A reader writes:
I work in a large hospital and I am an administrative assistant. I support 3 physicians. My boss, the operations manager, has almost no interaction with the support staff until there is a problem and at our monthly meetings. I sit outside of his door and the only thing he says is “good morning” every day. That’s it. So that’s about 15 words a week. He only speaks or sends us a message when we do something wrong. No matter how minimal. He is extremely severe and follows the company rules to a fault, even when there is an opportunity to use his discretion.
Do you think I am being unrealistic to expect a bit more communication or positive interaction from him? I am positive he is unaware of the negative perception we all have of him. Every time he comes to my desk or I see an e-mail from him, I want to throw my monitor at him.
He’s certainly not the greatest boss in the world, but the intensity of your reaction isn’t warranted either.
The biggest problem I see here is the lack of feedback, which I’ll get to in a minute. But the other stuff really isn’t a big deal, unless you make it one in your head.
Ideally, yes, he’d be a bit warmer in general — but perhaps he’s shy or introverted, or perhaps he simply prefers to focus intensely on work while he’s at work, to the exclusion of everything else, including social niceties. There’s no point in being irritated that he only says “good morning.” It’s just who he is, apparently, and it’s something that will only impact you if you let it.
As for strictly enforcing the rules — well, that’s not uncommon. Yes, the best managers tend to use flexibility and judgment, but enforcing clearly stated rules really isn’t that tyrannical, especially when you know he’s that way and can plan accordingly.
But let’s tackle the real problem: the lack of feedback unless something went wrong. This is a very, very spartan approach to management and it’s not one that tends to be effective with most people, particularly in the long-term. When a manager doesn’t acknowledge what’s going well, hearing about what’s going wrong will sting far more. And over time, employees treated this way will generally lose their enthusiasm for their work — they’ll feel unappreciated, disengaged, and unconnected with any broader purpose.
So yes, he should be giving you positive feedback along the way, not just pointing out problems. But since this clearly isn’t his natural orientation, why not just ask him for more feedback? Ask to meet with him to talk about how things are going, and explicitly ask him what he thinks is going well, as well as what could be going better. In the course of that conversation, you can also mention that you feel you don’t get a lot of feedback unless there’s been a mistake, and that you’d welcome hearing from him more regularly.
This might actually be new information to him, believe it or not. A lot of people who end up in management positions just aren’t that thoughtful about what it means to be a good manager, and sometimes you need to specifically lay out what you’d like. I’m not promising you that it’ll work, but it might — and it shouldn’t hurt, as long as you’re calm and cheerful and don’t come across as high-maintenance.
One last note: Your current mindset on all this isn’t helping you or the situation. At a minimum, it’s hurting your quality of life, and I’d be surprised if it isn’t also impacting your interactions with him. Try reframing all of this in your mind — he’s shy, or he’s busy, and he doesn’t intend to come across harshly — and try to drop your anger at him. If you find that you can’t do that, it’s worth considering going somewhere else — but I think you can reframe this if you try.