The word 'boss' evokes a highly negative image among many people. Does he always criticize you even if it's not your mistake? Does he ignore your opinions? Does he always refuse vacation time? A difficult boss might even become the reason for workplace stress.
Effective communication is very essential in any relationship. The relationship between an employee and his boss is often compared to a marriage. You need to work out your issues in a non-confrontational way. While confrontation might help you temporarily vent your frustrations, research shows that it does not really help in the long term. There are always hard feelings; conscious or subconscious. Also, playing the blame game is never really useful. Rather, it’s better to focus on what can be done rather than what has happened.
We, as human beings, have a very strong need to maintain a positive self image. So we tend to take criticism personally. When somebody tells us that ‘this could be better’, what we hear is ‘it’s not good’. Over time, it also leads to a poor self esteem and we form perceptions such as “I’m not good at anything”. It is important to realise that professional setbacks are just that, setbacks. As clichéd as it may sound, you just have to deal with it and get on with your life.
There is often a fear of retribution while discussing problems or criticism given to you by your boss. A non-defensive and non-emotional way of communicating your concerns rather than your complaints is best in such situations. Also, don’t just come up with problems, come up with solutions. Abstract statements about non-specific issues like ‘this whole thing does not feel right,’ is not helpful, and instead increases anxiety.
Bosses are often known to take credit for all the work done by their juniors. Taming the office tyrant sometimes requires more diplomacy than international negotiations, but it can be done and has been done. Consider the following case as given by Lynn Taylor to the American Psychological Association-:
Try approaching your boss on a friendly basis and cover other non-threatening ground at first. Start and end on a positive note, but in the “middle,” diplomatically point out that the team needs occasional encouragement. For example, say “When the CEO stopped in recently, I think some of the team members were hoping for a little recognition. They really worked hard on xyz project and were proud of the outcome. I hope you were. I guess we all could use a little public praise from time to time.”
It also helps if you try to understand the reasons for your boss’ unreasonable behaviour. It helps if we can appreciate other’s point of view. Without trying to sound too preachy, misunderstandings about the other person’s intentions can wreck the strongest relationships. We also need to control our emotions and avoid behaving in a self-defeating manner such as stonewalling or counter-attacking your boss.
As people gain position of power, some get a weird kind of a kick from exerting their authority. They also might try to micro-manage your work, and if anything goes wrong they abandon all responsibility. Being smart and able to identify such people is the first step. Most importantly, one should not shy away from asserting oneself if the situation calls for it.
Finally, it’s very important to have your own priorities straight. A confused person does more damage than help. While we all feel dissatisfied with our life situations sometimes - having definitive goals and working towards them helps give direction to your life. At other times just take each day as it comes. Discussing your problems with significant others also helps relieve tension but carrying your work problems home all the time creates more issues. Maintaining a health boundary between professional and personal life seems to be the need of the hour, however difficult it might seem.
(This column has research contributed by Arushi Kothari)