I’m sure that all of you can think of at least one “gotcha” manager you’ve worked with or for in the past — you know the kind — the ones who are quick to jump on perceived or real transgressions, but never offer praise. Perhaps you were able to develop coping mechanisms that allowed you to thrive in this environment, despite the possibility of being blindsided by criticism, or worse yet, a performance appraisal that enumerated your many sins (ones you didn’t even know you committed!), but was very short on forgiveness. If you are a “gotcha” boss, perhaps you have difficulty giving kudos or publicly recognizing outstanding performance and have fallen into the trap of playing the “gotcha” game. You might find it easier to notice less than stellar performance rather than “meets or exceeds” performance because your area normally hums along like a well oiled machine. It’s only when someone throws a wrench in the machine that upsets the smooth running of your department that the behavior becomes an issue. Whatever your situation, gotcha management will stifle creativity, kill morale, and undermine productivity. Inevitably the best and brightest will have their fill and move on, which leaves behind a mediocre and beaten down workforce.
What can you do if you’re the victim of a gotcha manager?
- Evaluate your options. Chances are Mr. or Ms. Gotcha will not make any major changes in management style, so considering a plan B might give you the emotional boost you need. Feeling trapped by a toxic boss will inevitably take its toll on you. If you don’t take care of you, who will?
- If you have the courage, in private, discuss with Mr. or Ms. Gotcha what best motivates you. You don’t want to go in with guns blazing; rather approach your boss with humility and ask if they could assist you in becoming a more effective contributor to your department’s success. Ask your boss how he or she identifies star performers and then ask if he or she would be willing to point out to you when you are hitting the mark. This way, you’re not coming out and saying, “HEY, I NEED SOME FEEDBACK HERE!” but rather appealing to his or her sense of importance. This is a tactic I have personally tried with some success. However, don’t expect your toxic boss to change overnight.
- If you find that your health is being affected by Mr. or Ms. Negativity, and you have access to an Employee Assistance Plan, take advantage of this free service. You’ll be amazed how much talking to a neutral third party can help. You might also consider a visit to your doctor. Stress can significantly impact your physical and mental health.
- If you find that the situation become intolerable, exercise your option to move on. It might be the best thing you ever did.