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Black goldfish held back from other fish.

The question

If fellow employees go to management and complain that one did not act in professional manner, shouldn't management then confront the accused and not wait until the year-end review to raise the issue?

This has happened to me three years in a row. In July, 2009, my manager said my behaviour was not at the appropriate level. Though he liked the way I do the mechanics of my job, it was my social skills that were being questioned. I was accused of not doing the extras they were expecting and not "being nice." I was never told these extras, such as sitting on rewards committees or attending after-work events, were required. I have two small children and I have to leave on time, but do sign in after they go to bed to complete tasks or create reports, plus weekend work, all for free.

My colleagues have been given manager responsibilities, and though I have the most complex and largest spend portfolio, I have never been allowed similar opportunities.

In December, 2009, they demoted me to a lower level, though they did not reduce my salary, vacation or other benefits. The claim was that my behaviour was not at the appropriate level. None of these issues is on my record, though I did sign a letter accepting the demotion, not like I had a choice.

In December, 2010, I was rated as outstanding and given a salary increase and a bonus. This year, after being given increased responsibility and a positive review in July, come year-end in November, I am now identified as a problem child again. When I asked for examples or names, they claim they could not violate the privacy of the people who complained.

I will admit I can be rough around the edges especially when overworked, but I think if management is going to use what somebody says about me against me, they should get my side of the story or advise me which incident they are referring to.

A year of positive work is erased again as I have been rated as developing competency due to behaviour.

While I can leave the company, taking a new job at another company will mean a pay cut and the loss of the defined benefit pension for which I am vested. I really do not want to leave; however, I will if the right opportunity comes along, and going forward I can and will be politically correct, but I'd like to know what my rights are as I think a few are being violated.

The answer

Personality conflicts in the workplace, and how they are handled, are a source of constant scrutiny. No matter how they are addressed, it rarely sits well with the employee as this type of criticism is hard for most people to take.

I am hearing two things from you. Your colleagues have attempted to address the issues with you, but you are unclear as to what those issues are as you are not being provided with the detail you would like. Secondly, you admit to being a bit "rough around the edges" but you do good work.

Your work is not in question here. It is your relationship with your co-workers that is, and the way it is being handled. And it is affecting the type of work you do, such as not being provided management opportunities along with your co-workers. It is leading to a great deal of frustration for you. What it should lead to is some learning for you.

This is not a case of one person who does not like your style. If that is the case, then yes, a more direct conversation with that person should take place. If management is hearing the same messages from more than one person, as it seems to be the case here, then it is up to you to stop and listen to what the manager has to say. Avoid being confrontational and defensive, since that kind of approach will only signal to management that you are not listening.

Take some time to really process the feedback you are getting. It is not about who is right or wrong. You are being given a clear message that your style is not working well with others and changes need to be made. Have a conversation with your manager about what you can do to make matters better for you and your colleagues, so you not only can provide the same excellent work, but you have improved relationships. Perhaps you need to listen more to people, or ask more questions or be more cordial. There is a certain culture in your workplace that I am hearing you need to adjust to, which requires some changes to the way you work with people.

Moving to a different job may not be the answer. Running away from criticism will only be met with the same criticism in a different workplace. Confront it head on, right now. With your manager, put a plan in place to address some of the key areas. A coach may be an excellent investment at this time, for an impartial person to come in and help you stay accountable to the plan. After a two- or three-month period, ask for a 360 review by your peers and see what improvements have been made, and what you need to work on.

This proactive approach will tell your manager and co-workers that you want to make this work.

Eileen Dooley is a certified coach and lead consultant for Cam McRae Consulting in Calgary.

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