Not a team player
December 7, 2015 6:05 AM   Subscribe

Our MD accidentally attached some harsh comments meant for an external training company to the the entire organisation. Basically, it breaks down person-by-person, their 'weaknesses' as he sees it. What recourse if any do I have/how do I approach this? More inside.

There are about 20 people in my company... Around 15 of the team members were named remarked upon, including me. Here's a taster:

[Redacted]: has issues with personal communication, she can be very aggressive and ‘flash’ at clients and staff but I think this is down to her own self doubt and awkwardness. She needs to learn how to manage people better, read situations and learn skills on how not to react in a negative way.

[Redacted]: Has been a Manager for about 18 months but still struggles to mentor or direct juniors. She moans about what they are not doing but doesn’t nurture them or bring them on, leaving them floundering. She also doesn’t address if they aren’t doing something so just moans to seniors when not done!


Whether any of the comments about me are justified or not, basically I would like to curl up with embarrassment and never come to work again. But it's not just that practical!

I flagged to MD that he sent it to everyone (so he knows I know), but they've all read it before she could recall (he may not know that. It as well as the embarrassment I feel completely undermined in front of my team! Any thoughts on what I can do? Aside from quit? I have been busting my gut over and above for this company and it really upsets me to find out what they really think. I'd like an apology at least but that hasn't been forthcoming so far. We are in the UK. There is no HR as such (owner/operated).... but open to talking!
posted by teststrip to Work & Money (38 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
take the advice?

seriously. sometimes the best thing to do is just take on criticism and get better. it's win-win. not only do you actually improve yourself, you make the criticism seem overblown.
posted by andrewcooke at 6:08 AM on December 7, 2015 [39 favorites]


I can only see one way of dealing with this: address those issues, and visibly improve.

You will likely get a personal apology in private, or a general apology to all affected in public, not more.

Deal with the fallout like a leader. (Also you might like Ask A Manager)
posted by gorcha at 6:09 AM on December 7, 2015 [15 favorites]


the embarrassment I feel completely undermined in front of my team!

Well, given the email mentioned 15 out of the 20 staff, remember that everyone is probably feeling embarrassed about their own section and not really thinking about everyone else's.

Also worth remembering that this was presumably written so the training company could address the staff's weaknesses - and so manager has been very specific about each person's weakness so as to get the best value for money from the training company. There are likely many strengths that you and others have that weren't mentioned because they weren't relevant to the subject.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:10 AM on December 7, 2015 [19 favorites]


Best answer: Honestly, the very best thing you can do is take the advice, put the circumstance out of your mind and show up at work ready to be amazing. Your MD screwed up and I'm sure feels horrible about it, but you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. Being willing to show up, head held high is the right approach. Forgive your boss and don't hold it against her.

Then pretend you didn't read a single thing about any of your coworkers. Put it out of your mind. Your coworkers should get the same chance to start fresh you're taking. You're probably all feeling very embarrassed. A polite fiction of "no one read the email" is the best way to keep working.
posted by GilvearSt at 6:12 AM on December 7, 2015 [15 favorites]


remember that everyone is probably feeling embarrassed about their own section and not really thinking about everyone else's.

Truth. The doctor is really the one who should be embarrassed here, not you. He made a mistake but I'm not sure why it's worth quitting your job over. What I would do is read everyone else's, and if his criticisms seem valid to you for those people, take his words about your own performance very seriously and look at this as a great opportunity to improve in those areas.
posted by something something at 6:13 AM on December 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


Just add a one more cell to the roster:
[MD's name redacted] makes sloppy mistakes that adversely impact employee morale.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 6:21 AM on December 7, 2015 [46 favorites]


The doctor is really the one who should be embarrassed here

MD = "Managing Director" I think
posted by thelonius at 6:22 AM on December 7, 2015 [10 favorites]


One of the slogans at the nonprofit I work at is "criticism is a gift".
posted by andoatnp at 6:32 AM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the leak is probably illegal due to the Data Protection Act.

I'm not saying you should bring in the authorities but it's worth remembering when discussing this - you're the victim of your employer breaking the law.

(I Am Not A Lawyer But I Worry About Things Like This)
posted by BinaryApe at 6:34 AM on December 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Bear in mind that this is all "criticism" that the guy doesn't feel good about sharing with the actual employees. How are you all supposed to improve if there's this big "here's what I really think of staff but I'm not telling them" thing going on? While yes, criticism is a gift, I think it's also an opportunity to assess your MD realistically and figure out how his weaknesses are holding you back. While looking for another job because you feel embarrassed seems excessive, looking for another job because your manager has strong negative views of most of the staff but does not share those in annual reviews or on a day-to-day, "here's how we could do this task better" basis seems like a reasonable idea. I would get really nervous if I thought that my seniors had a lot of criticisms of me that they were not sharing.
posted by Frowner at 6:41 AM on December 7, 2015 [30 favorites]


This is a gift. The parts that sting are most likely the parts that hit home --you don't need to read anyone elses's notes to figure out what's accurate for you. Moving forward, pay attention to how your interactions and management skills can improve. (And forget about the "authorities"-- this is your boss 's evaluation of your workplace actions.)
posted by Ideefixe at 6:43 AM on December 7, 2015


Best answer: I would schedule an hour meeting with your direct manager (if that's the MD, so much the better) and be very honest about wanting to address the criticism.

I'd open with, "It was impossible not to see MD's comments and not want to address them. I'm mortified that he/she thinks this of me and while this is very hard for me, I want to improve. What actions do I need to take to correct this?"

Honestly, if you had NO idea, it's a pretty big omission on the part of your manager and the MD. Who lets people continue on if this is truly what they think?

I might want to look for a new gig, not because you are so poorly regarded, because honestly, these are just areas of improvement, but because you were blindsided with this information. In my organization I have had sessions with managers who tell me what I'm doing right and what needs improvement. Sometimes it's hard to hear, but I'm HEARING it!

This organization seems toxic, and the MD is an ASS for letting this information get out to everyone. If he/she is this sloppy with private and sensitive information, what other important things are going by the wayside?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:54 AM on December 7, 2015 [13 favorites]


This is the most honest feedback you are ever going to get, the method of getting it is obviously not ideal, but this is valuable stuff. Tough it out and, if after reflection you agree with it, act on it. I'd have a fair level of respect for someone that can weather the embarrassment and put this to use.
posted by deadwax at 7:05 AM on December 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


Your MD is probably mortified and inwardly panicking, more so than you are. They've got fifteen hurt/embarrassed/confused/angry employees to answer to.

Remember that this is only part of "what they really think," and the worst part at that, intended for someone who deliberately wanted to hear the worst. If you've been getting positive feedback on the job, you're probably fine. And if three quarters of the company was criticized, you're not being singled out for being worse than anyone else.

To save face for both your MD and yourself, you might consider sending them an email saying "I know this was not intended to be seen by me, but now that I've seen it, I'd be interested in meeting with you to discuss areas where I could improve. I was unaware of these weaknesses, and I always welcome constructive feedback." Go, and listen, and don't get defensive or let on that you're upset. Do not seek an apology.

Or pretend it didn't happen, put on your best professional face, and silently work on proving that email wrong.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:08 AM on December 7, 2015 [18 favorites]


I think you are catastrophizing and reacting negatively here - which was the heart of the blunt feedback you were not meant to read. What does this tell you?

You need some more tools in your toolkit. Skills in your repertoire. However you want to put it. That feedback isn't that bad! I'm surprised you are thinking of quitting.

Fix your reaction to this incident. It's all related. Number one is be willing to see where these statements are true. I know there are professional courses, books, and blogs for this sort of thing. Get to work. Stay pleasant and professional. It'll all be OK.
posted by jbenben at 7:32 AM on December 7, 2015


Just for a bit of perspective, I honestly don't think the criticism is that bad. They could have been a lot harsher and ruder, but probably pulled back because they were sending it to an external contractor. I can see why you're initially embarrassed, but this stuff is more on the 'constructive criticism' side of the spectrum. I don't see anything worth considering quitting over. I agree with the others that you should try and take this on the chin, extract the suggestions for improvement, and go into the training with an open mind.
posted by like_neon at 7:35 AM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: @Jbenben - must clarify none of the above were about me. Too embarrassed to show you guys!
posted by teststrip at 7:42 AM on December 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


I experienced a somewhat related but less "constructive criticism" situation - a complaining person at the top of our org mistakenly CCed staff on a critical/gossipy email about individuals - and I took it as a sign to kick my job search into high gear. As Frowner said above:

your manager has strong negative views of most of the staff but does not share those in annual reviews or on a day-to-day, "here's how we could do this task better" basis

This was what gave me great concern, and in my situation, it reaffirmed that the organization had major issues and it wasn't a healthy place for me to continue to learn, grow, and improve professionally.
posted by soleiluna at 7:43 AM on December 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Bear in mind that this is all "criticism" that the guy doesn't feel good about sharing with the actual employees. How are you all supposed to improve if there's this big "here's what I really think of staff but I'm not telling them" thing going on?"

Well, the email was being sent to an external training company so it sounds like the MD was trying to help improve the situation.
posted by I-baLL at 7:58 AM on December 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Separate your career from your emotions.

Emotionally, call up a few of your best friends for an emergency dinner or dessert date so they can deal with supporting your fewlinfs and reminding you you are a great person.

Career-wise the advice to meet with your manager to ask how you can best address the concerns -- and do so -- is spot on. This really is a long-term gift.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:59 AM on December 7, 2015


As for getting over the embarrassment, I find that clowning myself first takes the sting out of it. Frequently and often!

"I suppose I could do X, but as MD is fond of observing, I'm not good at taking initiative!" Guffaws all around, perhaps it will catch on! Others will do the same, it will become the joke that it is.

I'd share it with close friends first, and I'd frame it as, "OMG, I have to find a new job, check THIS out!" Then share all of it, "according to this, there's not a competent one amongst us!"

The more I talk about it, and say it, and live it, one of two things happen, you get better and/or, you realize it's horseshit and move on.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:06 AM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the leak is probably illegal due to the Data Protection Act.

What an extraordinary thing to think.


You've been given a great gift here.

First of all, there are few things that are as valuable as honest feedback.

Second, he's going to feel bad about his mistake so he'll be emotionally primed to respond positively to anything that gives him a way out of his negative feelings. If you tell him that regardless of how it came out, you appreciate the feedback, you lessen his guilt and create positive feelings towards you.
posted by atrazine at 8:07 AM on December 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think the leak is probably illegal due to the Data Protection Act.

I'm not familiar with the Data Protection Act, but I have a hard time seeing how emailing a bunch of people your personal thoughts on their performance could be illegal. Could you elaborate?
posted by craven_morhead at 8:09 AM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is a few selected quotes regarding the Data Protection Act:
The Data Protection Act controls how your personal information is used by organisations, businesses or the government.

Everyone responsible for using data has to follow strict rules called ‘data protection principles’. They must make sure the information is:

used fairly and lawfully
used for limited, specifically stated purposes
used in a way that is adequate, relevant and not excessive
accurate
kept for no longer than is absolutely necessary
handled according to people’s data protection rights
kept safe and secure
------------------------------------------------------
“personal data” means data which relate to a living individual who can be identified—
(a)from those data, or
(b)from those data and other information which is in the possession of, or is likely to come into the possession of, the data controller,
and includes any expression of opinion about the individual and any indication of the intentions of the data controller or any other person in respect of the individual;
I am not a lawyer or a data expert but it could be argued that the Manager (data controller) did not handle the personal data ("any expression of opinion about the individual") correctly by not keeping it "safe and secure".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:25 AM on December 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Were I your MD, this is the email I would send out to the whole firm.

"Dear Staff,

"As you know, I inadvertently circulated some of my concerns regarding certain staff members' job performance.

"Please accept my apologies for any distress this may have caused, and know that:

"* this was merely one side of the ledger -- for each person criticized I have many compliments as well

"* every person criticized was and is in good standing and is not presently subject of any consultation for adverse employment action

"* our processes will be improved to avoid any repetition."
posted by MattD at 9:13 AM on December 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Are you sure the leak was an accident?

Whether or not that's true: you might want to work with a mentor to see if any of the criticisms are apt and find ways of acting on them constructively.

And if you have any doubt that the leak was in fact accidental, use your work with your mentor to prepare yourself for a great new job. :-)
posted by Sheydem-tants at 10:30 AM on December 7, 2015


I think the leak is probably illegal due to the Data Protection Act.

Assuming this was a list of employees along with evaluations and no personally sensitive information, this would not fall under the Act as applied to employers.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:42 AM on December 7, 2015


I'm honestly surprised by the "this is a gift" responses in this thread. This criticism isn't "honest"—it's rude and condescending and shows complete disrespect for the individuals it's levied at. I don't think there's any excuse for a manager to talk about the people who work for them in a tone like this, even in a presumed-private context. In your situation I would start looking for another job, not because I was embarrassed about what was said regarding my performance but because it's clear that the manager values their own clever snideness more than they value their relationships with the people they manage.
posted by aparrish at 10:47 AM on December 7, 2015 [13 favorites]


Assuming this was a list of employees along with evaluations and no personally sensitive information, this would not fall under the Act as applied to employers.

See above - the definition of "personal information" in the Data Protection Act includes in its definition "any expression of opinion about the individual". From the ICO website, an example of this is:
A manager’s assessment or opinion of an employee’s performance during their initial probationary period will, if held as data, be personal data about that individual. Similarly, if a manager notes that an employee must do remedial training, that note will, if held as data, be personal data.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 11:23 AM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


This criticism isn't "honest"—it's rude and condescending and shows complete disrespect for the individuals it's levied at. I don't think there's any excuse for a manager to talk about the people who work for them in a tone like this, even in a presumed-private context.

I would really fundamentally disagree with this. I have managed a lot of people and these kinds of private conversations are important. I've expressed opinions similar to those posted here and they were often about people I think do a good job. No one is perfect and there are sometimes reasons to communicate to other people what someone working for you doesn't get right, often clearly and fairly bluntly. That can sometimes be just a FYI kind of thing, but is also often done in the interests of improving matters.

This question is not the place to debate this, but I really think the OP should try and take this criticism in that spirit.
posted by deadwax at 11:47 AM on December 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Any chance that, as in Sheydem-tants' suggestion, that this might have been an ‘accident’-on-purpose? Maybe the MD is playing a particularly clueless version of the super-in-vogue-right-now Radical Candor?

At best, the MD is technically clueless. At worst, clueless and insensitive. You might get an apology. You probably won't.

Some of the suggestions here are from very different work cultures. Generally in the UK, HR matters tend to be a little more guarded than in North America. I know that I certainly worked places where receiving something like this would have caused an all-out work stoppage and the manager demoted to somewhere far away the same day.
(Man, I miss effective unions ...)
posted by scruss at 11:59 AM on December 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sounds like the items mentioned for you came as something of a surprise. Feedback on performance has been a matter of routine for me, so I am on the 'gift' side. We all have flaws, and the named ones are your perceived flaws/shortcomings as perceived by your manager(s). Ask yourself if you recognise them, and if you think there is something in that list that you agree with. Can you get some (maybe anonymous) feedback from your team members as to their views on the accuracy/completeness of this list? Then work on them, and become a better person/employee.
posted by GeeEmm at 12:29 PM on December 7, 2015


Your Managing Director has it right when she writes "She needs to learn how to manage people better, read situations and learn skills on how not to react in a negative way." because this is precisely what you are doing in this thread.

You have something valuable that most workers will never get: real feedback. Use it to your advantage and find ways to improve on your shotcomings.
posted by Kwadeng at 7:49 PM on December 7, 2015


So was any of that a surprise? Or is it something she's been giving you feedback on regularly? Either way it's pretty embarrassing to have your weaknesses broadcast like that. However, some companies do that on purpose, for "accountability". I'm in a five-day seminar right now where we're encouraged to think up and share our weaknesses with each other and make a plan of action for improvement. On Day 5, each of our bosses is going to show up and listen to our plans. And maybe disagree/add their own comments. It's excruciating.

The disappointing thing to me would really be if the content of those comments was a surprise to you. In that case I would be in the office first thing in the morning to have one of those "got a minute? It's important" talks. I'd explain that I'd read the email and understand that it was accidental, but that I was seriously taking those comments under advisement. I'd also say that I will work on those weaknesses and would appreciate regular candid feedback about the progress I was making. I would ask if there was some reason the MD didn't feel comfortable addressing these concerns to me.

Yeah, it would be painful, but the least painful way to rip off the band-aid. I wouldn't let the embarrassment linger in the "polite fiction" scenario. Too much guessing if someone's mad at someone now, or is this because..., etc. Just clear the air and move on.
posted by ctmf at 8:35 PM on December 7, 2015


I'd have a huge problem with this. I'm amazed at all the people taking the "criticism is a gift" stance. This is toxic criticism, because it was intended to be given behind people's backs, and not accompanied with ANY information about the employees' strengths.

I think it was not only a huge gaffe to send these poison darts out to the whole list, but even more importantly, the way of thinking in evidence here is extremely destructive. No manager can be effective if s/he views the team so negatively.

I don't think this person should be in a management role. I don't think they can be effective with this particular team, ever. They should resign or be let go. If that doesn't happen, I'd be looking at switching jobs because I wouldn't want to work under such a toxic person.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 10:35 PM on December 7, 2015


I'm honestly surprised by the "this is a gift" responses in this thread

That's because you're not as conniving as I am. I don't mean that it's a gift because you can use it to improve performance, I wouldn't even care if the feedback was even an honest reflection of their own abilities. It is a gift because:

a) It tells you what a critical senior person at your employer thinks of you, knowledge which can be used to manipulate that perception in the future. It doesn't matter if it reflects reality.
b) It puts the MD in a guilty emotional state which can be used to further manipulate their perception of you.

I'm only thinking of how the OP can use this to advance their own interests. Don't think of your boss as a friend who has social obligations towards you (although as it happens I get along very well with my own boss), think of them as a counterparty in a contract negotiation. If I was negotiating a contract and the person I was negotiating with leaked a list of the weaknesses in my current offer, I would use it to control the situation. N.b. - your employer treats their relationship with you this way, so should you.

Incidentally, none of the quoted feedback is really poisonous. The second one in particular is true of virtually every first time manager and is prime for coaching and improvement so it's totally appropriate as a remark to a training provider.

This is toxic criticism, because it was intended to be given behind people's backs, and not accompanied with ANY information about the employees' strengths.

Criticism should be accompanied by praise in internal performance appraisals and when coaching employees 1:1, it isn't nearly as important when briefing an external training provider although it can be useful when giving them a fuller picture.
posted by atrazine at 4:40 AM on December 9, 2015


I have to say, I was expecting a lot worse from your MD than was provided. This is, on the Colossal Executive Fuckups scale, a 5 out of 10 at most. Any of that feedback could have been given in person and in private and there would be nothing to post to AskMefi about. They're going to have repair a lot of relationships, and have damaged their reputation, but really haven't demonstrated their inner dialog is a sociopath or narcissistic. If this is the first negative feedback your supervisor has given you, it can be quite an emotional shock in the best of circumstances.

Honestly, if you work with people, you probably know as much as the MD about where people need improvement. Your directs know you have flaws, and are not a perfect manager. If anything, this email mostly produces higher orders of common knowledge: everyone knew this stuff, and now everyone knows that everyone knows. The person who benefits the most from this shitty situation is yourself -- cognitive biases oddly mean you are sort of the last person get the message about your imperfections.
posted by pwnguin at 11:08 PM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Hey, late follow up. Once I got over my pride, I did start to see my feedback, as suggested - a gift! I have since been promoted which is nice. Thank you all.
posted by teststrip at 8:02 AM on February 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


« Older Christmas cards for the super, 2015   |   Day trip from (and tips for) Phoenix during NCAA... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.