I'm struggling with my boss --- not for the first time.
I'm the kind of person that likes knowing what is expected of me, learning how to do it, and then working hard to excel at it.
What I am starting to notice is that my boss has a way of criticizing me without explaining what I could be doing differently. That makes me question the nature of the criticism.
Case in point: he has taken to implying or saying in passing that I am not "smooth" or have a difficult personality to work with. For example, "Oh, well, knowing that guy, he's hard to work with, and, as we've talked about, you're not exactly a smooth character yourself so it would be tough for you to work with him." OK...?
Part of the issue here is I am very conscious of not becoming a "yes man" and I haven't been afraid to tell my boss "no" when I felt it was necessary to do so. (I am convinced more of my boss's employees need to work on setting boundaries and saying "no" for the benefit of his mental health/managing his ego --- my "issues" notwithstanding.) Moments where not playing "yes man" have gone awry are all I can remember as far as what "we've talked about."
Another case: he recently implied I would start an e-mail with "Hi Bobby" to a very high level executive at our company (as an example of something not to do) --- this was in an attempt to advise me to write the e-mail to this executive carefully. Anyone who knows me well knows that I would not do this.
This is my sixth year working for this person. First of all, I'm floored that he doesn't know me better than that. I also see this as an instance of him regarding me as a silly child --- which I'm not, but maybe it makes him feel good thinking that's what I am in comparison to him? I would have expected that by this point he and I would be on more of an equal footing in our relationship.
Generally, I am beginning to get the impression that, on some level, my boss likes finding opportunities to criticize me --- and, when this happens, again, it becomes this "Oh, you silly child, I can't leave you for five minutes" kind of moment. But I know undisciplined people who can't be trusted to take the initiative or need constant supervision to stay productive, and that's not me.
Finally, when my boss criticizes my work, I sometimes feel it's more like a putdown than helpful criticism. I often find myself thinking "Well, yeah, I see where you're coming from, but do you have suggestions about how to improve it?" Or I feel as though he's bickering with me about minutiae rather than concerning himself with the big picture. (For example, when I was writing a grant proposal, two of my mentors gave me broad comments about how to improve the entire message --- both wanted me to emphasize a certain aspect of my accomplishments --- but the criticism from my boss was literally things like where to put commas. Note the difference between "Here's how to present your work better" versus "My writing style is better than yours" style criticism.)
My theory has become my boss is insecure and quite literally does some of this stuff to "score points" --- if I'm not perfect, he will go after me because it makes him look better. (For instance, if I send him a rough draft of a project document in its early stages in order for him to see the progress on the project, he will invariably criticize typos as though I should know better --- which pushes my buttons because I want to meet my boss's expectations --- even though, at that stage, the point is the progress, not the writing.)
Does this sound plausible? Are there other things I'm missing here? If the problem lies with me, I'm happy to work on it.