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
- Manipulated Commitments
- Manipulated or coerced commitment looks pretty good on paper, but it might not lead to dedicated action. When the truth is finally revealed, trouble can be unavoidable.
- When You Need a Lift
- When we depend on praise, positive support or consumption to feel good, we're giving other people or things power over us. Finding within ourselves whatever we need to feel good about ourselves is one path to autonomy and freedom.
- Believe It or Else
- When we use threats and intimidation to win debates or agreement, we lay a flimsy foundation for future action. Using fear may win the point, but little more.
- When we take time to express to others our appreciation for what they do for us, a magical thing happens.
- It's a Wonderful Day!
- Most knowledge workers are problem solvers. We work towards goals. We anticipate problems as best we can, and when problems appear, we solve them. But our focus on anticipating problems can become a problem in itself — at work and in Life.
See also Emotions at Work, Managing Your Boss and Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 28: The Limits of Status Reports: Part II
- We are not completely free to specify the content or frequency of status reports from the people who write them. There are limits on both. Here's Part II of an exploration of those limits. Available here and by RSS on January 28
- And on February 4: Bottlenecks: Part I
- Some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks." The people around them repeatedly find themselves stuck, awaiting responses or decisions. Why does this happen and what are the costs? Available here and by RSS on February 4
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact Rick for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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