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September 22, 2004 Volume 4, Issue 38
 
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The Unappreciative Boss

by

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?"

The unappreciative boss

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
experience your
boss's behavior
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. Go to top  Top  Next issue: Devious Political Tactics: Cutouts  Next Issue
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[*]
For a discussion of subject-changing techniques and how to deal with them, see "Changing the Subject: Part I," Point Lookout for February 21, 2007.

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See also Emotions at Work, Managing Your Boss and Conflict Management for more related articles.

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