Criticism is an unavoidable part of being a professional, but some bosses take it too far. An overly critical boss can cause a range of problems, from anxiety to insecurity and unnecessary stress. While there's not much you can do to change a perpetually unsatisfied supervisor, the right coping strategies can help you survive and thrive.
1. Create a Cool-Down Plan
Criticism is a healthy part of any work environment. When you're constantly subjected to complaints and unfair critiques, however, it can be difficult to see the benefit. If you feel a rush of rage each time your critical boss delivers feedback, a cool-down plan can help. Try closing your eyes and taking 10 deep breaths, or let out your feelings by punching a pillow in the break room. After the storm has passed, you can return to work with a more relaxed, reasonable mindset. Taking time to cool down also helps you avoid acting out of anger or frustration, which only makes the situation worse.
2. Track Patterns
Spend a couple of weeks tracking your supervisor. Each time he criticizes you, note the topic, the time and any other important information about the situation. These notes can help you spot patterns and find solutions. You might notice that your critical boss is particularly nasty after his weekly manager's meeting, which could indicate that he's getting flak from his own supervisor and taking it out on you. To solve the problem, try scheduling meetings during that time slot to give your boss time to cool down. As a bonus, this objective approach forces you to stop and observe the situation, which helps create a sense of detachment — a useful coping strategy in itself.
3. Have a Discussion
Sometimes, a critical boss harps on a variety of small issues because he doesn't know how to communicate the real problem. In this case, a direct discussion can help you find the root cause. The trick is to keep the focus on yourself to avoid putting your supervisor on the defensive. Try a statement such as, "I'm concerned that my performance isn't up to par lately. Can you help me find ways to improve?" This opens up an honest conversation and helps you figure out how you might be contributing to the problem or triggering your boss. If he isn't aware that his criticism is excessive, this professional approach can also be a gentle wake-up call.
4. Keep a Low Profile
When all else fails, one of the easiest coping strategies for dealing with a critical boss is simply to stay out of the line of fire. Shut your office door, or hole up in the conference room when you sense a bad mood. Go to clients instead of meeting them in the office. Although minimizing contact isn't a viable long-term strategy, it can help you reduce workplace stress and emotional turmoil in the short term.
An overly critical boss can turn a great job into a nightmare. By finding ways to cope and taking time to assess the roles that you and your supervisor are playing, you can create a more harmonious office environment.
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