Your boss stops you briefly in the hall and says, “A lot of people on the X committee are telling me there were big problems with that report you sent them. Can you fix it up and send it back to me right away?” Then she starts talking to someone else and walks away.

Should you:

a) Send her an email asking for specifics?
b) Go back to everyone on the committee and ask what was wrong?
c) Set up a meeting with her to follow up?

The issues

There are a few issues at play here.

Your boss…

  • Shouldn’t have given you negative feedback in a public setting;
  • Should have structured her feedback to be helpful by using specifics;
  • Shouldn’t have referred to complaints by other people as it wasn’t relevant to issue which was that there were errors in the report;
  • Dramatized the situation by referring to “big problems” on the one hand and on the other used a casual approach to give you the feedback.


  • May feel upset, angry or humiliated that a lot of people are talking negatively about you behind your back instead of talking to you directly;
  • Are likely confused because you don’t know what the problems are;
  • Frustrated at the way your boss has communicated this important information;
  • Lose a bit of respect for her due to her approach.

What to do

The answer is ( c ) above. This is an important conversation so you need to schedule uninterrupted time to meet with your cavalier boss as soon as possible. Prepare your side of the conversation ahead of time and be calm during the discussion. Say something like, “I really value your input and the feedback of my co workers on the X committee. I need to know what specific items are a problem and I’m going to make notes so I fully understand. Could you go through them one by one for me?” If she isn’t clear on anything keep probing until you fully and clearly understand. Thank her for her feedback.

If she is unable to give you specifics or she says she isn’t sure and you need to talk to the committee, ask her which members specifically expressed problems and what they told you, so you can follow up individually with each one. Meet face to face with each person saying, “I understand from (my boss) that you had some concerns about parts of my report. Could you go over each item so I can understand what the issues are clearly?” When you fully understand, close the conversation by saying, “I appreciate you giving me this feedback. In the future could you tell me personally so I can resolve the issues directly with you?” Close with a “thank you.”

Key Thought

Always communicate directly, specifically and respectfully to others about issues you have with them. And remember to say “thank you.”

All situations and dynamics referenced in this blog are fictitious.  Any resemblance to real situations or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


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