Red Flag Words in the Workplace
If you believe you are being documented with a false pattern of problems, if you believe minor behavior problems are being exaggerated (regarding the length of the so-called problem and/or severity of the problem), and if you believe you are being set up for employment actions, you need to decide how you are going to respond. Any false allegations can come back to haunt you. For instance on performance evaluations.
One of my coworkers received a memo that attributed the typographical errors of other staff to her. It was known that she did not make these mistakes. However, she was told, in writing, that this lack of quality control was unacceptable and that she caused the company embarassment with the client, time, and money to correct the mistakes.
My coworker continued to be accused of making such errors because it helped show a pattern of negative behavior that was later used as part of the justification to place her on probation and threaten her with termination. She ended up receiving various performance deficiency memos that were nothing but a laundry list of false claims made out to look like substantial problems she'd been having for a lengthy period of time. She was also made to appear to not be showing any improvement on correcting the false behavior.
I wanted to list, as I've done in the past, a series of words or phrases that should make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Some of the red flag words and phrases include:
• “Consistently” or “often” or “frequently” or “repeatedly” or “chronically” or “habitually,” etc. - The point is that you have allegedly demonstrated a pattern of making the same mistake or exhibiting the same negative behavior, such as demonstrating a bad poor attitude, arriving to work late, missing deadlines, etc.
• “I’ve noticed…” – For the same reason as above.
• “Many people…” or “Some people…” or “A number of people…” or “Everyone” - The point is to show that there is corroboration for the accusation. It’s not just one person’s point of view that you have a problem--everyone or many people allegedly believe the same thing. People making this statement, generally won’t name names, they’ll just make a blanket statement about so-called mass perceptions about you.
• “I’ve talked to you in the past about…” - The point is not just to criticize you, but to show that you have shown no improvement in some negative behavior that was previously brought to your attention.
• “I’m concerned by…” or “I’m puzzled by…” or “I’m troubled by…” - The point is to show that there is something extremely off-putting or unprofessional about your behavior and that it likely represents a potentially major problem.
• “If you would have…” or “If you had only” or “I thought that you…” - The point is the “you” part of the sentence because the writer is stating that you are solely to blame for something going wrong.
These are just examples of some subtle ways that you can be documented for performance deficiencies at work. If the allegation isn’t true, this represents a potentially devastating problem; in terms of your ability to maintain a positive reputation and any impact the misrepresentations may have your performance evaluations, etc.
Receiving one criticism may not be a big deal, even though it could represent someone’s effort to document you. It’s the form that the criticism takes that makes a written complaint have the potential to be extremely damaging to your reputation. It’s one thing to be told that you have missed a deadline, but it’s another to be told that you “consistently” miss deadlines.
Please note: An insolated incidence of criticism usually has no right to appear in your performance evaluation, even if it did involve major issue. Normally, any atypical behavior is included in the notes/comments of a performance evaluation. Therefore, if an incident was isolated, your review should not be tainted to make it appear as if this was a recurring problem. It can be noted on your evaluation, but your review should be reflective of your consistent and normal work performance.
Always read your email or memos carefully. Look at the words that precede and follow criticisms! Understand when you are being documented and you can get on the offensive and, hopefully, derail the train that’s headed in your direction. Respond to the email with facts. Don’t attack the sender; simply clarify what you believe to be false about their criticism. But, don’t be defensive.
Black people have a fine line to tread between explaining something and being called defensive. Apparently, White people explain and Black people defend! So, briefly make your point, professionally, and move on!