Date posted: 27/05/2024 5 min read

Dear Abby

Are you facing a workplace or career dilemma? Here’s what our HR expert has to say about some recent questions.

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  • In her 20 years in media, 'Acuity' editor Abigail Murison has observed and experienced her fair share of workplace and career dilemmas. Send in your questions, and she’ll pose them anonymously to our panel of experts.


  • I had my first 360-degree review as a new manager and got some really harsh feedback. I’m gutted, and I think some of it was a bit unfair. How should I respond?

    HR expert Sharon McDonald says:

    Being reflective and changing after a negative review is often more impressive than getting positive reviews from the start. Let the results sink in, then ask yourself whether the feedback rings true. Does it echo what you’ve heard in past reviews or from other people?

    Use three criteria to decide when to attend to negative feedback:

    1. Has it come up before?

    2. Is the problem a fatal leadership flaw? Does it point to lack of authenticity, integrity or honesty?

    3. Does it conflict with the type of leader you want to be?

    When making a plan to change, focus on the future. Don’t start immediately altering things that will make you feel better now. Ask yourself: what’s the smallest thing I can do that will make the biggest difference? Then, once you’ve done that small thing, assess how it went.

    Talk to your manager or team and share the general feedback you received, both negative and positive. Make a commitment to them on what you are going to change and how. Include them in the process by inviting them to call you out when you aren’t living up to your promises.

    Sometimes it’s clear from a review that only one or two people have a certain negative opinion. Instead of completely dismissing that feedback, reflect on it. It’s possible that others agree with the feedback but were afraid to express it.


    • Remember that feedback – positive or negative – is an opportunity to see your leadership in new light
    • Ask yourself what the value of changing a behaviour is, before you spend time and energy on it
    • Commit to what you’re going to change and how, with your team or your manager.


    • Try to seek out your detractors for more information
    • Attempt to change every negative behaviour
    • Instinctively focus on the negative – most reviews contain both good and bad feedback.
  • A good friend has accepted a job as my manager. How do we keep it professional and not spoil our friendship?

    HR expert Sharon McDonald says:

    When a friend becomes your manager, it can be uncomfortable for both of you and you are both likely to have concerns that your relationship may change. You alone have the power to make this transition a careerlimiting or career-enhancing experience.

    No matter how you feel, it’s important to buy in quickly – congratulate your friend early on and accept that things are likely to change. Have an open conversation about it and set some ground rules. These could include not talking about personal matters at work, not talking about work outside of work, and agreeing to be ready to set each other straight if one of you brings up something at the wrong time! Lastly, if you hear colleagues complaining about your friend say something sincere and positive, and don’t buy into the conversation.

    If you feel your friendship is deteriorating, talk openly to your friend about how you can ease those issues. You should both keep in mind that your professional roles don’t need to impact your personal lives.

The experts

Sharon McDonald is a human resources consultant and founder of McDonald HR in New Zealand.

Disclaimer: The answers provided in this column are not intended to be legal or industrial advice. People should seek professional advice specific to their own situation, if required.

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