Q. I have a boss who rarely gives me any credit at work. His style is unsupportive and frustrating.
A. Everytime I interview someone for a position I always ask, “What kind of a boss do you like to work for?” I almost always get the same answer and it's never very believable: “I want a boss who tells me what to do, and then leaves me alone so I can do it.”
I don't believe people really want to be left alone.
If you ask people why they're happy with their work, it's generally because they have a boss who doesn't “leave them alone.” He's someone who works with them, appreciates their work, takes an interest in it and gives them constructive and supportive feedback.
To put it another way, we want to work with someone and not merely for someone. We want to feel supported as well as challenged, even if pride causes us to say otherwise.
A boss is supposed to evaluate and motivate. He may either like or dislike what you do. And whether he admits it or not, you can bet he is making such judgments to himself and perhaps to others, if not to you.
There is something, however, that you can do to get feedback: Ask him for it.
It may take courage and it may challenge your pride or vanity, but it's a good idea to acquire the habit of asking: “Hey, how do you think I'm doing on this project?”
Remember, though, that you might get something less than praise. If you can stomach it, that's better than nothing. Then you know where to improve.
There are several advantages to asking for his evaluation. First, it makes the process open and minimizes backbiting and gossip. Second, you don't have to wonder where you stand. Your boss has told you — in the open. And if he says, “I like your work because … ,” then it's harder for him to make a 180-degree turn later without a lot of explaining.
If he gives you good news, you have that to build on. If he's critical of your performance, then you want to ask: “What would I have to do for my work to meet your standards?”
Face it: Most people are uncomfortable making judgments. And bosses are people, too. They don't like to judge people to their face. It's their job to do that, though, and you can make it easier for them by not being defensive and by asking for their evaluation.
This takes humility on your part. But when you've made such an overture it lessens the likelihood of surprises at performance evaluation time.
It is the truth, not necessarily praise, that sets us free.
So be non-defensive and ask for feedback regularly. That will get your boss into the habit of openly evaluating, and perhaps appreciating, your work. Then you'll know where you stand.
Art A. Bennett is a licensed marriage, family and child therapist.