“Why Does My Boss Hate Me?” The Disconnect of Emotional Needs


Does My Boss Hate Me?

Remember the playground chant, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”?  While logical for some, it is wildly false for others.  A core group of behavioral profiles can be harmed more deeply by words, or the lack of words, than a broken bone (B>A’s in PI speak).  A broken bone will eventually heal while the emotional scarring of words can last much longer for certain individuals.  Those of you who proudly agree with the “sticks and stones” mantra may currently be rolling your eyes at that last sentence; well, keep reading as this blog is intended mostly for YOU!

I have logged countless hours counseling employees who start the conversation with the framework of, “Nothing I do is ever good enough”, “I can’t get anything right in her eyes”, “To him, everything is a failure”, and the classic, “Why does my boss hate me?”

The most poignant example of this was when a young woman slipped into my training room to express the following, “I kill myself trying to impress my boss, but I think he hates me. I worry every day about losing my job.  I have worked for him for 12 years and I don’t think he even knows if I have kids or what color my eyes are because he has never looked directly at me. I’m at a loss and don’t think I will ever be good enough for him.”  Later I asked her boss about her and he lit up and pronounced, “BEST EMPLOYEE I HAVE EVER HAD!” 

This egregious disconnect is rampant in the workplace and a key reason that many employees are left feeling disengaged and therefore quit or, in some cases, get sick.  However, this problem has an easy fix, but it does require a conscious shift in behavior.

1) Accept that the individual has different needs than you which means they thrive under supportive direction, positive reinforcement and acknowledgement.  Don’t try to make sense of it, just trust the science.

 If you give them what they need, you will get the production you want!

2) Start by acknowledging the GOOD before addressing the bad or pointing out corrections.

Look for opportunities to point out positives in their work.  Learning the value and importance of acknowledgement and appreciation can serve you far better than you might realize.  Simple phrases such as, “Great work on that proposal”, “No overages last month, impressive”, “You nailed that presentation”, can propel an employee’s internal motivation, self-worth, engagement and desire to work even harder, faster and more effectively.  If you find yourself asking, “Why should I say ‘Good job’ for doing their job?  That is what they are paid to do”, then my first reaction is to tell you, “BECAUSE I SAID SO!” however I am guessing that won’t penetrate so I will go with, TRUST YEARS OF VALIDATED SCIENCE.  Those with this behavioral makeup will excel when they know they are making a difference, that their work matters and that they are appreciated for their efforts.  

One of the highest drivers of engagement is whether employees feel that their manager values their work and contributions. “AM I APPRECIATED?” For individuals with low extraversion (heads-down, task-focused) and high dominance (the drive for ownership and control and a natural confidence), being given complicated work and the trust and autonomy to go along with it can be enough to show the manager values them.  However, individuals with a high extraversion drive (a need for social connection and social influence) and lower dominance (the “us, we our”, team-focus), feel value through words of affirmation, verbal recognition and targeted acknowledgement – noting how a specific action contributed to the success of the team. 

3) Mind your words during critique.  Focus on coaching versus critiquing.  Talk through a problem, don’t just point it out.  Gain perspective on how the mistake happened and work toward an effective resolution.

4) Talk WITH and not AT.

If you are lacking in the empathy department, or have been told you are, invest in a book on Emotional Intelligence to better understand how to manage your emotions and tap into how to better understand the emotions of others.  Remember, words CAN hurt and can cause an employee to become overly paranoid and thus decrease production or cause them to “give up” due to the “why bother” syndrome. 

To individuals who have the drive to please others and a need to be liked, positive reinforcement and specific acknowledgement is fuel to their fire.  As a manager or peer, it is critical to understand that you will get more of what you need and want from these team members when they feel you care and appreciate their efforts.  Instead of blunt and direct, focus on collaborative coaching.

George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” It is not enough to think someone knows that you appreciate them, say something!