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ADVICE: I got a bad review. Do I submit a rebuttal?

Hi everyone. We're back with more free advice. (You get what you pay for, kids!)

Anon writes:

I work my ass off. My boss just gave me a review that said I'm reluctant to take on some of my responsibilities and gave me no examples. She gossips about me with the director of our department, who bad mouths me to her direct reports. I have a rebuttal ready to submit with examples instances when I did the work she accused me of not taking on, including working from a courtesy computer in a hospital waiting room when my mother was intensive care. I can't quit, I need this job. Do I submit the rebuttal? 

I'm sorry about this. It's very difficult to work 40 - 65+ hours a week and feel unappreciated or undervalued. It blows.

Before we decide if you submit the rebuttal, let's assess a few things together:

1) How do you know that your boss is gossiping? You probably do. So I am not second-guessing you. But I will say this: I recently moved into an office next to my own boss's office. I love him. He's rad. BUT, I can *barely* hear him and often, I think, "What is going on in there? Who is that strange new voice? Who is in there talking to him. ARE WE ALL GETTING FIRED." Paranoia. I am so not getting fired. He was just having a goddamn meeting. It was just standard office paranoia. Let's make sure you rule out the possibility that your boss isn't really gossiping about you.

2) If this behavior is happening, then the next thing to figure out is the most important: If you present this "rebuttal" will she be open to it? You probably already know the answer to this. If the answer is anything from "probably not" to "no way" then you shouldn't. Why? Because it is likely that she is unwilling to receive this information from you and unwilling to change her point of view.

Next, when you say you work your ass off, are you confident you are doing the things that are important to your boss? If you are working your ass off on the wrong things, then it doesn't matter if you are working your ass off. If you are working you ass off from a hospital, it doesn't matter if you are working your ass off from a hospital if you are working on the wrong thing or delivering average work. Success at work happens in two dimensions: 
1) What you do (performance)
2) How you do it (leadership/ your work style)

You need to do the right things (things your boss values) in the right way (with a style your boss/company appreciates and values).

If you got a bad review, then you're not performing to her standard in either or both of those areas. This doesn't mean you're a bad employee or can't made good contributions. You just need her to articulate what she wants in those two dimensions. And then you need to execute against those expectations.

The best thing to do is set up a follow up meeting where you offer no rebuttal. In fact, everything that comes out of your mouth should be a question. You should ask questions to isolate what good performance would mean to her, in terms of what you are expected to do and how you are expected to do it. You should be very open to the feedback. Nod. Listen. Really listen. Don't explain anything. Just ask and listen. Don't think of yourself as her employee. Think of yourself as a consultant. She is your client. Listen to what she wants. If she's not good at telling you, you need to draw it out of her.

THEN, once you and she are both clear on what she expects, go do it for three months. Then ask for feedback on recent performance. If she tells you that your work has improved and you're meeting expectations, congratulations. No rebuttal is needed.

Let's look again at part of your comment:

My boss just gave me a review that said I'm reluctant to take on some of my responsibilities and gave me no examples.... Do I submit the rebuttal?

A rebuttal is just a fancy word for an argument. You can't argue at work. You have to perform. Only your performance will convince her.

(Unless she's crazy, immature, or very undeveloped as a manager with no demonstrated success helping people advance their careers. In that case, do everything I said above and just keep working until you find another job.)

How's my driving so far?


Anonymous said...

I work for a large company with all sorts of politics. This is really good advice for when all that crap just gets to you.

Lizzie said...

Really useful advice there. If I were the in the advice seeker's situation, I would have only thought about rebuttal. Thank you for putting forward the client/conultant approach.

Anonymous said...

Damn grrl. That was FINE.

Anonymous said...

You're a VERY GOOD DRIVER. Genius.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response. It has made me look at the situation from a different perspective. I won't submit the rebuttal. I'll try what you suggest.


LB said...

I like the client/approach too.

Amanda Calhoun said...

Don't even bother doing work your boss doesn't find important. It won't get you anywhere. This is advice I give too - it's solid. Also, you know your boss'style and what he is and isn't good at. Be good at the things he isn't so he finds you even more useful. My boss stinks at excel and we use it constantly for our job. If I make spreadsheets that he can use and make his life easier then it gets me bonus points.

I've heard the advice before, there are no bad bosses, just bad employees. Take it or leave it but the point is there is always something to learn from a manager whether they're good or bad. If you can't deal with it start looking for a new gig.

Richie Designs said...


keep your head down. work through example prove the assholes wrong by kicking ass.

and yes, then find a new gig where politics are on your side [for a while anyway]

Anonymous said...

i work with a woman who is completely clueless. she gets in screaming matches with the manager. she's a complete flake, throws temper tantrums (literally cursing and stomping around and hitting things) and blames everyone & every piece of machinery for her mistakes. she is convinced that our manager is spying on her and talking about her. even with a brand new computer, she blame it for all her stupid mistakes, which she never manages to learn from?

obviously, she gets bad reviews. and she rebutts them and just looks like a fool.

my point is, there could be a lack of self-awareness here. following decorno's advice would be a really good start--is it you or your boss? i don't know anyone on this thread, so take this with a grain of salt. but pay attention to what you're saying/doing. victim mentality is exhausting to be around and a complete waste of your time.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bad-Review Person,

I know this is the Internet, and we all let down our hair around here, but your note to Decorno had a bunch of typos/errors. Is it possible your work has had some carelessness in it?

Anonymous said...

That was really great advice.

Carrie said...

Such great advice. I have had the pleasure of working for for Decorno and it was a total game changer for me. She was my first manager out of college and she is indeed as good at giving advice in person as she is in paper. A few of my favorite Decorno-isms (that have stuck with me these past 5 years)include:

1) "that tone you just used? Don't ever use that again."

2) Be effective, not right.

3) This isn't a charity(re: compensation).

4) When someone asks you a question, just answer it. Don't assume they are trying to "get you."

5) Sometimes you need to change, and other times you need to change your environment. Know the difference.

6) Self awareness matters (if you know what you don't know you are WAAAAY better off).

7) If someone doesn't do what you expected, take some ownership. Did you set clear expectations?

8) Crack jokes. Especially when people are being uptight for no reason.

9)But, know when to be serious.

10) Admit when you are wrong, and what you are doing to prevent it in the future. Then do it.

11) Hitch your wagon to high performers; you'll learn from them and they might take you with them.

12) Karaoke is a totally acceptable work outing.

13) People notice your shoes.

I could go on and on... seriously. Thanks Decorno! You're the best.

Shawna said...

You are awesome and your advice is awesome.

Debra said...

My only addition to your advice would be that what is said in a review should never be a surprise. The Manager needed to have an ongoing dialogue with Anon if there were issues that needed to be addressed well before the review ever happened.
When Anonymous was not given any examples of what she was not doing or doing incorrectly, she could have asked for clarification to be included in the review.
A vague statement needs to be followed with specifics so that the behavior can be adjusted or explained or simply not agreed with.
Lastly, the Manager should want Anon to succeed in her position since it might be a reflection on her leadership style if Anon is performing not up to standard.

Debra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Debra, agree, but the employee should also own her development and ask for feedback regularly.

Decorno said...

Debra - agree with everything completely.

That said, this was advice for the employee. I only wanted to give her advice around the issues she can control. In this case, she can't make her manager better/more thoughtful/more organized/more capable.

Anonymous said...

"that tone you just used? Don't ever use that again."

Now I'm a little scared.

Decorno said...

I'm only scary sometimes. (I honestly don't remember saying that!)

Carrie said...

Ha! No, Decorno is equally direct and charming so you never actually have your feelings hurt. It makes the hard feedback easy to take. I swear she isn't scary. Just well dressed.

Sandra Smith-Doghmi said...

What a charming conversation about important issues. And good advice. Wish we could all go to lunch sometime, we could build a new corporation!

Anonymous said...

Debra gave good advice. With that being said a manager who gives a review with out being able to back up the negatives with facts needs to be called on it. Remeber this review is going to be on your employee record. Before you do anything cool down and try taking a good honest objective look at your performance. I once interviewed for a promotion only to be told my manager was making inaccurate negative statements about me. Once I knew what the comments were I provided proof she was lying and I got the promotion.

Decorno said...

"With that being said a manager who gives a review with out being able to back up the negatives with facts needs to be called on it."

"Called on it" is aggression. That's just going to make you look defensive. What's wrong with the "ask a bunch of questions" recommendation I made? With that approach, the employee gets the information she needs and the manager isn't put in a corner. Making sure the manager is "called on it" isn't going to help this employee get what she needs, which is clear direction. That approach is a distraction.

Anonymous said...

Decorno... you are so freaking awesome.

Reiki Ree said...

"Called on it." "Rebuttal" Code words for DRAMA. And DRAMA has no place in the workplace. Decorno, this was such great advice that I've posted it on my FB page. I'm retired now, but still mentor a few women via the non-profit community work I do. This advice, and Carrie's comments, are invaluable. I can hear myself saying the "Don't use that (tone) ever again". And yes, I suppose I was scary, but like Decorno, I am a straight shooter. Also, "There is no 'Try', there is only Do." Master Yoda taught us that and Anon would do well to print that little saying out and post it on her bathroom mirror so she is reminded daily that Trying is the back door to FAILING. Doing is the front door to success.

angie said...

christ, some people are harsh...

The bottom line is: if your boss has resorted to ignoring the good stuff you do and borderline lying about the stuff she's complaining about, such that you feel a rebuttal is in order, you are already SCREWED. The only reason to rebut anything is if your boss is not the sole decision-maker and you think you could sway someone else who holds your fate in their hands.

Anonymous said...

Reiki Ree you're an asshole.

Decorno said...

Anon 5:02 - - why is she an asshole?

Abedo Ahmed said...

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