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I have a situation where this week one of my peers was promoted to be my supervisor. This person is known to be volatile and while we have had a friendly relationship in the past even in the first few days her behavior has changed. I anticipated this so I offer only as background info.

A week ago she invited me to lunch so we could discuss "everything I didn't like about our work environment" because when she started a year ago I had let her know I was struggling with the poor communication structure.

My question is this - what (even in a non-performance review setting) is appropriate or not for her to ask. I am not planning to give her any information at this point but would like to let her know if she presses me that our working relationship is different now and I prefer to keep these types of discussion in the formal setting of the performance review.

Additionally, after several requests to receive a performance review from my former supervisor I have never been reviewed so the former peer will now be doing my review at some point.

This person has in the past breached our peer's confidential conversations to management. It always resulted in others being reassigned or experiencing some other type of retribution. She has known for a year what my suggestions for improvement were so I am leary of saying anything more based on what I have seen happen to others.

Would that be a good approach or is there another approach anyone could suggest?

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    What's the question here? It's completely reasonable for your supervisor to ask you what problems you face so that they can improve them. – Telastyn Nov 20 '14 at 16:22
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    What is the purpose of your strategy? Do you want reasons to rant or do you want things to improve? – Sigal Shaharabani Nov 20 '14 at 16:28
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    Not all professional matters should be discussed during performance review. Plenty of good research shows that an ongoing dialogue is far more productive for persons and the company. It sounds like you don't know how to communicate well, and this is being brought into focus by all of your management chain. If you cannot verbalize the risks that your strategy accounts for, then you probably need to philosophically or psychologically reevaluate your stance – New Alexandria Mar 2 '15 at 17:35
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Why on earth would you consider that an inappropriate question? How exactly is she supposed to improve things if you won't tell her what the problems are? Waiting until performance reviews to bring up issues like that is recipe for failure.

To define what is appropriate for her to ask: anything that in any way materially affects the work getting done on time and on budget. If your peformance slips, she can ask you if you are having personal problems. If you aren't at work when you are expected to be there, she can ask where you were. If you appear to have personality conflict with another emoplyee, she can ask you to explain your point of view of the situation. If work is being delayed, she can ask why. If she simply needs to ask how much progress you have made since yesterday, she can ask that too. If she wants to know what roadblocks you are having in getting the work done, she is well within her rights to ask.

She might even be asking you to lunch becasue she thinks you are having a problem with her promotion (which frankly it appears to me that you do based on what you wrote) and she wants to talk to you privately away from the office. Or she might want to enlist your help to overcome some workplace problem where she is meeting resistance. Or she might be feeling out everyone on the team one at a time which most new suprevisors tend to do to get a better picture of how people think and what they feel the real problems are. Or, well, my boss take me to lunch periodically just to talk because the atmosphere is more relaxed. And the free lunch is usually a perk of that.

It also sounds as if you are mad that the performance review didn't get done. That isn't her fault and don't project it onto her. However, you now have to impress her with your attitude and work, so start cooperating with her and start telling her about your accomplishments (You may think she knows since she was promoted from within, but honestly how much attention have you paid to what every other person on the team is doing that may not impact your immediate tasks? Her view is different now and she needs to see what you have done to give you the appraisal you deserve. Or you could assume she knows and get a satifactory instead of an outstanding.)

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First, asking you what you don't like about your work environment is in no way inappropriate. It's exactly what a new supervisor should be doing: figuring out if something needs to change to make things better for those who report to the new supervisor.

Second, the lunch offer is probably an attempt to convey that this is an informal conversation. Not only is it not your performance review, it's not even a true meeting, just two people who know each other chatting. Do not say more than you would in a formal setting. You could perhaps use a more casual conversation structure - it would be weird to show up to lunch with a PowerPoint - but don't say "we should have half as many meetings" or "these weekly reports are a total waste of time" if you're not ok with word getting around that you believe those things.

Third, do not withhold information because you feel it somehow belongs in the performance review. This sort of conversation should be ongoing and continuous. The fact you two were once peers or are friends is not a pre-req to having this sort of discussion. A supervisor can ask their reports any time "hey, do we have too many meetings, or what?" They can ask "why did this deploy fail? Was it related to communication? What should we do about that?" and the reports should participate in that problem solving. Anyone who answered a question from me with "I think we should discuss that in my performance review" would likely find themselves discussing it in their exit interview.

Since you ask what is not appropriate, I'll give some clearly inappropriate questions that a friend and former peer might ask:

  • if I had to lay someone off, who on the team can we most easily live without?
  • do you think A really deserves to make 20% more than B?
  • I'm going to switch us all to flex hours (or get rid of flex hours, or institute paid overtime, or eliminate paid overtime, or some other structural change.) How do you expect the team members to react?

These aren't questions to save for the performance review, they are questions to gently demur and decline to answer.

If you think something about the communication on your team needs to change, I assure you that you're right. Perhaps starting to communicate with your supervisor about your work environment would be a great place to start solving those problems.

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