Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 38;   September 22, 2004:

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.

The unappreciative boss"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 [Brenner 2007]. 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.

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
Even when you can't
move on, you can
still change how you
experience your
boss's behavior
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

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Footnotes

[Brenner 2007]
For a discussion of subject-changing techniques and how to deal with them, see "Changing the Subject: I," Point Lookout for February 21, 2007. Back

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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A possibly difficult choiceComing April 21: Choice-Supportive Bias
Choice-supportive bias is a cognitive bias that causes us to evaluate our past choices as more fitting than they actually were. The erroneous judgments it produces can be especially costly to organizations interested in improving decision processes. Available here and by RSS on April 21.
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In the learning context, self-explanation is the act of explaining to oneself what one is learning. Self-explanation has been shown to increase the rate of acquiring mastery. The mystery is why we don't structure knowledge work to exploit this phenomenon. Available here and by RSS on April 28.

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