While feedback is intended to improve your performance, that doesn’t mean you’ll always agree with or even understand it. The greatest of managers are still occasionally going to tear apart a project you were proud of, make you change something you thought was perfect as is, or issue instructions you think are a fundamentally bad idea.
In situations like these, you can voice your disagreement, but when you reach the impasse of “I’m the boss and you’re not,” then you’ve just got to inwardly sigh and let them win. Here’s what it takes to avoid getting to that point in the first place, and what to do once you have.
You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Cranky
Again—you inwardly sigh. You do not outwardly sigh, nor do you roll your eyes, say something snotty, or complain to a coworker (except with extreme caution).
You don’t have to like your manager—technically, you don’t even have to respect them. What you need to respect is your manager’s pivotal role in your continued employment. Conveying any kind of distaste toward your boss will only work against you. They may be stoic enough not to care about it personally, but they absolutely will care that you’re disrespecting their authority, making the office less pleasant, and making their job more difficult. It’s a surefire way to end up on your manager’s shit list and ensure you’re last in line for promotions, raises, or any other potential perks.
And that’s the best-case scenario—if you’re being egregiously insubordinate, you could also just get straight-up fired for it. There’s a reason why “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” is drilled into us since childhood. It’s not fun to be around someone who’s an endless fountain of negativity. And anyone with the power to distance themselves from such a person—i.e., a manager—is going to exercise it. Even if they’re not consciously trying to retaliate, you’ll become the natural choice if they need to shunt someone off into an isolated department or eliminate a position. What’s more, they’re certainly not going to bother mentoring and nurturing someone who radiates hostility.
Some people aren’t destined to get along with each other, and that’s fine. If your boss irritates you to the point that you’re quivering with rage every time you interact, then it’s probably wise to start looking around for a new job that’s a better fit. In the meantime, clench your teeth and keep it cordial.
There are benefits to having work friends—they can improve your morale immeasurably whenever you need a sympathetic ear. But you need to be judicious about confiding in them whenever you’re exasperated with management.
Now, look: I’m not an unreasonable person. I know that “complaining about your boss” is often the way office friendships get formed, and I’m not going to take that off the table as a bonding activity. It just can’t be the only thing you talk about, or it will quickly get toxic. Save it for the major issues.
Fixating on your manager’s annoying habits and questionable decisions will soon cloud your judgment to the point that their every action seems worthy of mockery. And you won’t be the only one infected by this negativity—your whole circle of snark will start feeling the same way. It may be fun in the moment to issue an epic takedown of your boss’s latest weird behavior, but in the big picture it helps create a sense that you work in a crappy place run by crappy people. Even if that is in fact the case, there’s no benefit to lingering on your job’s worst aspects.
Vent your frustrations to your coworkers only when you really need to: when you’re truly curious about their take on a situation, when you’re so pissed off that you desperately need an outlet, or when something’s so absurd that you know they’ll find it hilarious (see, I’m not a monster). But cut yourself off from going down a rabbit hole of “every little thing the boss does is bullshit” and try to encourage your friends to do the same. Giving in to that perspective will only make it harder for you to maintain a civil attitude—and if your coworkers can’t be trusted to keep your less-than-politic observations to themselves, the consequences could be even more dire.
An Arsenal Of Appropriateness
So how do you keep your cool when you desperately want to throw a stapler at your boss’s face? The specific contours of your polite-ified interactions will be determined by your broader personality, but here are some ideas to help you get started.
If you feel an eye roll or scowl coming on, try to raise your eyebrows and pull the corners of your mouth up into something resembling a smile. It might feel fake—it might even look fake—but that’s still an improvement on an active glower. (Note that this isn’t about counteracting “resting bitch face” or adhering to some icky standard of constant, mandatory smiling—it’s about preventing your specific face from telegraphing negative emotions against your will.)
Avoid monosyllabic responses like “sure” or “fine”—it’s too easy for irritation to attach itself to those without you even hearing it. More enthusiastic replies like “absolutely,” “right away,” and “of course”—delivered in the most pleasant tone you can muster— will help obscure whatever derisive commentary is running through your head. Mentally append an exclamation point to things. Anyone with a background in retail or waiting tables should be adept at this flavor of forced cheeriness, and there’s no reason those same skills can’t be transferred to an office context.
It might also be useful to consider that your boss may be dealing with their own stresses—including unreasonable demands from a workplace overlord who outranks them. Even if that’s not actually true, remembering that they’re probably not being obnoxious on purpose could defuse some of your frustration.
Finally, be kind to yourself and prepare accordingly when you know you’re about to endure a taxing situation. Before meeting with a manager you loathe, make sure you’re well fed, sufficiently caffeinated, and as relaxed as you can possibly be. It’s a lot harder to avoid seeming annoyed when you walk in with a metaphorical rain cloud over your head.
This article is adapted from Is This Working?: The Businesslady’s Guide to Getting What You Want from Your Career by Courtney C.W. Guerra (“The Businesslady“) and reprinted with permission from Adams Media, a division of Simon & Schuster.