Performance review is coming up, I kept my side short (one meaningless sentence per question) for reasons of complete demotivation and despondence. Boss will surely ask "What's wrong?". How to decline to answer this question altogether since there's no path to victory anyway?
Here's a few things that happened:
I've put my back into it in the past ten years: Worked on countless projects, never said no to any assignment or challenge, worked overtime more than required, championed quite a number of innovations as far as my influence goes. As far as I'm comparing myself with other developers, I'm at the top. I'm fixing most bugs (not a good measure I know, but most of those are also the most complicated ones), have the most releases, have ideas that sound great by the feedback I'm getting from other stakeholders, never miss a deadline etc.
Whenever I seek feedback, all I'm getting is "You're doing great." And that's also pretty much what I get on my reviews. One sentence, that's it. I'm pretty confident that my boss couldn't answer what I'm working on, or what I've worked on all year if questioned, despite me sending him very detailed weekly status updates. However, he is quick to jump at minor "transgressions", even if just perceived and not real. For instance, he would argue that I'm not talking enough when at the same time he is in meetings half the time and can't possibly see most of my communication sessions, and even discounting the fact that most conversation happens online outside of his perception. He also claims that I'm not talking right to people, although I have never heard anyone complaining about me. When asked for specific examples, he cannot give any. When asked how he measures these things, his explanation is "gut feelings". He comes up with something different each year, so it's futile to even try to argue that what he perceives is not even remotely true. I feel sabotaged by this much indifference and disregard to my achievements.
Few years ago, promotions happened, but my boss only considered people from a certain ethnic background for these promotions. He told me this straight in the face. I thought of it as "Ok, they may have certain qualities that I don't have." My questions to my boss of how to progress in a similar manner were since evaded, or met with vague, non-SMART "goals" such as "You have to get noticed." "You have to get people to talk about you." etc. that are destined for goal post moving and carrot dangling. If he would actually talk to other teams, he would perhaps notice the impact I already have, but he doesn't do that. But I noticed over the past years that this "We only consider people from XYZ for promotion." thing may actually have a more sinister side to it: Since then, really only people from that region of the world (I won't say which one to avoid bias) have been promoted into management positions without exceptions, despite them having (much!) less tenure than others. I know tenure don't matter much, but it seems odd to consistently promote people of a certain ethnicity regardless of tenure and not investing in more experienced folks to advance them in their career. I feel slighted obviously, but I also think this is highly unprofessional on their side.
The straw that broke the camel were the blatant preferential treatments that occurred over the past two years. WFH, PTO and internal rewards were dished out generously (in some cases WFH for weeks in a row) to members of the community that is also favoured in the career movements that I mentioned above. While I had my issues too (death in my family, operation for me, family issues), I was fobbed off with "We can give you a week, anything else is against company policy!" But even then my boss went through an entire litany of why "we usually don't do this, and we have to keep a low profile on this etc." (basically trying to make it as difficult as possible). Needless to say that I declined and dealt with things differently. I can see that my boss has not developed any empathy for issues that arise for me (or with some others) that may affect my ability to be productive, but has a lot for others. Generally, I can tell that he doesn't have my back when I needed his support, which frankly did cause some issues outside work as well (family).
I honestly don't know what went wrong. We had a good relationship, we met outside work for private activities together. While I'm not saying that I deserve special treatment due to this, I also think it's pretty two-faced to come of as a buddy on one hand and on the other hand to completely dismiss me at work.
I asked once whether I've done something wrong, or whether I've said something wrong to warrant this kind of treatment, but he said "No, all is well." Looking back, whenever there were issues between coworkers, he really hesitated to step in, so maybe he's just a conflict avoider and doesn't want to stir waters by saying anything.
I can't tell if he actually has an agenda (to drive me away), or whether he is really just oblivious and clueless. Either way, I've mentally shut him out, for I would just fool myself with any attempt from my side to retain some sort of overly friendly relationship.
Curiously, he did notice that, and asked me once if there is any problem. I tried to touch a few areas that I mentioned above, but all was met with utter resistance. People got promoted for their achievements (although he cannot tell me what they were so that I may get there as well), and there was no favouritism, even when bringing up the numbers. So not only is he dismissing my work, he is also invalidating me as a person by basically saying that the impressions and facts I bring up don't matter.
So performance review is coming up, and I didn't feel like writing anything this year. Why would I, if my achievements are brushed off and dismissed anyway with one sentence from my boss' side, and instead focus will be on issues that have nothing to do with performance or are just plain wrong, just to hang another carrot in front of me or engage in goal post moving to get me going for another year? But "the system" doesn't allow for this, so I wrote one short sentence (more a collection of words) for each question. I'm pretty sure he will ask me about this, but I don't want to engage in any discussion about anything because I know there's no path to victory.
How can I deflect any attempt to force me to talk about any issue if prompted by my boss while maintaining professionalism and also some dignity on my side?
My question is not how to change my boss' attitude. HR is also out of the question, as they are colluding with my boss. (HR is also not your friend anyway.) My question is also not how to fix or cope with the situation. I won't stay for another year. I just want to avoid to be lured into a discussion about "what's wrong", only to have everything I say to be dismissed as wrong and feeling like a complete moron afterwards for saying anything at all.