Situation 48: taking things personally

Billy and Betsy are having their monthly ‘mentoring’ session. Boss was not happy with the monthly performance report Betsy has sent in. She takes the criticism highly personally  Billy gets fed up after a while and tells her to toughen up.

(Click on the pictures to see them in full size)

A great leader:

  • Is open to and actively seeks feedback to improve her performance;
  • Learns from her mistakes;
  • Develops a network of support to help her succeed in her role.

How to best handle the situation:

If your line manager is not happy with a report that you have prepared, take the opportunity to find out exactly what he/she is looking for; the content, level of detail, language, visuals etc. Ask for some examples that you can review to see what ‘good’ looks like. Re-write the report in the style that your line manager has requested.

In addition, you could seek the help of a colleague who has more experience of preparing the reports that you need to submit. Ask for counsel on the do’s and don’ts. Ask if you can share with him/her a draft of your report so that you can get a friendly critical appraisal of it before you submit it.

Recognise the subtle cues and messages that your line manager is giving you about doing a good job. For example, if he is treating you the same as the others (as in this example) it signifies that he sees you as their equal. If you are still unsure about how you are doing, directly ask your line manager for feedback on what you are doing well and the areas in which you can improve. This should put your mind at rest and give you something tangible to work on.

Learning suggestions:

  • Set yourself one or two development goals to work on over a period of at least six months. Enlist the help of your line manager; discuss your goals and agree how he/she can support you to attain these. Have regular check-ins with your line manager to discuss your progress and determine how you can further improve.
  • Ask a trusted colleague to give you feedback about specific aspects of your work. These could include; how you come across in meetings, giving presentations, writing reports etc. Listen to the feedback with an open mind. Ask questions to clarify your understanding of what is being said and then think of ways to improve your performance.
  • Develop your own distinctive writing style whilst remaining true to the organization’s requirements. Review a range of reports to determine what is custom and practice within your organization – do people prefer to receive slide decks or formal word documents? Is the language conversational or formal? Do people like to see visuals or just words? Once you have done your analysis, consider your objectives when presenting your own report. What will help you best achieve these – total conformance or presenting information, data and recommendations in a new way? Experiment with different styles to see what works.


  • Learn to read subtle cues of how people perceive you by developing a greater understanding of and empathy towards them so that you can get their reactions to you and your work in perspective.

 Femcommunity tips:

We welcome your thoughts, experiences and comments on how you would deal with such a situation.

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