The Unappreciative Boss
by Rick Brenner
Do you work for a boss who doesn't appreciate you? Do you feel ignored or excessively criticized? If you do, life can be a misery, if you make it so. Or you can work around it. It's up to you to choose.
Brad appeared at Lauren's door. "Got a few minutes?" He didn't wait for her answer. He just closed the door behind himself and sat. Lauren wasn't surprised, because Brad hadn't been himself for days. She closed her laptop and rotated her chair to face him.
"You seem a little down…you OK?" she asked.
"Not really," he said. "I've had it with Warren." Warren was his boss. "No matter what you do, he isn't satisfied. When you tell him good news, if there's nothing obvious to criticize, he changes the subject[*]. I'm done."
Lauren was sympathetic. "I know. He's a horror. What's happening with your transfer?"
Brad works for an unappreciative boss, and Lauren is reminding Brad of one of the truly useful tactics for this situation — moving on. Sometimes you can get out either by transferring, finding a new job, or waiting for your boss to move on.
But even if you can't move on, you can still change your own experience of the unappreciative boss. Here are five tactics you can use today.
Even when you can't
move on, you can
still change how you
- Recognize that the situation is unacceptable
- Failing to appreciate excellent performance, or failing to recognize it publicly, is bad management. It's abusive and you deserve better.
- Stop using it to make yourself feel bad
- You are 100% in charge of your own feelings. Although you can't really know why your boss behaves this way, you can decide that you won't use the behavior to make yourself feel bad or angry.
- Seek support
- Everything is easier with support. Perhaps you have peers who feel the same way, and you can form a validation circle. Or you can ask for understanding from a friend or spouse.
- Avoid the Fundamental Attribution Error
- Humans tend to attribute others' motivation too much to character and inclination, and too little to context. For instance, your boss might be distracted by troubles outside of your awareness, and might lack the energy or attention to recognize your work. There might be dozens of scenarios like that. See "The Fundamental Attribution Error," Point Lookout for May 5, 2004.
- Understand that some things aren't about you
- Your boss might not be trying to send you a message of unappreciation — something else might explain what's going on. Some bosses feel that by keeping the pressure up, they'll produce better performance. Some feel threatened by superior performance by subordinates. Some have designated a "star" subordinate, at least in their own minds, and have decided not to praise anyone else. Others have difficulty expressing appreciation, for reasons of personal history.
Most important, recognize that basing your self-esteem on what another person says to you is a risky strategy — it surrenders control and power to that person. To keep your own power, and to maintain your autonomy, listen to your inner voice. You are in charge of you. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Emotions at Work:
- Your Wishing Wand
- Wishing — for ourselves, for others, or for all — helps us focus on what we really want. When we know what we really want, we're ready to make the little moves that make it happen. Here's a little user's guide for your wishing wand.
- More Things I've Learned Along the Way
- Some entries from my personal collection of useful and not-so-useful insights.
- Scope Creep and Confirmation Bias
- As we've seen, some cognitive biases can contribute to the incidence of scope creep in projects and other efforts. Confirmation bias, which causes us to prefer evidence that bolsters our preconceptions, is one of these.
- Why Scope Expands: Part I
- Scope creep is depressingly familiar. Its anti-partner, spontaneous and stealthy scope contraction, has no accepted name, and is rarely seen. Why?
- Why Scope Expands: Part II
- The scope of an effort underway tends to expand over time. Why do scopes not contract just as often? One cause might be cognitive biases that make us more receptive to expansion than contraction.
See also Emotions at Work, Managing Your Boss and Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Ethical Debate at Work: Part I
- When we decide issues at work on any basis other than the merits, we elevate the chances of making bad decisions. Here are some guidelines for ethical debate. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Ethical Debate at Work: Part II
- Outcomes of debates at work sometimes favor one party, not only at the expense of the other or others, but also at the expense of the organization. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for steering debates toward wise outcomes. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
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or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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