A couple of days ago I had a meeting with my boss. It was a 1:1 (one-on-one) to touch base; he does this every other week with everyone on his team. What I didn’t know is that during our 1:1, he’d be sharing with me the results of my review. Our review is referred to as something else at my job, but for the sake of my blog, we’ll call it a “review”. It’s a review that involves the feedback of other employees that I have worked with. At first, my boss and I made small talk, as usual, and then he said, “Let’s get started with the results of your review”. I said “Great!”. We were on Skype using the video function because he works remote. He shared his screen with me to show me the results and within seconds my enthusiasm left the building.
The first comment/feedback was from a manager who is assigned to a project that I am also assigned to. Although the comments/feedback don’t indicate who said what, I knew who that feedback was from based on how it was written. This manager’s feedback totally caught me off guard, though; no, like, you have no idea! I was annoyed, angry, disappointed, and hurt. His comment began with, “she comes off a bit shy and lacks a bit of direction…”. That was the first thing he stated, meaning that is his first impression of me. There was more to his input than that, but those words alone, took the air out of my lungs. I got choked up as my boss finished reading the feedback and when he was done he said, “So what do you think of that?”. I replied, “I-just-can’t”. He was confused and said, “What do you mean? I need to know what you think”. At that point, I was balling, but I mean balling, but I don’t think he realized it. So, I said, “I’m in tears here. I can’t do this right now.” He said, “Do you want to reschedule this or do you want me to proceed to read the feedback from the others?” I said, “Proceed”. The good thing about all of this was that I was in a conference room by myself because had I been at my desk surrounded by my coworkers, I would have probably passed out from trying to keep my composure. My boss proceeded with the rest of my review. The remaining comments/feedback were all great (actually, excellent) with the exception of one more, but after realizing who it was from I noticed the “office politics” behind both negative comments, so I’ll leave that alone for now.
Anyway, once he read the rest of my review, he said, “So do you want to go back to the first one and explain what is going on?”. I said, “I know who wrote that” and I told him who it was. He confirmed that it was in fact the person I mentioned. He said, “but I need to know why you’re so upset. We did ask him for feedback and that is what he did. It’s constructive criticism”.
At that point, I thought to myself:
THIS IS NOT CONSTRUCTIVE. THIS IS DESTRUCTIVE.
I have tough skin, but this truly pierced me. This particular manager who stated that I am “shy and lack direction” has unrealistic and undefined expectations of my role, and from what I was informed in that meeting, I am not the only one who has had this problem with this individual. In addition, he has never approached me with any of this, so naturally, I was caught off guard. I gave my boss as much feedback as I could about that manager’s comment, but not without struggling. This was my first negative review EVER at any job. Eventually my boss told me to go home to get myself together. As much as I tried to stop crying, I just couldn’t. I cried my entire drive home. I had a hard time shaking off the words “shy and lacks a bit of direction”. When I walked into my house, I realized why those words bothered me so much.
At home, I logged onto my computer and my boss sent me a message via Skype. He wanted to make sure that I was okay. Before we ended our meeting in the office he had asked me if there was anything that he could do to help me and I said, “Yes, take me off that project”. At that point, I just didn’t want to work with that person anymore. I mean why should I? They gave me a bad review without approaching be beforehand. My boss replied “Okay. Let me work on that”. So, in his Skype message to me he indicated that he had already begun working on removing me from that project but that he would need to run it by the manager who had given me that negative review. I replied, “Okay”. We ended our chat session, but I was so discontent. When I went to send him another message, his status was “busy”. So, I emailed him. When I began typing, it all came out. I just poured my heart out. My email began with, “…just wanted to mention that just for the record I am not shy and disconnected. I am deaf.”. Notice how I used the word “disconnected” instead of “lacks direction”. I interpreted “lacks direction” with being “disconnected” because in reality, that is what is going on here. There’s a disconnect and it’s not coming from me.
From there I went on to say that I thought it was unfair for that manager to judge me without knowing me, which is why I reacted the way that I did. My boss replied a while later with an email that began with “until you said this, I had completely forgotten about your hearing”. He knew about my hearing loss. I had mentioned it to him before. He knew that I wore hearing aids because I mentioned it on several occasions. It was one of the first things that I mentioned to him when he became my manager. His justification was that I handle my hearing loss so well that it made him forget that I was deaf. From there he stated, “Do you find it sometimes difficult to hear or keep track…?” So, I replied and stated that I have regular conference calls via Skype or WebEx that involve several participants and I have no issues, with the exception of bad connections, where you hear static or too much background noise, which a person with normal hearing would also struggle with. I also let him know that I am not ashamed, nor do I hide, my hearing loss. Most of those who sit around me in the office, know about it because I don’t want anyone to think that I am ignoring them when I am not wearing my hearing aids.
Here’s the kicker: About two years ago, I went to the audiologist after my boss (at that time), was whispering something to me and I didn’t understand him. Meanwhile, people across the room could hear him. I made the decision to get my hearing aids. They weren’t cheap. I paid over $5K for them, with God’s help. I got them because I didn’t want to jeopardize my job. Since then, I don’t wear them all the time, but I have them. Well, last week I had an important meeting with a new client and I knew that I needed them. When I went to test them out a few days prior to meeting with the new client, they weren’t working. I called my audiologist and made and appointment. They fixed them for me. I was ready to rock. I did that for my job. I don’t need a trophy or award for it. I’m just doing my job. Therefore, for someone to attack my character or try to belittle me, is uncalled for. I am generally quiet and much of it has to do with my hearing. I’ve said this before, but I'll mention it again. In my youth, I was considered stuck-up and conceited. Dude, I couldn’t hear half of what people were saying. People who take the time to get to know me know that I don’t shut up!
Well, today was the icing on the cake. I went to lunch with some coworkers and one of the girls, who is fairly new to our team said, “I thought you hated me until so-and-so told me that you were deaf”. I thought to myself, “Here we go again.”. I said, “Why would I hate you? I don’t hate anyone.” She said, “It’s just that I have spoken to you and you never responded so I mentioned it to so-and-so and she told me about your hearing loss.” I let her know that I never heard her and she seemed relieved.
I’ve had quite a couple of weeks. They haven’t been easy, but I feel that they needed to happen. I'll add this: I don't appreciate people feeling like I overreact when they don't walk in my shoes. People don't know what I go through and how I continue to push. I don't share a HUGE chunk of the things that I deal with related to my hearing loss because most of it is normal to me and I don't use my hearing loss as a crutch. However, it is getting a little more challenging for me but it is also helping me grow. Yes, I tend to be quiet but I have lived in this silence and exclusion for so long that it is part of who I am.
Now I have to live with deciding whether or not I should disclose that I am deaf to new people that I meet so that they don’t get the wrong impression of me. I will continue to play that by ear.
P.S. For the record, my boss commended me on my work, said he has my back, and that he knows how much I value my job. I expressed to him how this type of review is not beneficial for someone like me; it works against me and that is discouraging after all the hard work I have put in. I get what they are trying to do, but it backfired in this case. I felt caught-off guard, deceived, and judged without merit. They need to do better.