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"My Boss says: You have done nothing. You are inefficient. You are unproductive. You do not have any initiative..."
February 2005, Article 4
My boss doesn't seem to be impressed by my work no matter
how hard I might work. Sometimes he asks me to work beyond office hours,
late into the night, even on off-days and holidays. But next day he
says 'you have done nothing, you are inefficient, you are unproductive,
you do not have any initiative, etc'. How do I tackle this?
The office politics theme of your letter is the need to ethically self-promote yourself to others in order to protect and buffer yourself in the event that your boss starts relating negatively not just to you, but also trashes you behind your back. Try to build a network of trusted people who are aware of your competence and results, which means you need to without hyping yourself, "put your hand print" on your work. There is a difference between showBOATING and showCASING.
Regarding how to tackle turning around your boss' perception, you might want to very tactfully explore his concerns while respecting his possibly hyperactive ego. Don't trigger it! But we're struck by the amount of inferential language in his complaints about you ("inefficient," "unproductive," "no initiative"). So develop some skills in decoding these global, inferential phrases that are not easily defended or even understood. In our book, Survival of the Savvy, we prescribe "conversational aikido" skills to handle sabotage and trash-talking like this. Some skills include:
Obviously no skill set is a panacea, since you can only control your half of the relationship. But at least you'll be doing your political homework and the boss cannot fault you for how you handle yourself unless he's one of the Hitlers or Stalins of the world, but what skill would ever work there? The other dynamic to be aware of is that your boss may have some hidden agenda that's put you "on his list." You might not be able to figure it out or know it, but someone does! Who do you trust to help you unravel this hostility, or is he like this to everyone, in which you just need to buffer your reputation by networking with other more reasonable seniors. You also might want to check with HR about your legal rights since the boss might be wanting you to do more overtime and you or may not have the right to say "no." Good luck, but start by staying poised and not taking this personally.
Good luck with these tips and keep us posted! Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.
Rick Brandon, Ph.D. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D., Co-authors
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