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How do I tell the boss she’s too hard on a great co-worker?

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Question: “How do I tell my supervisor, the CEO of small association, that she’s being overly critical and it’s hurting morale? Example: Our annual conference is an exhausting week-long event. Our days start with pre-breakfast set up checks and continue through dinners with association members, VIP speakers and  sponsors.  Last year when we returned, our boss called a "post-conference critique" meeting to point out all the things that went wrong! I felt so sorry for the conference director. The conference went well, but the CEO was so negative.  I privately told the conference director that I thought she’d done a great job, but she left her job soon after (for a better one). What can I say to our boss—who’s been in her position for 20 years and who does have many good qualities—to be less critical? No wonder she keeps losing conference directors.”  –Wish I’d spoken up

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Adam Bloom January 5, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Wow, this is always a painful situation…difficult bosses…ugh!

I ran across your blog and this article after doing some searches related to an article we just posted on our blog titled “Bad Bosses, Employee Retention, and Mind-Bugs.” Hopefully, the article can help: http://curecorporatestupidity.com/2011/12/30/bad-bosses-employee-retention-and-mind-bugs/. The blog is related to a book called “The Cure for Corporate Stupidity – Avoid the Mind-Bugs that Cause Smart People to Make Bad Decisions.”

It is not my intent to come of salesy or “pushing this book” in my comment here, but the article and book is very relevant. I sincerely feel like I am doing a dis-service if I don’t mention it. The book was written with a goal of helping other people in situations like this and more.

It is important to realize that this CEO may be “programmed” to behave a certain way, and it is very hard to change behavior. It is also hard to tell “your superior” to improve. Perhaps, just buying a book like this and giving it to either the boss or “the disgruntled” could help without being direct about the specific problem. Like, “hey, someone mentioned this book, and I thought you might like it” (as it is not titled “dealing with bad bosses) without mentioning the problem directly. Sometimes, we also have to look at ourselves…CEOs are there to improve things constantly…they face financial pressure to do so…so, it helps to realize that as well.

Best wishes on figuring this out. Please feel free to send us any questions or comments. Really like the format of this blog, very nice work!

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Gloria December 9, 2011 at 8:44 am

Gloria from 12/9/11, 8:42, is a different Gloria from the one below who posted on 12/8/11.

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Adam Bloom December 9, 2011 at 8:42 am

It sounds as if this boss is trying to make things better the next time around but is going about it in the wrong way. Critiquing is really an art. It is not criticizing which most often is what happens and results in the receiver feeling put down and defensive. If you have that type of relationship where you can approach her, I would give her the feedback regarding the people who left. I would explain how you understand what she is trying to achieve but its having an adverse effect. Choose your words carefully and watch the tone of your voice. If you feel this will backfire on you, which it may, only you can have an idea on that outcome, then take another approach. I would point out to the boss all the wonderful things the person did throughout the project and everything that went well. Include all the positive feedback they received, too. Build them up from the start. Plant seeds. It may begin to change the way your boss thinks and will be more difficult to tear them down later. She may even include the positive feedback in her critique the next time around. It’s not personal but a lot of upper management aren’t the best communicators, believe it or not. They are bottom line, results oriented numbers driven. They usually have very strong hard skills and not the best soft skills involved. Some people will never change. They feel they don’t need to and they have convinced themselves their way works, despite evidence that it doesn’t. If that’s the way this person is, history will keep repeating itself until this person moves on. Remember, be careful which approach you decide to take, if any. It’s a very delicate decision where huge egos are involved. Stroke, baby, stroke.

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Adam Bloom December 8, 2011 at 4:28 pm

I think it’s high time “Management needs to fine tune their leadership skills and learn to treat the employees with tact and respect even in the face of “needed improvement”. Just because they are in a higher positon does not give them the right to belitte others publicly or privately. It’s a bad example for a leader. After all, how would they feel if their boss pointed out all the negatives in front of every one? Criticism has a better effect when it ends on a positive note.

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Adam Bloom December 5, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Surely their HR people perform an exit interview with departing employees . . . if not, someone should and report the facts/findings back to the CEO. If the CEO’s demeanor is really driving good employees out the door, it will be more than obvious in this type report. HR needs to speak up – no need to make it personal as the facts are the facts!

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Adam Bloom December 2, 2011 at 9:35 am

If this boss has been there for 20 years and really does not have many good qualities, then she has probably been approached regarding her overly critical nature. Management is probably already aware of the problem so there won’t be any point in going to the boss or upper management. It is what it is.

Let your positive attitude and actions influence the people you work with. Be consistent. Other than that, try to see the good in your job, in your boss, and in the team as a whole. Do what you can to work well with everyone but do not become a doormat for anyone.

Separate your home life and your work life. Don’t take the negativity home with you. Make sure you have someone safe you can talk to about everything should you need to. It should be someone you do not work with. Never, ever Twitter, Facebook or advertise your problems unless you are willing to deal with the potential retaliation that could result.

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Adam Bloom December 1, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Wish I’d spoken up, was wondering if the CEO allows 360 feedback regarding these conferences? This seems like it would be the appropriate time to also point out the things that went well. It does not seem like you feel very comfortable speaking with her, so you can probably build up your relationship with her a little before the next conference and talk about things then. The CEO does not seem to understand what goes into setting up a successful conference and maybe could learn from you.

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Adam Bloom December 1, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Why not have a casual (but private) conversation with your boss and frame it up as something like “I don’t know if you noticed, but moral seems a little low. . . ” then point out the overly critical nature of the comments. Our organization does a similar exercise after big projects, but it’s in the spirit of improvement. They outline what was done well and then looks at what could be better next time. By taking this approach, everyone gets a pat on the back for the good stuff and find ways to get even better.

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