How do I handle my nit-picking negative boss?


I love my job. I hate my manager. Every two weeks or so we have a meeting to review the work that's being done by me, in the US, and by the offshore team in India, and every two weeks he chooses one small, insignificant item that hasn't been done on time and screams about it.

He completely disregards the hundreds and hundreds of tasks that were performed accurately and on time. He focuses only on the negative. I leave these meetings feeling demoralized and discouraged. He is located in India as well, so he cannot see how hard I work, and when I protested politely that I am always busy non-stop, he said that I was probably "sitting with my feet on the desk."

How do I deal with this?

Bill, Boston

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Chris Welford's Answer:

The problem with this situation is that you are experiencing a continual parent-child relationship not to mention a drama triangle. You are the victim, your boss is the persecutor and your fantasy is of being rescued from this stressful situation.

This will continue indefinitely unless you break the pattern by doing something different. You need to establish an adult-to-adult way of relating, free of drama. Forget trying to tackle this problem by working harder: it's not going to work. You need to play a different game.

Firstly, stop giving your boss the power that he is using inappropriately. People only have power when you give it to them. Get assertive without being aggressive and assemble your facts before the meetings. Keep what's happening in perspective too. If you are skilled and flexible, chances are that you are employable, so if things get really abusive you always have the option of going elsewhere. Try and keep in mind that you are working where you are as a volitional act. Also consider that your organisation is lucky to have you.

Now think about the world from the prospective of your boss. The demands of any boss are usually fairly simple: deliver against the objectives that you have agreed, think about any hidden trip wires along the way (plus the courage to point them out discreetly and professionally) and don't be a 'burr in the saddle'.

Bosses don't need 'yes' people but equally they don't need organisational terrorists either. Get the balance right. If you have a constructive criticism to make, do this with a solution in mind. Next, focus on the vital few deliverables that your boss cares about. It's a fair bet that these relate to something that he has to report on to someone else, higher up the chain. If you keep making errors in these areas or if you fail to anticipate what's needed, no amount of blood, sweat and tears is going to compensate for it.

Finally, if you are a Brit, American or European, get your head round the Asian idea of loss of face. If you don't understand this, you will confuse helping your boss appear in a positive light with manipulation and sycophancy. It's not. It's more subtle than that. Learn to read the runes and get to know your boss better. If he's the other side of the world, find the opportunity to meet him personally and face-to-face: so much better if you can engineer a legitimate reason for seeing him on his home turf.

By the way if you have made a mistake, draw this to the attention of your boss and ask his advice. Tell him you have done your best to arrive at the eight answer but you'd appreciate his perspective.

In the words of the late Stephen Covey, change your mindset. Before seeing to be understood, seek to understand.


About our Expert

Chris Welford
Chris Welford

Chris Welford is the founder of Sixth Sense Consulting and an experienced management consultant and coach. He is a member of the British Psychological Society (BPS) and the European Coaching and Mentoring Council (EMCC) and a Chartered member of the CIPD.