I know someone whose first hint that her new boss was unhappy with her work was a note on her desk saying, "You've been with us for six months. It's time you got with it! If you can't work faster, why don't you resign? The people in this department are sick of covering for you!"
My first editor, on the other hand, guided and directed his reporters by screaming across the newsroom, "Who's the stupid ------ who wrote this ------ piece?" and "We got news breaking here! Which one of you sorry SOBs is going to get your butt out there and see what's happening?"
And "Scot-t-t-t! You haven't learned yet not to wait till the fourth graph to tell us what the hell this piece is all about! Get your butt up here and fix it!"
The more insecure and uncomfortable our bosses are, the more likely we are to be bloodied by this kind of sneak attack.
If you're attacked in writing, respond in kind. Send your boss a memo saying something like: "I appreciate your feedback about my performance. Could we meet privately to discuss what specific changes I might make in order to be more of an asset to this company?"
Keep a copy of this -- and all -- correspondence between you and this supervisor to protect yourself.
If you're the victim of verbal attacks, on the other hand, your best immediate response is no response at all.
Give yourself time to cool off; leave the room -- or the building -- if you have to, or you'll give this lizard more ammunition to use againstyou later and give him/her the satisfaction of seeing you make a fool of yourself.
Once you've done the walking or pillow-stomping or talking to a friend (outside of work!) you need to do to cope with your feelings, request an appointment with this supervisor.
Make it clear that this meeting must take place in a private location, at a time when you and your boss are sure not to be interrupted.
You might start this meeting by stating flatly that while you don't expect to be criticized again in such a manner, you do always appreciate feedback about your job performance and would like more specific information about how you might improve it.
Then listen. Carefully. Calmly. Objectively. Don't argue. Just listen, ask for clarification if you need it and take careful notes.
Next, ask for time to think about what's been said so you can decide for yourself how much (if any) of this criticism is valid and what (if anything) you're willing to change about your performance on the job.
Start to keep a record of all correspondence -- verbal and written -- between you and your boss, and you and other people in the company who have authority over you.
Finally, tell yourself as often as you need to: "This is about my boss; it has nothing to do with me. I don't deserve this. I didn't cause this. I'm not to blame for this."
Questions and comments for Niki Scott should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.