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High job expectations causing anxiety?

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Question: “I’m concerned that my new boss may have unrealistic expectations about my abilities.  After joining this company, I worked for three managers who all gave me outstanding appraisals.  However, my most recent supervisor, “Ms. Jones,” decided to lay me off. Fortunately, I have been offered a position by a manager in another department, “Mr. Smith.”  After hearing about this, Ms. Jones said, “Mr. Smith will soon find out that you don’t walk on water.”  When I mentioned this remark to the HR manager, she said the glowing reviews in my personnel file create the impression that I can do anything. I asked if these comments could be removed to avoid misleading people, but she said no. Now I’m worried about disappointing Mr. Smith and losing another job. How can I lower his expectations?” — JPK

Marie’s Answer:
This is definitely a first. I’ve never heard anyone complain about a positive personnel record. Instead of trying to erase your past accomplishments, consider the following suggestions:

•    Don’t doubt your abilities just because you couldn’t please Ms. Jones. Your track record shows that her reaction was an anomaly, so forget about her and focus on the future. 

•    To succeed with Mr. Smith, you must clearly understand his view of the job. Ask how he defines “success” for you, and then agree on specific goals and priorities.

•    If you feel ill-prepared for any aspect of this new role, identify the knowledge or skills that you lack. Then agree with your boss on a development plan and meet regularly to assess progress.

Although the unfortunate encounter with Ms. Jones has temporarily shaken your self-confidence, a few successes should quickly bring it back. For more Office Coach suggestions on boss communication, see 10 Helpful Things to Say to Your Boss.

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