How to deal with an insulting email from the boss

You believe you’re doing a pretty good job but your boss doesn’t.

She sends you an insulting email stating that you don’t know your job – without any specific instructions about what you have done wrong.

How would you react to such a situation?

Here’s a possible approach:

  1. Authenticate the accusation. Look at your work from your boss’ lens.
  2. Ensure that your boss’ expectations are well managed. Identify what you can do differently to be the winner – if you find any gap in your actions, fill it.
  3. Let the data speak the truth. Present your accomplishments to your boss so that she looks at the situation from your perspective as well but know that your boss’ perspective is likely to win!
  4. Let the history support you. If you get her listening, then cite a few examples of how you did your job well in the (recent) past.
  5. If you don’t get her listening, ask her about the specific things she wants you to take care of?
  6. If that doesn’t work then escalate it to your boss’ boss.
  7. If escalation doesn’t work (or escalation is not possible because there is no one who is above your boss! and you’re at the dead end) then you can do one of the following:
    1. Ignore the email. Keep doing great quality work. Hope that it will pay later.
    2. Apologize (even if you think you are not at all at fault!) and ask your boss what exact results she wants from you.
    3. If nothing works, find a new boss (or a new job!) and make a fresh beginning.

(A special thanks to Nishith Desai for brainstorming about this approach while at dinner. You can follow him at twitter as well.)