So you have a boss who blasts you the moment things go wrong, but never seems to realize that things are going well. Oh.
Jamie is a hardworking, cheerful and thoughtful manager. She leads two high-functioning teams that support each other very well. So why does Jamie come to work with a stomachache every day? Why do your staff often feel paralyzed? It’s because Jamie’s boss, VP of Customer Services, finds fault with Jamie and his team members every day. He seems to go out of his way to criticize. When the vice president is absent, the group operates like a well-oiled machine. When he’s there, they gossip, avoid tough problems, and try to make themselves invisible.
As a defensive strategy, Jamie visits his boss every morning to read his mood and prevent any explosion. She tells you first what she and her team accomplished the day before, what issues they are facing, and how they are handling them. Sometimes the strategy works, sometimes it doesn’t, and the explosions come anyway. The constant stomach ache is the price Jamie pays for trying to figure out how to please this overly critical boss.
Most of us can accept some criticism from our bosses from time to time when we are wrong or have not done something right. However, it can be tremendously demotivating when criticism seems to be the only type of feedback we receive and we do not receive recognition for our positive contributions.
Chances are, your boss is not intentionally trying to demotivate you. It is doubtful that he has any master plans to make your life miserable. Chances are you’ve fallen into the all-too-common management trap of looking for things that are wrong rather than things that are right. Of course, this particular behavior is not unique to managers. Many parents, coaches, and peers (maybe even you and me) fall into this trap.
If you have to deal with overly critical behavior, there is a technique worth trying. The next times your boss criticizes you, follow this three-step process:
2. Let your boss know that you will correct the problem
3. End with a comment that gently reminds you that you do things right occasionally. For instance:
“Wow, and here I thought you would come and tell me what a good job I did on that last project.” Say it with a smile and then get busy correcting your mistake.
It may take a few repetitions, but your boss will eventually get the message that you would like positive encouragement.
Now here’s the part for the really brave and truthful among you. In fact, you can tell your boss what you want. If you don’t say anything, don’t expect your boss to read your mind or realize how constant criticism affects you. Say something like:
“I appreciate the feedback. It helps me improve. Besides criticism, I also appreciate hearing what I do well. It helps me know what to keep doing.”
While you can’t control how your boss talks to you, you can control the quality of your own communication and how you respond. Good luck.