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When Feedback From Distant Bosses Feels Like an Insult

By September 22, 2018 No Comments

Send your workplace conundrums to [email protected], including your name and contact information (even if you want it withheld). The Workologist is a guy with well-intentioned opinions, not a professional career adviser. Letters may be edited.

I work in design, and someone checks my work (and that of my peers) before it gets sent out. We all want it to be great, of course. The problem is that my supervisors’ feedback can seem belittling, like they think I’m not that smart, or don’t know what I’m doing.

To make things more complicated, they are in another office, in Quebec (I’m in the United States). So there’s no face-to-face feedback; it’s all email and phone conversations. Sometimes I think there are also language issues. For many of them, French is their first language.

I don’t think it’s intentional, but their comments always end up making me feel that they think I’m a bozo at a desk who can’t do anything for myself. Is there a way I can say something about this without seeming like a jerk?

ANONYMOUS

Keeping up clear and productive communication with the home office is one of the eternal challenges of remote work.

Start by seeing if you can get more specific about what’s happening here. Over the next week or so, pay attention to exactly what your supervisors are saying that’s making you feel insulted.

Are there specific phrases that bug you? Is the troubling feedback mostly in email, which is notoriously easy to misinterpret? Or, if it’s happening on the phone, is this a tone-of-voice issue? Do your peers seem to have similar troubles? And as you gather facts, ask yourself whether it’s possible you’re projecting negative meaning that just isn’t there.

The goal is to move to a sharper sense of the problem. Just saying, “You make me feel disrespected,” or something similarly sweeping and vague, isn’t going to lead anywhere. You want to be able to say something specific like this: “When you say X, it makes me wonder whether you’re suggesting I have a problem doing Y.” (Be prepared for the possibility that there really is an issue with some of your work: I doubt your bosses want to make you feel like “a bozo,” but maybe they’re doing a bad job articulating some legitimate critique.)

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