What I feel is indirect criticism from my boss in front of others has me wondering how to proceed. On many occasions, topics are brought up and comments made in staff meetings that I believe point to me in an unfavorable way, but without mention of my name. It is extremely uncomfortable - I have never encountered it in my career - yet I'm afraid of standing up to the behavior.
Unfortunately, you aren't the first and won't be the last to feel hurt by practices on the part of those in management roles. Your options may be viewed in light of your making sure you have some "open doors" elsewhere if things do not develop positively. Risk is always associated with tackling a challenge up in the hierarchy.
1. If you trust your colleagues, you could ask them "do you, too, get the impression those comments were meant to refer to me?" Such confirmation is helpful not just to you but also to option 2. The input of your peers is key to your deliberations because you will get a sense whether "it's just me" or "It's not just me".
2. Seek an appointment with HR and ask for advice. As I have said in an earlier post, competent HR people should be able to assist employees in a situation such as yours.
3. Ask for an appointment with the boss - or if you wish, await the formal performance review which will ensure a record of the interaction - and broach your discomfort gently: "I am very dedicated to the success of the Information Centre ... and I'm puzzled about something I hope you might be able to clarify. Sometimes in staff meetings I hear you say things that make me feel you are indirectly criticising some aspect of my work contribution. That makes me feel disappointed because I do want to do everything I can to support the team. If I am misunderstanding your intent, then I hope to have an opportunity now to understand your view of my performance. Are you displeased with any aspect of my activities?" At this point, you have simply communicated your experience and asked for clarification.
One potential response could be "Your performance is fine" (or other words to that effect), allowing you to say how pleased you are to hear that and to reinforce how much you want to continue to contribute to the success of the IC. You can add "if you ever wish to have me adjust my work in any way, I am most willing to discuss it". (Your corporate culture would determine if and how you could capture the conversation in a memo to file, memo to HR, or summary email to the manager.)
Another potential response could be "Well now that you mention it, I find it problematic that ...", allowing you to ask what specific adjustments are desired, and allowing you to state that you appreciate the direct feedback and would welcome more in a confidential manner. It's essential that you do the listening and note taking (so do I understand that you see me ...) rather than responding on the spot. Your goal is to get a picture of how you are perceived so you can think things through in your own good time and choose your forward path. At the end of the conversation, you could say "I appreciate your comments and I will consider them carefully" - that way you leave it open what will happen next. One "next" could be a second meeting where you speak to the perceptions and take charge of providing facts.
You are, of course, the judge of the degree to which the feedback observations are valid. It is always up to you to choose whether to struggle where you are or seek option 4.
4. Focus on finding another work environment.
I now call on all other LMD members to contribute their thoughts!