There's nothing more frustrating than to think you're doing just great in your job, only to have the boss blindside you with something like: "You know, I'm concerned that you're not meeting the goals I think you need to meet in order to be successful at this company."
You're confused. Isn't this the same boss who says "good job!" to you at least once a day? Isn't this the same boss who told you in a recent email that she "really liked" your project report?
So, what gives?
There's no way of really knowing what's going on in the boss's mind at this point. She may have gotten some bad feedback from her boss, and so feels somehow that she needs to pass that negative vibe onto you. Or, she may be really bad at offering constructive criticism, and so instead hides behind "good job!" until she dumps the bad feedback on you later.
Believe me, I know just how you feel. I've been there. You're mad, frustrated, confused and perhaps even a little hurt. But while all those feelings are roiling around inside of you, you cannot let them out in an unprofessional way. ("Are you freaking kidding me??" is not an appropriate response.)
This is what you need to do:
- Try to get specifics. "Can you share a little more about your concerns? Does this have to do with the XYZ project or something else?"
- Offer solutions. "I'm happy to go back and rework those numbers and do more research. Can I have it to you by the end of the week?"
- Stay positive. "I'm always open to improving my work, so I'm glad you brought this to my attention."
- Stay proactive. "Can we meet next week so I can briefly update you on the changes and make sure they're in line with what you want?"
- Engage. The last thing you want to do with a boss who has blindsided you like this is stick around and talk to her. But this is when it's really important to make a connection with her in a non-adversarial way. Relax your body language, look her directly in the eye and make sure you're not raising your voice. If she sees you're listening and not lashing back, she's likely to calm down and perhaps have a more constructive conversation.
Finally, to avoid blindsides in the future, initiate more feedback from her. After a presentation, you can ask: "I felt good about that, but I'd like to get your feedback on whether you think there was too much data for the clients. What do you think?"
The more you initiate good communication and substantive feedback, the better the chances you'll reduce blindsides that can derail your career.