My Boss Complains About Me to My Colleagues

Last Updated Dec 22, 2009 8:06 PM EST

Dear Stanley,
I am currently employed in the financial services industry and my boss recently decided to bring up my bad traits (and how unhappy he is with me) to my colleague who is out for a leave of absence. The thing that I'm not sure he realizes is that I'm getting all of my colleague's emails. Is he crazy or does he really want me to know how he feels about me?
Knows Too Much

Dear KTM,

I don't know. I would say, and I'm just guessing, that your boss suffers from a common management complaint called Doesn't Give a Crap About Your Feelings Syndrome. It's quite common. He's obviously pissed off about you to the extent that he feels compelled to share that fact with a mutual associate. That's the information you should be focusing on, not whether the guy is crazy or not.

The question for you should now be how to ascertain what your bad traits are that aggravate your manager. You need to do so without busting your colleague, who is presumably on a leave right now but may return in the near future to work with the boss, and you, again. You want to get a peek under the hood on this issue without blowing the whole thing wide open.

Approach the boss in a calm mood, perhaps with a prop like a cup of coffee or a file folder. Ask is he has a moment to talk about a matter of some importance to you. If he puts you off, don't be upset. This guy has already proven that he would rather complain to an associate than confront the situation, and you may not be in as much danger as you think. That said, it's not exactly a good thing. Tell him "Chet, I've been wondering whether I could be doing a better job for you in some area. Sometimes I kinda feel that you have some thoughts about my work. Let me hear them, at least the ones I can do something about. I'm a big boy/girl. I can take it." Then stand back. Don't get defensive. And listen.

If you handle the criticism session right, and make some changes, the boss will feel differently about you. It's amazing how these episodes can be utilized to improve your standing with a manager, or at least make him or her feel like you're not a total bozo. If, by the way, he says, "Aw, Bob, you're okay, you just get on my nerves sometimes," or is equally vague, take it for what it's worth, get out of there, and hit the ground running. You got a reprieve. I never knew a person who got fired for asking the boss how they could do their job better, by the way.

I find myself also wondering a little bit about your colleague. Does he realize you've read those emails? Has he said anything to you about them, perhaps in the guise of being a good friend and neighbor? I'd keep an eye on him. Today's friendly colleague could be tomorrow's competitor, you know.