The worst feedback I ever received, was the feedback I didn’t receive
I had a new boss and I was enthusiastic about the whole change. I loved the organization I was a part of, what it stood for, its contribution and the kind of people it housed. And a good boss can be that one factor that reinforces all the positives you are willing to see or who makes your life so miserable that nothing can keep you there.
We had a series of group meetings where ideas were invited, existing ones discussed and plans made.
And I started noticing how there was the ‘yes group’, the ‘nothing to say’ group and the ‘no group’. Not ‘no group’ just me saying no.
We all dislike people who dampen enthusiasm with nos. of course I knew that. Even the best ideas however have a method of implementation, execution. And here was my boss listening only to people who agreed with him and gave him reasons why it would work while withholding history and reasons why it would not work.
Every time I tried presenting history or what happened earlier, helping understand the landscape so that we treat courageously or wisely but not foolishly, he shushed me. His body would go rigid, he would get agitated and tell me why he thought I was a doormat to the old ways.
I hated how that sounded. I was a year old with the firm and really hadn’t settled into a state of complacency.
I was caught between being unable to say yes and not being able to say no. the ‘nothing to say’ group eventually joined the ‘yes group’.
Let me give you an example
A certain team wasn’t giving you enough business. They went to a vendor instead. How do you get them to give you more business?
Me (shining halo and all): by talking to them to understand where we are falling short, what we could do better, what is it that want us to be doing so that we become their sole partner?
Boss: By pulling records of transactions they have conducted with the vendor and going to the super boss with it and saying, hey, see we’re draining money. Let me do it for 1/10th the cost. That’s data, that’s aggression.
Me: Have we evaluated our capability to do the job end to end?
Boss: Are you saying we’re not capable enough?
What an awkward meeting!
There’s a lot of value in what he’s saying. And there’s merit in what I am too.
By simply ignoring everything I was saying and making me feel incompetent, he stripped me of value. Value that I saw myself as contributing and value that the rest of the people in the room thought I was of until then.
I saw how they started distancing themselves from me. We know it doesn’t do much good hanging out with someone the boss does not favor. Image management was a big deal in the group.
And I did the next foolish thing. Wanting someone with context to understand what I am saying, I spoke to the old boss- voiced my concerns, talked about ruining team partnerships, the fallouts and everything that bothered me.
That it went back to my current boss and several others, I didn’t realize. I started noticing how my meetings with him kept getting cancelled or moved around. How he started cutting me in every meeting. How he started questioning every document I sent him, including my leave applications with notes.
How staffed is the team when you are on leave? Is your second in line off at the same time? Have you informed the other teams?
I felt more and more stripped of value and dignity. I had never given an occasion to be questioned before and wasn’t sure where this was coming from.
So I set up a meeting to talk to him. Many cancellations later, he gave me some time.
I told him I wanted to discuss the strained relationship we have and how we could address it.
He asked me, what strained relationship?
I rephrased, the strain I felt. I felt we weren’t how we began and what I could do to make him feel I was supportive of him and wanted him to be successful though I could have a difference of opinion.
He said, I don’t know what you are talking about!
I was moving from a bad place to a worst. Having lain on the table that I perceived a strain, I wasn’t able to go back to earlier where neither of us acknowledged something was wrong.
With panic setting in, my perfectly constructed sentences and points all self-destructed.
He sat there with arms crossed, rigid and angry.
I sat there with sweaty palms, a horribly erratic beating heart and wishing the world would end.
I said I’m sorry if I was mistaken in thinking that. But I surely did feel we haven’t made good progress in working together.
He said, I don’t know what your problem is. I don’t have any problem.
But not acknowledging the problem, by not giving me feedback even when I asked for it, by not making me see his vision, by not soothing my fears and helping me align to his goals he took away my feeling of working in a great organization.
I stopped feeling I work in a great organization.
All I could think of was I work for a poor boss.