I am an attorney and a senior vice president at a
reinsurance company. A few months ago my boss, the general counsel
sat down with me and told me that my clients complained that I am
difficult to deal with. They also accused me of being mean to my
assistant who I'll admit I find to be incompetent. When he
gave me this feedback, I started crying. I have been so upset
about these accusations that it is affecting my work. My boss and I
used to have a professional and collegial relationship and ever
since that meeting, I've felt as if he behaves paternalistically
with me. The whole situation is so uncomfortable. Yesterday I
received an e-mail from my boss asking if we can meet to assess the
situation. I'm so afraid I will be fired. What should I
Noreen, St. Paul, MN
First, if you haven't already done so, e-mail your boss and ask him how you can get ready for the meeting and what the specific agenda is so that you can be better prepared. Obviously if he is planning on firing you, he won't tell you this but you may be able to determine the tone of the meeting. Have you approached the clients who complained about you to understand what they were upset about? If not, this is something you should do immediately. Be careful not to act defensive or emotional. Tell them that you are very interested in changing your behavior with them. As for your assistant, you mention her incompetence which almost sounds as if this merits bad behavior on your part. Do other people find her to be incapable as well? Part of your responsibility as her boss is to help her improve, learn and develop. Candidly, I'm not hearing you take accountability for your behavior. It's unlikely that these accusations are completely unfounded. This is a good time to think about your career and whether you've gotten this kind of feedback before.
As for the meeting with your boss, it's a good idea not to cry. Drink water, take deep breaths, speak in short sentences and pause often. Try smiling and if you feel like you're going to tear up, visualize a scene that makes you feel good. Walk into the meeting prepared with the things you can do to improve your relationships. Does your company hire coaches to work with employees? Perhaps this is something you can participate in. It's never too late to change or learn different behavior.