3 Ways To Keep Resentment From Ruining Your Career


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It’s the moment you’ve been anticipating—and dreading—all year: your annual performance review. And instead of hearing affirming words of praise for your efforts and sacrifice, you hear your manager say, “Sorry, you won’t be getting a promotion this year. We’ll aim for next year.”

The knee-jerk reaction is anger. And for many, the news can also send their finger scrambling for the eject button. Your inner voice asks, “Why stay at a job where I’m not appreciated?” It’s understandable; we all get it.

The feeling you’re experiencing is resentment. Resentment lives at the intersection of your hopes and disappointments, and it comes out when you feel something is well-deserved but you don’t receive it. Resentment can also arise when you’ve worked hard at something and no one seems to notice, or when you feel as if you’re being taken for granted. And yes, it’s a terrible feeling.

Resentment corrodes relationships like rust on a sunken ship. No relationship is immune. Remember that fight you had with your partner? The one when you were angry about all the times you cleaned up without so much as a thank-you? That anger wasn’t anger alone, it was resentment. After all, why should you try so hard when your partner doesn’t really care about all the little things you do every day?

The resentment you felt at home is no different than the resentment you experienced at your annual review. In both cases, the root cause is the same: you don’t feel valued.

Although it’s a valid feeling, resentment leads to a place of victimhood. Hanging onto it will always impede your career; at its worst, it can cost you your job (and a solid referral). If you seethe in resentment, you’ll likely be difficult to work with and even if you can’t recognize it—you’ll emit a toxicity few people will want to be around. Instead, you need to overcome resentment and move emotionally into a place of power. But how can you do that? Here are three tools to put in your pocket to carry with you.

Tool #1: Stop Mindreading

One of the best techniques for moving past resentment comes straight out of cognitive therapy: stop mindreading. Mindreading is deciding, on your own and without any basis in real information, what someone else is thinking. Essentially, you assume you know another person’s intentions, and then you turn your assumptions into foregone conclusions. You wouldn’t want someone else telling you your own thoughts, but this is exactly what you’re doing when you mindread.

One way to put a stop to mindreading is by gathering data. For example, you might ask your manager to outline the specific reasons why you didn’t get promoted. However, for you to collect this valuable information, you must do so with an openness and a willingness to learn. No one wants to be criticized, but constructive critiques are a valuable tool and a gateway for self-reflection.

Tool #2: Identify Your Confirmation Bias

Resentment is like a nasty vine that grows out of control if left unchecked, and it can be just as intrusive. And that unchecked vine will grow all the more quickly given the right conditions.

One of the conditions that will allow resentment to spout up that much more wildly is confirmation bias. Unfortunately, confirmation bias is difficult to recognize, but once you become aware of it, you’ll see it around every corner.

We all hold certain viewpoints, certain understandings about the world around us. We tend to notice most keenly those experiences and interactions that reinforce what we believe to be true. The danger comes when we also ignore and discard contrary evidence in the process. This is confirmation bias. Think of it this way: confirmation bias is like a detective who’s already decided who the guilty party is, even before she gathers one shred of evidence.

If you believe your manager doesn’t care about you or your career, your brain will tend to pick up only the clues that prove that point. This process is further reinforced by the omission of information pointing in the other direction. All of this happens subconsciously, which is why confirmation bias can be so insidious. For example, you might ignore your manager’s compliments or words of praise simply because they aren’t consistent with what you already believe. To see things more clearly, you have to consciously shift your perspective. While this may seem tedious, the return on investment in terms of overall performance at work, improved colleague relationships, and your general well-being will be huge.

Keep in mind, everyone has confirmation bias, and this includes your supervisor or manager. So, if your boss believes that you’re not trying very hard, her brain will cherry-pick behaviors of yours that back up that belief. If confirmation bias is causing her to undervalue your efforts, it becomes your job to mitigate that bias. How do you do that? Tool number three can help you.

Tool #3: Don’t Keep Your Resentment Locked Up

Resentment thrives on toxic thoughts that are trapped in your mind, so open the door and let them out. But it’s important to do this the right way, with a special attention to nuance. Marching into your manager’s office and telling her all the reasons you resent being passed over for a promotion will be a disaster. On the other hand, setting up a meeting with the goals of clarifying, connecting, and asking questions will not only help you understand your manager’s perspective, but it will also help you grow in your work.

The key to having these complicated professional conversations is to ground yourself in good intentions. You have to be open, honest, and willing to learn. When having the conversation, be specific; educate your boss about your thought process and your disappointment, but remember that it’s equally important to let your manager share her reasoning as well. Also, keep in mind that this isn’t the time to be defensive (which will only inflame the situation—the exact opposite of what you want.) Listen at least as much as you talk, and make sure you’re listening hard. And when your conversation is over, take a moment to appreciate how much better you feel for having addressed your concerns in a professional manner.

One last analogy: resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will make someone else sick. Instead, harness techniques that can serve as agents for positive change in your professional relationships. Because healthy, mindful, authentic communication will keep you from drinking that poison in the first place.

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