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I've just recently started a new job, and my direct manager is also quite new in a management role.

During my first/last review, he stated I needed to work on my soft skills and was not enough of a "team player". To illustrate this, he came along with examples like "someone claimed you didn't greet them in the hall" (in that regards, the question seems somewhat related to this one How to react to criticism referring to your personality?)

Is giving negative feedback based on anonymous hearsay acceptable for a manager ?

I'm thoroughly confused with feedback encouraging me to fit in better with the team based on stuff which was apparently said behind my back. This just makes me overly cautious on what I say/how behave with team members as I can't help but wonder if the team member I'm talking to is the one criticizing me. On the other hand, maybe my Manager just misinterpreted what was said about me. In either case, I find telling me this is counter-productive.

Considerations:

  • Feedback on technical on-boarding is very positive
  • I really don't think my manager is some kind of jerk (he's done a lot to help me settle in to the new town for instance)
  • He's openly told me he's open to any feedback on his management since he's new at it
  • If I am right in assuming he can do better in giving feedback, how could I suggest this without seeming too patronizing? I'm considering something along the lines of "if anyone complains to you about me in the future, I'd be glad if you asked them to talk to me about it".
  • I'm not saying the feedback is nonsense, I am new here and probably have plenty of room for improvement, but I'm struggling to find out why/how.
  • Was this a performance review? Did this negative feedback affect any bonuses or salary increases? – Gregory Currie Jul 30 at 0:10
  • Soft skills are just as important as your more technical skills. There is only so much that you will be able to do Solo due to scale, complexity and redundancy requirements. If you are simply a quiet person, then the reality is, communication is a skill you will always be asked to improve upon. – Shadowzee Jul 30 at 0:28
  • @GregoryCurrie yes, I think it falls under what most english speaking countries would call a performance review, but the only consequence he mentionned was that my probation period would be extended This doesn't bother me since probation periods here tend to be extended systematically without need of a reason, what I'm concerned about is that my manager obviously has expectations that I haven't managed to grasp and this will eventually affect my stay in the company since I have no idea what I can do – Matthias Lloyd Jul 31 at 20:14
  • @Shadowzee I quite agree (I tried to express this in my last sentance) However, I have been making an effort on this and haven't been able to grasp what my manager would like to improve or how, its like just saying "I've noticed you're a bit shy, don't be" – Matthias Lloyd Jul 31 at 20:22
  • @JoeStrazzere I don't care if the practice is common or not, I'm just unhappy about the method used. If it's just me that's OK, but if this is not the best way (or sub-optimal), I would like to let my manager know so he can improve on the way he gives feedback – Matthias Lloyd Jul 31 at 20:35
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Is giving negative feedback based on anonymous hearsay acceptable for a manager ?

For your manager, it was not anonymous. Someone said this to him in some way, so he knows who that person was, but was refraining from disclosing that information to you (which was good, as to avoid to make it personal).

Chances are that this person is someone your manager trusts, and thus why he "took it as real". Also, if this person is someone your manager trusts, chances are that you could be indeed lacking a bit in your soft skills as expected by your current company's culture and coworkers.

Anyways, the real point here is that you were given feedback, and you should try to work to improve on what was said. I suggest you heed the feedback, and take it as an opportunity to improve. Try to pay more attention and do things like greeting your coworkers (specially your superiors) and the other things your manager mentioned in your review.

  • +1 on mentionning the company's culture In my case it really is very different to what I've known earlier so I'll try to investigate a little on social norms – Matthias Lloyd Jul 31 at 20:38
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Your managers role is to help you develop and this feedback is designed to help you develop. As you said, he has helped you develop in the past.

If managers had to justify every single bit of feedback, through traceable evidence, it would be to the detriment to the workplace.

There is nothing to suggest the person complained about you, or even criticised you. They could have been asked by your manager on their opinion, and they may have mentioned it, not thinking it was a big deal.

If someone ignored me in a corridor (as an example), I wouldn't complain to the person. What's the point? "You should be nicer to me!". If we had a mutual boss, I might mention it to them. So the conduct of your colleague makes sense to me.

If your boss is as good as you suggest, he may simply chalk this down to you not paying attention.

Sometimes when people are performing very well, it can be tough to find feedback, so you have to scrape the bottom of the barrel for things to say. You say that technically you are performing well, maybe the soft skills need a minor piece of work. In addition, criticising soft skills is quite difficult, as sometimes it's hard to quantify how someone needs work.

  • +1 for "You should be nicer to me!" as much as this makes perfect sense I just hadn't seen things in that light – Matthias Lloyd Jul 31 at 20:40
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From the outside, it's not easy to understand what is going on. My train of though on your experience may be this:

  • many people have little social/emotional intelligence. This means both that you may not understand what is expected from you in somoe social/workplace contexts, but also that your colleagues may draw vastly unfair assumptions on your behaviour because they tend to "fit" people in their behavioural patterns.

  • "being a team player" is sometimes an abused term and used to cover what I mentioned above. Most people, managers in particular, do not realize that everyone of us has a different personality and may be introvert or shy, and one person may "fit in" in a very different way from another (embracing their diversity)

  • on this basis, I wouldn't ever complain about a colleague not greeting me, unless I have other elements that prove deliberate bad or negligent behavior towards me. I can understand that some people are just quirky, or may zone out easily, or may be shy. I had a colleague that literally did not talk to me, ever, not once for months. But he was always super-nice in chat and very expert, I kinda got that he may have been super-shy or even smth like Asperger's and never took it personally.

  • on the other hand, we don't know if these remarks belong to a wider pattern or set of problems. If you are not a good communicator, there are chances that people will misunderstand also trivial things. If you do things that annoy other people for other reason, this may reflect in comments on less important things

  • there is no "going behind your back", and you taking the feedbacks as such is a problem. Those feedbacks are anonymous on purpose, because social conventions may hinder our ability to express sincere concerns; think of the upside: compliments tend to be more sincere.

  • point 1-3 seems very to the point for me, and that is why it's so frustrating to hear that kind of feedback. – Matthias Lloyd Jul 31 at 20:45
  • concerning the last point yes "going behind my back" is a totally exaggerated perception. Thing is though, the main object of the feedback was along the lines of "be more sociable with the team and try to fit in better" which is the exact opposite of what I feel like doing when I get the impression that colleagues draw vastly unfair assumptions on your behaviour because they tend to "fit" people in their behavioural patterns. I'm wondering if it's worth mentioning this to my manager – Matthias Lloyd Jul 31 at 21:02

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