my boss is asking whether I’m not interested in my job

A reader writes:

I am currently facing an issue with my boss. When I make a mistake at work or don’t do a task perfectly, my boss has, on more than one occasion, brought this up in our conversation, asking, “Are you not interested in your work?”

How can I explain to him in a polite way that his opinion cannot be further away from the truth, and that I am only human and I do slip up every now and then?  

Despite me trying (and giving) my very best at delivering my work, he has never once said anything positive but rather jumps at every available opportunity of undermining my confidence and morale, in the event of a careless mistake. What is he trying to do or imply here? Does he want me to leave on my own by dropping such hints?

There are two possibilities here:

The first possibility is that your boss is an overly critical jerk who only criticizes and never praises and who expects an unreasonable level of perfection from people.

The second possibility is that you actually are making too many mistakes, and your boss is expressing a reasonable concern. While it’s absolutely true that everyone makes mistakes now and then, there’s also such a thing as too many mistakes, and it’s possible that that’s what’s going on here.

Either way, the thing to do in situations like this is to talk about it head-on. Sit down with your boss and say something like this: “You’ve asked me several times if I’m not interested in my work. I certainly am, but I’m concerned that you’re asking the question. What’s going on that’s making you worried that I’m not committed to the work?”

If he says that it’s because you’re making mistakes, then say, “I do sometimes make mistakes, and I can’t promise that I won’t ever make one again, because I’m human. However, I do really want your feedback. If I’m making more mistakes than people generally do in my role, I want to know that. Is your sense that I’m not working at the same level as others who do similar work?”

You can also ask, “What’s your assessment of how I’m doing overall? Do you see these mistakes as isolated incidents, or do you have larger concerns about my work?” While you may be concerned about what his answer will be, it’s far better to hear it and know where he’s coming from than not to know.

Have this conversation at a time when you’re calm and not upset about the criticism, and be open to hearing what he has to say. Don’t focus on defending yourself; your goal here is to hear his take on the situation.

Once you have that conversation, you’re going to be better equipped to figure out how to proceed, whether it’s concluding that your boss is just a jerk whose feedback isn’t worth much (in which case you have to either resign yourself to that or decide to look for another job), or deciding that he has reasonable concerns (in which case you either redouble your efforts to minimize mistakes or you decide that you’re not a great fit with the job). But it all starts with talking to him straightforwardly rather than trying to read his words for subtext.

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