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A couple months back, my manager told me that there had been a few people approaching him because of my rude and unfriendly behavior. He said it was informal feedback and would not involve HR.

I did not exactly understand what, where, when and how, but I let it go because it was an informal feedback. In addition, for others, it was my direct personality. Recently during my 2019 review, he documented the feedback about my demeanor being “rude and unfriendly” and concluded that there have not been any other incidents since. I was shocked to see that, and asked him to provide the details about the event, the situation I was in. I also requested to speak to a witness, he replied he will try to see if any one willing to talk

Is it fair to give/document feedback without providing evidence for me to understand what I was accused of?

I have been in the workforce for more than 20 years and nobody has ever said that I have behavioral / attitude issues.

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Feedback like that is frequently problematic, since the "offences" are very subjective and difficult to prove. Because of that it's frequently used in a prejudiced way or as a weapon towards employees their bosses want to penalize without having objective reasons to.

Let me elaborate:

There's a lot of research that shows that women get this type of feedback much more frequently than men:

For example, a study by Kieran Snyder, CEO of Textio, found that negative personality feedback showed up 76% of the time in reviews of women, while only in 2% of men’s reviews.

I've experienced several times that this type of feedback was used to build a case against employees someone wanted out. They were consistently accused of being unfriendly and not liked. No examples or just very abstract examples were given. This then escalated into them feeling bad, being increasingly isolated and leaving the company.

In your case you should analyse this feedback. Are you really an unfriendly person? Have you done something that can be interpreted as hostile? Is there anything you can improve in this respect? On the other hand: Is your boss friendly towards you? Or do you suspect they want you out and need a case against you?

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Is it fair to give/document feedback without providing evidence for me to understand what I was accused of?

No, but...

Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.

That is, there's a cynical reading of this (your manager wants you out and is using this as an excuse, hence there aren't any concrete examples to give), but the likelier explanation is that this is genuine feedback and they simply messed up its delivery.

Of course, the end goal of feedback is learning and improvement, and it should be objective. Stating negatives without examples is next to useless, and veers towards subjective.

To be fair to your manager, highly personal feedback like this is hard to deliver. It's easy to mess up, especially if you're not very skilled with giving feedback in general. Remember that most managers aren't given training on such skills, and usually aren't recruited on them either.

Probably the best way forward is to go back to your manager and say what you've said here, basically. You're surprised by this, and want to understand it better through examples so you can learn and improve. Based on that conversation, you'll have a much clearer picture.

If in that conversation they still can't or won't produce any clear examples, though, it might indeed be time to start wondering if the cynical take could in fact be what is going on.

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  • "Talk to them" is an excellent advice in most situations, also this one. However, I understood from the initial post that the OP already did that: "I was shocked to see that, and asked him to provide the details about the event, the situation I was in". And this makes the situation more difficult. I don't know where the OP lives but in the organizations I know having "rude and unfriendly" in your performance review would be a huge thing. Writing sth like that would be a huge accusation in the cultures I know. – BigMadAndy Feb 14 at 8:57
  • Good point - my interpretation since OP didn't elaborate on that was that they asked on the spot, and the manager didn't provide them sufficiently useful (or any) detail. My thought was to go back to talk to the manager, focused on this one specific issue, and really try to pin them down on it to get some useful, concrete examples. I agree - also in the cultures I know having "rude and unfriendly" in a review is really quite bad, hence importance of learning how to improve this image if it really is something that's based on real feedback that can be improved – davnicwil Feb 14 at 9:10
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Make you manager aware of the need to document the behaviour.
Someone might think you are being rude by cuting in line for the coffe machine (which might happen by sincere mistake) while some might think you are rude because you refused to do something.

Again this is your manager resposibility to take as much information from the complaint as they can so then they can pass it to you. Or be able to refute to complain (I was constatnly reported to my manager by person who thought I work in different department and they thought I was rude by dodging "my" work).

Also make your manager aware that "someone told be you are being unfriendly" is not a feedback. What is being "unfriedly" is personal opinion and you cannot work with that. Especially if it's so vague.

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