What to Do When You Disagree With Your Manager’s Feedback

You sit down with your manager to discuss your work performance – and end up fundamentally disagreeing with her feedback to you. How can you respond and state your case without seeming argumentative or even insubordinate?

Here are four key steps to responding to feedback that you disagree with.

1. Ask for more information. Ask clarifying questions and try to gather specifics that illustrate your boss’s concerns – and listen with an open mind. Don’t focus on defending yourself; focus only on hearing and understanding what your manager is telling you. At this point, your goal is just get a better understanding of what her concerns are with your work. Then, ask yourself why she sees things that way. If you’re honest with yourself, is there any truth to her assessment? If not, then proceed to step 2.

2. Try to figure out what might be accounting for the difference in perspectives. Do you have information that your boss doesn’t have and which might change her perspective? For instance, if your boss is concerned that you’re not processing new accounts as quickly as she’d like, are there factors impacting your performance that she’s not aware of, such as that you’re now responsible for two major new projects that are taking up 20% of your time, or that you’ve been waiting for I.T. to fix a technical snag that’s been slowing down your work? Ensuring that you both have the same information can reduce some differences in perspectives. But if that doesn’t work…

3. Respectfully explain why you disagree. You want to do this in a polite and collaborative manner, of course, but a reasonable boss will be open to hearing your point of view. For instance, if your boss is concerned that you’re not pushing a product hard enough with clients but you believe your approach is more effective, you might say, “I appreciate you talking to me about this. My sense has been that my clients won’t respond well to a hard push, but they’re more receptive if I’m able to build a relationship with them first. I know my sales numbers haven’t reached our targets this quarter, but I think I’m building toward bigger sales next quarter that will make up for it.” Or even simply, “From my perspective, it seems like _____.”

4. Realize that ultimately your boss gets to make this call. It might sound obvious, but sometimes people lose sight of the fact that even if you’re convinced that your manager’s assessment of you is wrong, it’s still hers to make. You can try to change her thinking, but ultimately her job gives her the prerogative to assess your performance and ask for changes. If that happens, then you need to decide if you’re capable of making – and willing to make – the changes she wants, or if this is a flag that this is the wrong fit for you. (And if that’s the case, it’s far better to realize it on your own and leave on your own terms than to be pushed out, if the issues rise to that level of severity).

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Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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