What if your boss doesn’t give you good projects?
This article applies to many scenarios outside of work as well, just as a FYI. Ok, so I happen to love all my managers across teams, but I realized only recently that this is a very rare case.
Most people don’t really like their manager. And by boss/managers I mean those who are higher (even slightly higher) up than you along the corporate hierarchy. After all, he/she is the person who gives you shitty work, or who decides whether your next project will be actually high-profile, or who complains when you are late in the morning or you leave before your analyst at night, and probably the scariest part of all, who runs your performance evaluation and determines your bonus.
You are lucky if you have a manager half as friendly, reasonable and approachable as mine (seriously), but chances are you don’t have one like that. So you are scared of your manager, one way or another. Managers, on the other hand, may have given up on being likable either. I am not saying this is the right thing to do but they simply don’t have to care that much. I mean, they don’t NEED you to like them; they are your boss regardless.
Of course you can simply quit and join another team/firm, but there is no guarantee this will not happen again. So what I really want to talk about today is how to deal with a manager (or anyone) who is (at least in your mind) a total disaster and almost impossible, and who (in your mind) wants to secretly jeopardize your career and ruin your life!
You don’t know their intentions and you naturally assume the worst
I was on the China Youth Development Program panel at Columbia University last week, and a very relevant question I got was: What if you feel your manager is deliberately keeping you away from certain high-profile and interesting projects, as if he is afraid that you are learning too fast and will even become a threat to his position.
This is a more typical scenario in an Asian culture, and I cannot promise that your manager is definitely not evil like that. However in most cases the evil character and the potential threat assumption are only in your own little head.
Remember one thing: we can’t see other people’s intentions. We interpret their intentions through their language and behaviors and we thought we know their intentions though we actually don’t. And when you don’t and if anything slightly negative is happening on your end, you naturally assume the worst intention of all. So you wouldn’t even know if your boss assigned the high-profile project to someone else because he thought you were burdened with your current responsibilities, or if he secretly has an even bigger project for you in the next couple of weeks, just as an example.
You failed to address feelings and you felt your identify being challenged
If you happen to be in a position to manage other people, remember one rule: you don’t own other people. So don’t act as if you do.
However many managers are incapable of doing that. I happen to be lucky again here because my manager spends time listen to me and cares about how I feel. So when a 3-month oversea project came up, she didn’t “announce” the project and “instruct” me to get prepared, she simply said, “there is some discussion on having you to go to HK for an extended trip, how do you feel about it?”
It is precious if an manager doesn’t just dump work at you, but also gives you the necessary tools and information, respects what you have to say, and most importantly addresses your concerns and feelings.
Yet most of the time it is ourselves who refuse to talk about feelings. We want to be professional at work, and we try very hard to hide any incidents or signs that will showcase the slightest level of vulnerability or incapability. However as soon as something turns out not to be as how we originally planned, we start to question if the manager deliberately does it to suppress me, or if this is his way of getting back to me because he’s pissed off at me, and even worse, we start having doubts on ourselves, and we wonder if our manager doesn’t think we are competent enough to do the job, and that scares the hell our of us!
It may be okay if these activities only stay in our little head but in reality the feelings of hurt, anger, frustration and anxiety will all leak away from our voice, tone, body languages, or even word choices. And when your manager doesn’t know what’s going on in your mind, they will get even more confused why you are behaving in such a way, and they might end up thinking you are incompetent indeed (even if they never decided so in the beginning).
How to frame everything in terms of “learning” and “forward-looking”
If your boss designated one project to someone else instead of you and that project happened to be something you’ve placed your eyes on for a long time, try to have a conversation with your manager (instead of being grouchy for the rest of the month).
Instead of questioning:
Why do you give that project to Jason instead of me?
Try something like:
Hey heard Jason will be working on project A, is there something I can help with?
And better yet and this will really benefit you in the long run especially in terms of understanding how your manager thinks and makes decisions:
Hey heard Jason will be working on project A, could you help me to learn how you assign projects like that? Are there certain skills or qualities you are looking for?
So now at least you know why you were not picked for the project this time! If you still don’t understand, try something like:
Actually those are the skills I thought I have developed as well and I am really interested in this kind of work. Now I know how demanding this project is would you like to hear some of my perspectives?
Note here it is IMPORTANT that you learn how your manager thinks FIRST! Then after he has given you his perspectives, it is VERY HARD for him to reject simply listening to yours, and you can make a better case for yourself.
And even if you will still not be able to work on the project this time, try:
I think I understand why you wanted Jason to work on this now, I was a little bit frustrated at first to be honest because I thought I worked as hard if not harder. But I am really happy we had this conversation so now I know what areas to focus on going forward. Again this is something I am really interested in and I would really appreciate an opportunity to work on something similar next time!
So here you show understanding, appreciation, commitment to further improve yourself, and you take initiative to recommend yourself EXPLICITLY for the next opportunity. Unless your boss is a total a**hole, I really don’t see any reason why he will not turn to you next time!
Try it and good luck! Let me know how it goes!