5 Ways to Cope with Your Overly Critical Boss

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Tashay Campbell33
May 28, 2024 at 12:39AM UTC
Work can be stressful for a plethora of reasons but even more so when you have an overly critical boss. It seems like regardless of what you do, they always have a complaint or criticism about your work product or even simple administrative logistics. When you make adjustments to complete assignments and tasks in their preferred style, it isn’t good enough or they disregard your efforts. Even though you don’t take many days off, they complain that you’re not working enough. Your boss might also tend to blow simple mistakes and misunderstandings out of proportion. 
Bottom line is whatever you try to do, it seems like it’ll be a lose-lose situation for you. As you continue to work with them it may become easier to figure out their nuances and find a medium in the chaos, but if that isn’t the case, what can you do to have a less stressful work environment? 

What does it mean to have a critical boss? 

Having a great boss can make a bad or undesirable job worthwhile and fulfilling, but having a bad or overly critical boss can do the exact opposite to an otherwise great opportunity. A critical boss tends to scold or correct nearly everything you do at work. These criticisms could be both related to the duties of your role and to other, less important things like how you work with your coworkers. Typically, bosses who are overly critical exaggerate the significance of small mistakes and rarely offer any praise or recognition for your achievements at work. This may also be coupled with a generally negative attitude and lack of awareness for professionalism and constructive criticism. 
Learning how to navigate a workplace with an overly critical boss isn’t easy, but it’s necessary to maintain your sanity and efficiency at work. People who find themselves at the mercy of critical bosses often feel trapped, unexcited and unmotivated to work given the negative environment that exists as a result of an overly critical boss. Some also miss out on significant opportunities because they avoid or are unable to work with their bosses on meaningful projects. Sometimes, employees even transfer, quit their jobs or move on prematurely to avoid the conflict and frustration that comes along with an unappreciative supervisor. Assuming none of these options seems ideal to you, it would be in your best interests to explore methods to cope with your unpleasant work situation. 

Ways to cope with your critical boss.

1. Address the problem. 

If you find that your boss is constantly nit-picking a specific part of your work product, like your writing style, the best way to tackle this issue would be to address the problem directly. Ask your boss if they are available to discuss some of the issues they’ve come across and try to work with them on a plan to overcome your differences. This way, you’re giving them a chance to openly discuss their expectations with you and give you a better understanding of their perspective. Taking the initiative to correct the issue shows commitment to producing your best work and maintaining open communication in the workplace

2. Observe their interactions with your coworkers.

If you realize your boss isn’t just critical with you, it might be reassuring to know it isn’t personal. If possible and appropriate, try to gauge how your boss talks to your coworkers. Do they use the same tone they use with you? Do they have similar complaints or demands? Perhaps your boss is just picky and isn’t a fan of anyone’s work product. Learning that your boss is simply a critical person might help you to feel less sensitive or irritated when they criticize you. 

3. Control how you react.

The way your boss communicates with you is out of your control. If your boss is set on being harsh, the only thing you can control is how you respond to it. After realizing that your boss is unlikely to change their management style, it might be worthwhile to practice patience and nonresponse for your own sanity. This way, when your boss is being difficult or unreasonable, you can remain calm and collected even if they aren’t. As hard as it can be to refrain from engaging and getting upset by their actions, it will only be to your detriment.

4. Appreciate your time out of the office.

If you are able to fully separate your work life from your personal life, you should make it a priority to leave work in the office and only tend to work matters while on the clock. Taking work home or working while on vacation can spread tension to areas of your life that should be stress-free or free of your boss’s influence, at least. Creating a boundary between your work life and personal life can limit your frustration to the office. 

5. Consider speaking to human resources.

If the way your boss is speaking to you is becoming concerning, you may want to consider speaking with your human resources department. While criticism in the workplace is expected, your boss shouldn’t be disrespectful or inappropriate in any of their complaints about your work. If you feel that your boss has crossed this line, contact HR to discuss steps to prevent this from happening again. 
Work isn’t always the most fun or exciting place, but you shouldn’t feel afraid to speak with your boss or nervous about work that you did your best on. If every day seems like a new battle, it's worth considering ways to offset the stress from criticism from your boss. Coping with an overly critical boss can be a hard feat but it’s worth the sanity and peace you will get from it. Continuing to accept condescension at work can take a toll on your mental health an ability to perform your best at work. Whether you decide to confront the issue head-on by addressing your boss about their expectations, creating a more strict distinction between your work life and your family life, or speaking to human resources, you’re taking useful steps to protect yourself, your wellbeing and your professional growth.


This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Tashay Campbell has a passion for leadership, public interest work, and government. After serving as Chief Justice of the Honor Code Council at Wellesley College, Tashay worked as a Paralegal at both Cravath, Swaine and Moore LLP and the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.  When she's not practicing law, she's writing about women in the workplace for Fairygodboss.

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