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

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]
Richard Brenner. "Changing the Subject: I," Point Lookout blog, February 21, 2007. Available here. Back

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More articles on Emotions at Work:

One person taking the full loadAre You Taking on the Full Load?
Taking on the full load is what we do when we feel fully responsible for either the success or the failure of some organizational activity. Instead of asking for help, we take extreme measures to execute responsibilities that might not even be ours.
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If you've ever known a particular dog at all well, you've probably been amazed at how easy it is to guess a dog's mood, even though dogs can't speak. Perhaps what's more amazing is that it's so difficult to guess a person's mood, even though humans can speak.
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Humans have impressive abilities to convince themselves of things that are false. One explanation for this behavior is the theory of cognitive dissonance.

See also Emotions at Work, Managing Your Boss and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A form of off road driving also known as mud boggingComing November 30: Avoiding Speed Bumps: II
Many of the difficulties we encounter when working together don't create long-term harm, but they do cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding speed bumps. Available here and by RSS on November 30.
Tuckman's stages of group developmentAnd on December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.

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