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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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