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How to Survive an Overly Critical Boss

Lots of criticism and no compliments can knock the wind out of your sails. When criticism feels unfair, it is even more demoralizing. Knowing how to discuss your boss's criticisms may be the difference between an angry blow-out and an improved working relationship.

Lots of criticism and no compliments can knock the wind out of your sails. When criticism feels unfair, it is even more demoralizing. Knowing how to discuss your boss’s criticisms may be the difference between an angry blow-out and an improved working relationship.

(Photo Credit: University of Salford/Flickr)

Consider the Criticism

Do You Know What You're Worth?

The first step in dealing with criticism at work is to step away from your ego and any negative, personal feelings you may have toward a critical boss. A brusque or rude boss who seems to offer criticism on a regular basis, but nary a compliment, lacks both leadership and interpersonal skills. This does not mean his perception of your work quality is wrong.

Think through the specific criticisms, and try to be objective in looking for validity. Are you aware that you did something poorly? Is there something you can do better? Can you learn from the experience? How will you improve?

Sometimes criticism is unfair, and it is up to you to determine how much of your boss’s criticism is constructive and how much is unfair.

Dealing With Unfair Criticism

If you feel that you need to speak with your boss about unfair criticism, be careful to avoid confrontation. “You were unfair to me” is confrontational. Instead, frame the conversation, which should likely be held in private, as a discussion.

Discuss your concerns, not your boss’s behavior. This is a subtle difference that does not put blame on your boss. “This is what I accomplished; I am concerned about…” or “I am feeling…” There is no guarantee that your boss will be receptive, but you may stack the odds in your favor by focusing on your work, your desire to do well, and your concerns. You may even say, “your feedback felt unfair,” but do not simply accuse your boss of being unfair.

Your goal in this discussion should be mutual understanding with your boss, and a joint focus on quality and productivity. You and your boss are on the same team, and you are less likely to suffer retribution if show that you are interested in doing a good job.

Dealing With Stress

The above advice is likely to help a large majority of the people who follow it. However, some bosses are highly critical and not open to the idea that they can ever be too harsh or unfair. This creates stress in some employees.

The American Psychological Association (APA) points out that what causes incredible emotional stress for one employee is not a big deal to another employee. Step one in dealing with stress is recognizing specifically what causes you stress. If it is a critical boss, try the above advice. The sense of empowerment that you get from feeling that you can discuss things with your boss may alleviate the stress, leaving you with more emotional energy to dedicate to your work.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a highly critical boss? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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11 Comments on "How to Survive an Overly Critical Boss"

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““This is what I accomplished…” and then they dismiss the accomplishment, and make you feel like it doesn’t count for anything, no matter how hard you work and how good the results are. “I am concerned about…” They don’t care. They know they’re being bullies. You’re expendable; they’re not. If they say something, even if they actually know it is factually, objectively untrue, then you must regard it as true anyway. They are gods in their own minds, able to speak and alter reality. Some bosses are simply bullies. They were bullied when they were in your position. They continue… Read more »

I would not go to HR. People think HR is there to help them. It is not. It’s for the employer of the higher level person in the company.

I made a mistake at work and wasn’t aware of it for a while. When it was brought to my attention, I immediately went into action to fix the problem. I apologized to the co-worker affected by my error. Hours later my boss approached me to ask what happened. This is a pattern with him. Every day he magnifies my errors, especially on Friday evenings as I’m about to leave for the weekend. My gut feeling’s to find another job and resign, but I like the company and a lot of its employees. I feel like every day that I… Read more »

I feel the same as you with my boss just wondering what you did to help, are you still with the company or did you leave and find new job.

I know it’s an old post but hate feeling like a failure at work

carl eady

It has been like that a long time tell me what we can do to change the situation. We as African American have a hard time anyway will it get better

Gerald V. McKenna, LMHC
Gerald V. McKenna, LMHC
Leslie, I would ask someone you trust from Human Resources for an “off the record” meeting and be totally open and honest. Watch their body language to see if this is beyond their expertise OR are they another “victim” who are too afraid to stick up for themselves–look for lack of eye contact, arms crossed, legs crossed to protect their genitalia. If this person is a dud try a co-worker you trust OR go to his boss and relate your story as harassment–close to sexual harassment AS IT MAKES YOU FEEL X Y Z violated, anxious (true–discuss meds) threatened. Make… Read more »
christia kilburn

i would love to work from home

No name

Well if no one told you people on here. Your all doing a great job and trying your best! I’m here trying to learn how to handle a boss like this. Sigh.

Sandra Stolzy
Leslie-I would like to comment. I hope this isn’t too late, I see you posted in Aug 2014. I too have a job with a female boss who is much younger than I, and very critical. Although I feel I am working at maximum speed, she is not on site and takes all complaints from the people we serve. There are few that have positive comments. I guess that is human nature. One of the things I know is that people are rarely motivated to change. Your boss obviously likes being more “distant”. Mine talks through an intermediary boss, who… Read more »

I have had a couple of bosses like tht but I just learned to ignore them because if you feed into it things gt worse

We are just 2 in the office with others running various facets of the department. They do not come to the office for very long on any given day. I have been at my position for 26 years. Less than a year ago, the powers that be chose a young man 40 years my junior to head the department and be my boss. In fact, I have been at my job longer than he has been alive. He is very driven and has made many changes. While I am older, I love the changes and have fully embraced them with… Read more »
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