down - all of them, without making alternative suggestions. His answer to the pushy one was: "Of course you need to make pressure, otherwise you will never reach your goals" - which is funny, because the only reason I actually made pressure was because the goals I was given were extremely ambitious. He actually said my not knowing what I should do with the feedback is part of the problem he has with me.

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    It sounds like your boss isn't doing a very good job of managing you, if they're giving you vague feedback on your personality and no clear suggestions on what to do. – TheSoundDefense May 3 at 18:03
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    Have you ever gotten feedback like this from others? – Seth R May 3 at 18:12
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    @SethR, that I smile arrogantly, don't have friends at the workplace and I'm pushy? No. I'm happy to say I never needed to get anxious about my smile before. Never anybody expected me to have friends at work either. And I'm not "pushy". But to be truthful, I've worked at one very conflict-ridden place before, where people used to feel offended by each other all the time and there were no real responsibilities, so people struggled among each other for projects. I did get my share of "everybody hates you" - criticism before. Just as e.g. my then boss did (he was bullied out of the company). – 42155689760 May 3 at 18:21
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    I don't know whether it applies in this case, and I'm not asking @42155689760 to provide their gender, but this sounds an awful lot like a variation of the "strong women are considered bossy" situation. – shoover May 3 at 19:59
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    That, or the phenomenon where introverted/aspie people are perceived as being angry when they're wearing their "thinking face." I get this one a lot. – shoover May 3 at 20:00
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I'm sorry, but your boss is a jerk.

It is valid to provide feedback on "soft" skills. However, it needs to be actionable like: "You tend to interrupt your peers in meetings. I need you to make sure you wait for people to finish their thought before jumping in." or "Your emails to clients are too technical for them to understand. Can you start just giving them high level explanations of next steps rather than going into the details?

"You don't have any friends" is not useful feedback. It's mean and unnecessary. It's rather suspect for him to say that no one even likes you when you know that some people do. It makes no sense to complain that you're "too pushy" and then tell you to continue being pushy.

He actually said my not knowing what I should do with the feedback is part of the problem he has with me.

The kindest possible interpretation of this is that he himself doesn't know how to fix the issues mentioned and refuses to admit it.

The worst possible interpretation is that these problems don't really exist, he's the one who doesn't like you (not the co-worker he mentioned), and he plans to use the fact that you can't fix this as an excuse to fire you.

Either way you need to brush up your resume.

In the meantime, you might try talking to X if they were also the person who thought you were laughing at them. Take them to lunch, tell them your boss let you know they complained about a, b, c, and explain you weren't trying to be rude. If this whole thing is just one person being upset with you and you can resolve it with them, you can let your boss know you've resolved the issue. (This wouldn't change the fact that his handling of interpersonal issues is atrocious.)

This may not work if X really is the type of person to go to their boss to complain that someone didn't say "Hi" to them in the hall but I suspect that this wasn't even an official complaint.

  • I was going to use less polite language, but yeah, boss is a jerk. – user53651 May 6 at 17:19
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Although I agree with BSMP, I'd like to focus on the How to react? part.

Based on your description, there may be a problem with your attitude... and there's definitely a problem on how your boss provide feedback.

So, next time he approaches you to provide feedback, you can come back to him with something like...

Thanks for the feedback. I'm afraid I'm still struggling to understand how to improve myself based on it. While researching how I could understand better what you meant, I came across a few tools that could help us both. One that I really liked was called SBI - Situation, Behaviour, Impact. I really liked it as it not only could help me understand the specific situations where my behaviour was not acceptable but also would explain me the impacts of it. Could you please then let me know how to understand the specific SBI on these aspects you just mentioned?

I see 3 key benefits on the above approach:

  • You acknowledge you want to improve. Avoiding confrontation demonstrates a considerable amount of maturity, humbleness and self control.
  • You give him the benefit of doubt. Maybe there are cases you really need to improve and just failed to notice them.
  • You help him. By leading him to a known feedback tool, you're not only helping yourself, but potentially helping him (and your peers).

... and the bonus round, in case he's really a jerk...

  • You make him realise by himself that his feedback is useless for you.
  • I like SBI and the other feedback techniques out there (FET comes to mind also) and I think they are very useful skills. However trying to push this technique on your boss could backfire. He doesn't seem to be the type to take interpersonal things lightly, so might be offended by the suggestion or could otherwise take it the wrong way. Could be worth a try, but tread lightly... – fgysin May 7 at 6:11
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    Good point, @fgysin - and that's a good thing! If a person in a leadership position is not interested to learn how to provide effective feedback, it's a massive sign that one needs to get out of this place ASAP. – Tiago Cardoso May 7 at 6:22

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