I recently received an email from a reader who wrote to say that his colleagues are not responding to his emails and have declined meeting requests. When he brought the issue to his boss, she said, “Well, there’s been some feedback about your performance from the team and we’d like to meet with you. Oh, and we’ve invited upper management to the meeting, too."
From this interaction, he saw the writing on the wall—it seemed he was about to be fired. He asked for some advice. What could he do, if anything?
Here’s my response:
From my experience, I have to warn you that, at this point, it may be incredibly difficult to recover from this. Not impossible, but very difficult. The meeting can go one of three ways: 1) You'll be given a chance to improve your job performance; 2) You'll be asked politely to part ways; or 3) They will let you go immediately without cause (they can do that in some states and not others). Whichever way it goes, the best thing to do is to view this as an opportunity to get feedback. Of course, it may be unusable feedback for this job, but you will likely learn some important lessons to help you in the future.
Try to prepare for the meeting by reviewing your past experiences and trying to ascertain what may be the problem. You may come up with the wrong answers, so never volunteer your ideas, but thinking about it ahead of time, and trying to put yourself in the shoes of your team members, will both prepare you for the meeting and help you come up with solutions for the future.
Not excuses! Solutions. In addition, take some time to think about some ways that you have really been an asset to the company, so you can bring those up if you get the chance.
Here are my suggestions, given each different situation:
1) They give you a chance to improve your job performance
If you are being given a chance to save your job, you should say very little (no defending your position). Just listen carefully to what they say. It's going to be hard, but you'll need to bite your tongue! Remember what I said—no excuses. You want to get as much feedback as possible. Try to approach the feedback with an attitude of curiosity and great respect, as if it were a giant scientific mystery that needs solving. You simply want to try to understand their point of view to the best of your ability. Your goal is to be in ‘information-seeking mode’ to learn as much as you can about how to improve.
If you are asked your opinion or your thoughts on what has happened, be sure to relay your point of view is the most straightforward, nonjudgement, non-defensive manner possible. Express as objectively as possible your viewpoint. If you made a mistake, own up to it; take responsibility. Express your regret if necessary. If you did some things right and some things wrong, it's OK to express that. Start with what you wished you had done differently. When you are done, listen.
Listen, to their reactions. Not responding emotionally will be difficult because negative feedback can be ego crushing and, well, emotional. This is exactly the time that listening and proceeding with an attitude of openness and humility is the hardest. Ask for as many examples as you can and for specific details of the expectations going forward. Ideally, you will be given the opportunity to co-create goals, expectations, and deadlines to get you back on track. If you have already thought of this problem and think you have a solution to share, do so. But present it as an idea you’re offering to them, to see if they think it would help. They may be pleased to see that you have thought about it and have come up with ideas of your own. This can only help.