Recently, I happened to give a speech out in San Antonio. Two established professionals from the audience reached out to me a few days later asking for advice around a similar challenge. They both found themselves in the uncomfortable position of being managed by a new leader in the organization who seemed to have it out for them. They asked me, “Your book says, ‘Get away from the people who tear you down,’ but how can I do that when it’s my boss who doesn’t believe in me and is constantly critical?”
I asked them a few questions:
Both had been in their field for a number of years, had been promoted within the last two years and never had any complaints previously. I continued by asking them what work is like for them now. Both admitted that they are really struggling. They have noticed a change in their mood at work and even at home. They shared that their body is actually tensing when they see a message from their boss and find themselves reluctant to open and to respond to any messages or meeting requests. They aren’t volunteering to take on extra assignments or participating in the social activities like they used to.
By reflecting on this, it was clear that each of these folks had fallen into the trap of GIVING THEIR POWER AWAY. Once confident, they are now questioning—it is obvious that something isn’t going well. Am I in the right field? Am I fading? Have I moved past my sweet spot?
My response: Wait a minute! You are the same person who was chosen for this position. In all of your career, no one else has complained. In fact, they’ve promoted you.
There will always be folks who don’t agree with us. Feedback can be very productive and cause us to grow. Alternative views can make room for innovation. There are also can come times in our careers when an individual is universally critical of us. This is a dangerous place for us to remain, especially when that individual is our boss or team leader.
Receiving a consistently negative reception can cause us to internalize their disdain for us through what sociologist Charles Cooley called The Looking Glass Self. Others' response to us begins to shape our beliefs about ourselves. Our beliefs in turn begin to shape our thoughts and our actions.
After awhile, we second-guess ourselves and stop raising our hand at meetings. We withdraw from teamwork. We shrink. Sadly, we begin to resemble what that individual has been publicizing about us—ineffective, indecisive--our confidence has been shaken. If we allow this to continue, our reputation suffers and we become sidelined in our organizations.
If you find yourself shrinking at work because you’ve taken a critical boss’s comments to heart and think it’s possible that you’ve inadvertently given your power away, consider this:
How would you respond if I came into your shop (a soccer coach, university administrator) and criticized the way you approach your work or the comments you make in a meeting? It shouldn’t matter. What do I know about your specialized skill set and years of experience in your industry? Similarly, if Julia Child came to my soccer practice and started asking me why I was going with a 4-4-2, I would be unfazed.
Your new supervisor probably has credentials and experience, but that doesn’t cancel your training, organizational wisdom, key relationships and industry experience.
If you have a supervisor who doesn’t promote and support you and instead undercuts you or leaves you out at every turn, you have choices:
If someone intentionally or unintentionally is critical and limiting you, shame on them. If you give your power away to them, shame on you. You and your contributions are valuable. Protect your self-confidence by choosing to survive or by running towards a better fit.