I love my job and I hate my boss. Your input and advice would be really helpful. I have risen to a significant leadership role in a short amount of time. I work for a large national consulting firm that is a very demanding work environment known for its cutting edge innovation. I have thrived and enjoyed working for all of my previous managers. I have recently been promoted to a newly created area of the company that has no former track record of any kind and where I have a tremendous amount of visibility.
My new manager is at the top of the food chain in the company and must think that talking down to people and threatening them are the ways to get the most out of them. I, actually, for the first time in my career am feeling like I want to quit my job. This manager never praises anything I do or gives me credit for all of the elements we have put in place. My team is working so hard and has produced on a high level in a challenging timeframe. Some appreciation would be so valued. I just had a performance review and was actually dumbfounded by my manager's lack of acknowledgement of anything positive about the past six months. I basically said very little in this meeting. It was very upsetting and one-sided. It is very bizarre because I was told by my HR business partner that my manager's written ratings that were provided to Human Resources which I did not receive or see were actually fairly good although certainly not at the level that matches my efforts and successes. Please help me see this in a different way. I feel like I am at the end of a rope, hanging by a thin thread.
It must feel so bad to have worked so hard and achieved so much, without getting any praise or recognition. And I’m sure the contrast to what you've experienced before makes this even worse. You have obviously been a top performer to have come so far in such a short time and been placed in charge of a new visible area that is important to the company.
My first recommendation is to make sure that you remember how you got where you are and to reconnect with your former managers to rekindle your sense of accomplishment and to get their perspectives on your work delivery and on your current manager. It would be hard to believe that this punitive and threatening behavior is directed at you, specifically. It sounds like this is most likely your manager’s standard M.O. Sometimes there are cultural background components and gender issues that contribute to this kind of behavior and the individual actually believes that this kind of condescending, reprimanding behavior and communication are motivating and appropriate. Sometimes managers are hardest on their best performers, thinking this will get the most from them. Sometimes people get to the top through performance and connection without having any leadership or management skills to go with those assets. It’s important to see this challenge as a gift for you to be able to respond and communicate in a strong professional manner. There’re always going to be demanding and diverse people in your work settings at every level. Learning how to be effective with difficult people is an art and requirement for success in the workplace.
Often when people describe these types of exchanges to me there’s an underlying permission that’s being given to the senior individual through acquiescence and submission. Make sure you work on your communication skills and comfort level with speaking to your manager so that you can clearly and specifically present the contributions you've made and strongly address whatever points your manager has critiqued. You want to make sure you convey what motivates you and what de-motivates you without being emotional or sounding whiny, hurt or angry. You will want to connect everything you say to your manager to what you and your team are doing for the company. People respond well to being told what they’re doing well and what they’re required to do to succeed. This is what you want to hear from your manager so it’s important to make sure you present what you want to say to your manager, avoiding any of the negative approaches that the manager used in communicating with you. Research shows that attack, criticism and finding fault are de-motivating and produce the opposite effect on the desired outcomes. One individual I’m working with who reports to a micro-managing difficult boss, described the response to this negative managerial approach as survival mode where it’s impossible to look at the bigger higher priorities and where fixation on small insignificant details takes over and mistakes increase.
Here’s a valuable link to a wonderful classic article from the Harvard Business Review by Daniel Goleman that looks at the components of Emotional Intelligence and how they interweave with various leadership styles: Leadership That Gets Results. This article will help you gain perspective and skill in these communications as will this excerpt from my book, SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide For Career And Life Success:
Over the years, I’ve heard a wide variety of reactions to situations in the workplace.
Person A will say,
“I’m so used to hearing my boss, Grace, fly off the handle like that. I just ignore her. She always calms down eventually and sometimes she even apologizes. I know it’s more about her frustration than it is about me, even though she directs such hostility towards me sometimes. She’s really pathetic that way. The main thing for me is that I feel good about myself and my work. I really love what I do here and I wouldn’t let her bad behavior change that for a second. I’d be happier if she’d calm down and stop attacking everybody. It would be better for the company too.”
Person B, in the same setting with a similar job and an exactly parallel relationship to that manager, will have a completely different experience of the same type of communications from the manager and say,
“No matter what we do, Grace is never happy with our work. Some days I can barely get myself to come in to the office; I never know if it’s going to be a horrible day because she’s in such a frenzy and will make me crazy and depressed. I just don’t think I can listen to her attack me the way she does anymore. I hate having a boss who is constantly criticizing me like that. I’ll probably leave the company before the end of the year because of how she treats me.”
What gives Person A the ability to separate herself from the attack of her boss? She clearly gets the “sticks and stones break bones and words never hurt you” message. What comes first for Person A is her own self-esteem which is closely aligned with her focus on and enjoyment of work. She also disconnects her boss’s erratic attacking behavior from herself, by seeing it as generalized rather than targeted at her.
Person B has a much more personal experience of what his manager says to him. His self-esteem suffers and he lets his manager completely obliterate his ability to focus on anything other than how destroyed and distraught he is because of his boss’s constant criticism. He’s a defeated victim and his work-life is a picture of total stress because of his boss.
If we could gain some distance and perspective to examine the whole of our individual lives from beginning to end, surely the importance of a single person’s negative behavior, in the grand scheme of who we are, would take on an entirely new perspective and be relatively insignificant. When we give others the power to destroy our well-being and our ability to communicate effectively, we’re actually feeding the monster.
Until next time,