An Ode to Dealing with Tough Managers

Photo by Jonathan Borba

Recently, I posted being concerned about my performance appraisal this year as the previous ones did not go well. I have some news to share – I finally got good feedback! This is a reason to celebrate, as my head was clouded with self-doubt over the past year, and I questioned my work quality. “This is the only type of work I believed I was good at. Am I not as good as I think?

When managers take time to appreciate your work, your confidence hits a different level. It’s the type of reassurance every hard-working employee deserves.

Needless to say, I am over the moon. If you had gone through my past appraisal posts, you would know how distraught I was. I gave it my best this year and wondered if it would be enough as my confidence was quite shaken. But it ended well (this year, at least). Now, the challenge is to maintain this level of performance.

I am not exactly sure what I did right this year, but I am sharing one key takeaway.

I know the internet is filled with advice on avoiding interacting with difficult managers as much as possible. I did this initially. I was intimidated by my managers and found it challenging to reach out to them. They weren’t particularly friendly either. So my solution was to avoid them. My advice is: don’t.

Try increasing your interactions with them to a point you no longer feel intimidated by their presence. I started asking questions regularly, reaching out for discussions, and becoming more proactive. Initially, it felt tough, as anyone would feel uncomfortable interacting with someone who intimidates them. But then, things started getting better. My fear was gone as I trained myself to approach them more. This helped me ask better questions and seek their help if needed. This, in turn, improved my work.

I realized they weren’t criticizing me on purpose. I did lag in some areas. When you are only given negative feedback, your first impulse is to escape. I almost thought about quitting, thinking maybe they disliked me for other reasons.

At this point, I can’t help but think how many employees must have quit their jobs because they couldn’t take criticism. We see posts about “work where you will be appreciated.” Sometimes, we need to take time to reflect on whether it is really them who should work on appreciating us or if it is actually us who need to make improvements.

Yes, some managers will not like you or your work, no matter how hard you try. You need to change your job for peace of mind in such cases. But often, that’s not the issue. Sometimes we overthink and overanalyze things and make decisions on the spur of the moment. Like quitting. When we quit, we stop ourselves from learning from our mistakes.

Learning only happens when someone points out the areas you need to improve. Some managers communicate this empathetically and effectively, but some might take a different route.

Not every manager excels at communication. As long as a supervisor doesn’t abuse or resort to toxic, manipulative techniques, employees should reflect on what is needed, reach out, ask questions, and work accordingly.

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