“Competence is a great creator of confidence.” – May Jo Putney, Author.
When your boss makes you feel incompetent, it can slowly but surely chip away at your confidence, leading you to second-guess yourself and perform poorly at work.
Despite your best intentions, you may feel demotivated, anxious, and even depressed. If you feel like your boss doesn’t see the value you bring, it’s natural to start questioning yourself.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when your boss makes you feel incompetent. However, we share 14 tips that can make things a little better.
What To Do When Your Boss Makes You Feel Incompetent
Here are a few things you can try to manage and address the situation.
#1. Practice empathetic listening.
Most of the time, your first instinct is to be understood. This means that when someone is speaking, especially if it’s a criticism, you automatically want to defend yourself.
While that is perfectly normal and understandable, it often leads to not fully understanding what your boss is saying or interrupting them so you can avoid the discomfort of receiving negative comments. Other times, you may want to placate your boss by instantly agreeing with them without completely comprehending the points they’re trying to make.
Instead of quickly dismissing feedback with a quick response, practice empathetic listening or trying to listen with the primary intention of understanding. This allows you to process all the information, not just the part when your boss makes you feel incompetent.
#2. Identify the root cause.
Unless your boss is on a power trip, your superior has reasons for their dissatisfaction. As difficult as it seems, try and understand where they’re coming from.
Is your boss being pressured by his or her immediate supervisor? Do you have a history of failing to meet deadlines? If you failed to fulfill certain responsibilities before, how did it impact your boss and your team?
Take a closer look at the situation and the events behind it, including your boss’ motivations and behaviors. Once you know the root cause, you can have a more objective perspective instead of an emotional one.
#3. Be mentally prepared to confront the issue.
Be ready to confront the problem and not the person. Based on the data you’ve gathered, start making a list of the points you want to clarify and emphasize.
#4. Request a conversation with your boss.
It’s better to settle this professionally, so have a discussion within your work environment. Don’t settle for a “let’s take this conversation outside” conversation. Once you’re able to sit down with your supervisor, clarify why you requested a meeting and what you hope to accomplish together.
Before the conversation, be calm, avoid overthinking, and be prepared. The first thing you need to tell your boss is the problem and confirm how it can be resolved. Finally, negotiate and agree on a compromise. Remember to be proactive during the meeting to achieve an amicable resolution.
Upon reaching a compromise, ensure the communication lines remain open. You and your boss can catch up every week or twice a month to assess how things are doing, identify what else needs to be worked on, and possibly address setbacks.
Be open to recommendations and possible changes that need to happen. Talk about any improvements and appreciate small wins in your work relationship.
#6. Proactively encourage growth.
Don’t give your boss an opportunity to find another reason to make you feel less than. Be proactive in ensuring that you grow in skills and knowledge.
Today, most companies offer online training and webinars that you can participate in and complete at your own pace. Take advantage of these opportunities and invest in yourself.
#7. Be aware of your strengths.
Being looked down on is never a pleasant feeling, especially in a competitive workplace. One way to deflect the way your boss is making you feel is to ensure that you highlight your strong points.
Reflect and be fully aware of your strengths. Then, articulate them and be specific. For example, if you’re good with presentations, does that mean you’re a whiz at putting a deck together, or are you better at speaking in front of people and getting their buy-in?
You can make a list so you have a visual reminder of what you do best. This list can also serve as motivation to become even better and prove your boss wrong.
#8. Own your opportunities.
Despite your strengths, you also have to admit that there are still areas for improvement. After all, no one is perfect. Own them and never make excuses about your lack of skills in certain areas. Accountability is a sign of strength and character.
Once you’re aware of them, be proactive in gradually turning these weaknesses into strengths. You can observe how it’s correctly done, learn about it in theory, and practice what you’ve learned by volunteering for certain projects. There are plenty of ways to become good at something as long as you’re determined.
#9. Adjust your perspective.
When your boss makes you feel incompetent, it’s natural to react with an emotional response. As difficult as it is, you need to look at the situation once your emotions have calmed. The more emotional you become, the more mistakes you make. This can fuel and exacerbate situations when your boss makes you feel incompetent.
Will you call out your boss on the spot? Or will you give yourself time to think about it first from a different perspective?
Even if you think you’re doing the right thing, your first response in the heat of the moment is often not the right one.
#10. Be kind to yourself and learn self-compassion.
If your boss remains insensitive to how their behaviors and words impact you, don’t belittle yourself further and make everything your fault. Sure, you commit mistakes and cause setbacks, but learn from them. Don’t dwell on them.
Admonish yourself, but be kind to yourself and always practice self-compassion. This is you being forgiving to yourself when you do something right and a reminder not to make negativism your general view of life. Dr. Kristin Neff describes self-compassion as being “understanding rather than harshly self-critical when you fail, make mistakes, or feel inadequate.”
#11. Take initiative and rise to the challenge.
When your boss is making you question your capabilities and you feel demoralized, rise to the occasion and make it a personal challenge. Create new goals and set a timeline for when you want to unlock new skills. Push yourself to ensure that you meet and exceed professional and personal expectations.
#12. Make your presence felt.
Your boss may see you differently if you present yourself in a more confident fashion. So, be engaged and actively participate in the workplace. It’s time to stop being in the shadows. Make sure to highlight your contributions and ideas so your superiors and workmates know what you bring to the table.
#13. Involve HR.
If you’ve exhausted all efforts to talk to your boss and continue to feel incompetent because of your superior, it may be necessary to involve HR and file a formal complaint.
This will involve a thorough investigation. It is your chance to provide proof of when, where, and how your boss made you feel incompetent. You have to clarify to HR how your manager’s approach negatively impacted your work and morale.
Should you decide that this is the only course of action, be prepared for the possibility that it might lead to the further deterioration of your relationship with your boss. So, be sure you have a valid complaint that you can raise. Review your employee handbook carefully for guidelines and offenses that your boss committed.
Since it will be documented, you should also anticipate that it could become part of your and your manager’s employee profiles.
Despite your best efforts, your boss remains hostile and unsupportive. It may be time to find another job. Don’t sacrifice your mental health because your immediate supervisor doesn’t value you. If you like the company and your boss is the only problem, consider asking HR for a transfer where you can report to someone else.
Interestingly, statistics tell us that over 57% of employees leave their jobs because of their bosses so realize that you’re not alone.
A Few Parting Words
When your boss makes you feel incompetent, it can take the joy out of your life. Try these 14 tips that we recommend. If all else fails, consider moving to another company or team. Many people are unhappy with their jobs because of how they’re treated by their managers. If you’re one of them, know that you can take control of the situation and even leave.