So you have a boss who dumps all over you the moment things go wrong, but never seems to notice when things go right. Ouch.
Jamie is a hard-working, cheery, full-of-ideas kind of manager. She leads two high-functioning teams who support each other very well. So why does Jamie come to work with a stomachache every day? Why does her staff often feel paralyzed? It’s because Jamie’s boss, VP of Client Services, finds fault every day with Jamie and her team members. He seems to go out of his way to criticize. When the VP is away, the group functions like a well-oiled machine. When he is there, they gossip, avoid tough problems, and try to make themselves invisible.
As a defensive strategy, Jamie visits her boss every morning to take a reading of his mood and pre-empt any explosions. She tells him first thing what she and her team accomplished the day before, what issues they face, and how they are handling them. Sometimes the strategy works, sometimes it doesn’t and the explosions come anyway. The constant stomachache is the price Jamie pays for trying to figure out how to please this overly critical boss.
Most of us can take a little criticism from our bosses from time to time when we’ve messed up, or haven’t quite done something right. It can be tremendously demotivating, however, when criticism seems to be the only type of feedback we get, and we don’t receive recognition for our positive contributions.
Chances are your boss isn’t intentionally trying to demotivate you. It’s doubtful that he has some master plan to make your life miserable. More likely, she has fallen into the all-too-common management trap of looking for things that are wrong instead of things that are right. Of course, this particular behaviour is not unique to managers. Many parents, coaches and peers (perhaps even you and me), fall into this trap.
If you have to deal with overly critical behaviour, there’s a technique worth trying. The next few times your boss criticizes you, follow this three-step process:
2. Let your boss know that you’ll correct the problem
3. Finish off with a comment that gently reminds her that you do, occasionally, get things right. For example:
“Gee, and here I thought you were coming over to tell me what a good job I did on that last project.” Say it with a smile, then go about the business of fixing your mistake.
It may take a few repetitions, but your boss should eventually get the message that you might like some positive encouragement.
Now, here’s the part for the really courageous and truthful among you. You can actually tell your boss what you want. If you don’t say anything, don’t expect your boss to read your mind, or to be aware of how the constant criticism affects you. Say something like:
“I do appreciate feedback. It helps me improve. In addition to criticism, I also appreciate hearing about 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.