Dear J.T. & Dale: I had my annual performance review and was surprised, shocked and floored by this comment: It is imperative special attention is put on the way some messages are delivered and how it comes across. The tone can sound demanding and harsh. When I asked for an explanation, my manager stated, You know what this is about, and he refused to discuss it. I have not received any reprimands or warnings. Nothing. - Angelo

Dale: Someday you'll look back and smile at the irony of a criticism about poor communication being so poorly communicated. But for now, I'd like to invite you to take your manager's remark as an invitation: Here is your chance to prove that you are coachable, even if you don't have a great coach. Here is your chance to let management see how you respond to criticism, how you take it with an open mind, eager to improve.

J.T.: That's asking a lot. But, Angelo, you have to fight against the temptation to get defensive. Sometimes one small criticism sets off a downward spiral in your relationship with management. You need to force yourself to go the other way. I suggest that you seek out someone else in the organization who is well-respected and see if he or she would be willing to mentor you. Also, go to www.CAREEREALISM.com and find the free Interactive Style Assessment Test, which is a great way to help you understand how your style might be misperceived in the office.

Dale: Here's the thing to remember: Criticism is a gift. It means your manager has not taken the easy way out and just done a blow-off assessment, saying, Everything's fine.

J.T.: Although, let's face it - a good manager would work through examples to help you see where you could modify your communication style ...

Dale: No, no - we can't let Angelo think that way. If he starts focusing on what HIS BOSS could do better, he'll stop focusing on what HE could do better. This is an opportunity to rise above, to show grit and the love of a challenge. Instead of being shocked and shouting, Unfair! a great employee responds by getting better - openly, demonstratively better. Get mentoring and assessment, or read a book until you find ideas you can implement, and then go to your manager and tell him what you're doing and ask for suggestions.

J.T.: That can work, Angelo. I'm reminded of a woman I know who was, like you, given a bad review regarding her communication style. She sought out a career counselor, and several sessions later, couldn't believe what she'd learned. Today, she is a top performer in her company, and in her last review, was told that what made her so very effective was - ta-DAH! - her communication style. I hope that happens in your next review, Angelo.