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Work Productivity and Hacks

5 Ways to Handle Baseless Feedback From Your Boss

By Joseph Cueto on March 3, 2015

Work, at times, can be a cruel, cruel world – in terms of receiving feedback. There’s positive and negative feedback, which are of course, normal. But what do we make of baseless feedback, especially when the boss is the messenger and confronts you about it?

Oh the horror! Yes, it’s the type of feedback that seems to have originated from the man on the street or the kind that develops when the giver did not conduct his due diligence into the incident or performance in question.

And just when you thought things could not get any worse, your boss wants a one-on-one dialogue while his demeanor reminds you of a furious bull running the streets of Pamplona. How can one handle the boss’ unsubstantiated response, together with his surly demeanor? CEO Jack Zenger and President Joseph Folkman of the leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman outlines how to react proactively with a reactive boss armed with baseless feedback:

  1. As the meeting gets underway, pause. Be sure to hit the pause button on your reaction and by doing so, you act in neutrality. Keep calm and show poise and respect to your boss.
  2. Give your boss the benefit of the doubt by adopting the mindset that he has both parties’ best interests in mind and would only want to extend a helping hand.
  3. Strive to have a sufficient grasp of all the messages (and their corresponding obvious and underlying meanings) your boss sends. Ask follow-up questions that shed light on details and suggestions on how the situation could have been handled better. Seek alternate perspectives of those involved in the process and through colleagues who care for your growth.
  4. At the follow-up meeting, relay the key messages derived during your previous dialogue. Summarize the next action steps you will take based on the recent chat, if any.
  5. Two outcomes are in play here. If the boss erred, move forward and don’t dwell on it. Find yourself at fault? File under: Learning Experiences.

There is a bigger point, however, that Zenger and Folkman strive to underscore: For organizations to successfully continue engaging their employees, the leaders they have in place need to be to hand out feedback the right way. This doesn't just pertain to baseless feedback getting leaked to employees. Having an effective feedback system also involves teaching the workforce how to handle various types of feedback thrown their way, valid or otherwise, and especially when the boss is off his game.

Speaking of feedback, how would you handle baseless feedback from your boss? Share your thoughts below. Honest feedback to bosses and direct reports out there: Remember this article. You never know when it might come in handy.


Photo by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung