Having a boss who undercuts everything you do and makes it seem as though you’re not accomplishing anything no matter how hard you work is one of the worst workplace experiences you can have.
Things to Do When Your Boss Makes You Feel Incompetent
- 1. Evaluate their behavior from other people’s perspective
- 2. Do a reality check on yourself
- 3. Try not to take it personally
- 4. Ensure you understand what your role entails
- 5. Understand your boss’ management and communication style
- 6. Find out the specific issues they have with your performance
- 7. Ask what you can do to improve
- 8. Work on building the skills you’re lacking
- 9. Keep doing your best work
- 10. Be more assertive
- 11. Remain calm and respectful
- 12. Refute their assertions with facts
- 13. Advocate for yourself and your achievements
- 14. Call them out on their behavior
- 15. Motivate and validate yourself
- 16. Find solace in your support network
- 17. Keep a record of their behavior
- 18. Make a formal complaint to human resources
- 19. Go to someone higher up in the company for help
- 20. Prioritize yourself and your mental health
- 21. Consider jumping ship
There are many ways your boss can go about undermining your abilities. They can do it by micromanaging your every move, being condescending to you, speaking over you, verbally harassing you, criticizing everything, or refusing to give you any constructive feedback.
If your boss’ actions are making you feel incompetent and disillusioned with your job, you don’t have to throw your hands up in defeat and just accept your fate.
In this post, I’m going to walk you through some things you can do to improve the situation so you can get ahead at work and be content with your work environment.
Things to Do When Your Boss Makes You Feel Incompetent
1. Evaluate their behavior from other people’s perspective
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The first thing you need to do is take a step back and figure out if you’re the only one your boss treats this way or whether it’s a general occurrence. Talk to your coworkers to see if they share the same feelings and find out what they think about the situation.
If it’s a shared feeling across the board, then you might just need to toughen up your skin and try to keep the toxicity from getting to you.
It could also be that your boss is a bigot and you’re being specifically targeted because of your gender, race, religion, or other protected characteristics.
In this case, you need to talk to other coworkers in the same group to see if they’ve had a similar experience. If the answer is yes, you need to start gathering evidence because their behavior constitutes discrimination that is prohibited by law.
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2. Do a reality check on yourself
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Could it be that your boss is making you feel incompetent because you have been guilty of incompetence?
It can be difficult to admit your failings or that you have underperformed, but this kind of introspection is necessary to figure out if your boss has a point or not.
Put yourself in your boss’ shoes and try to see where they might be coming from. Have you been missing deadlines, showing up to meetings unprepared, arriving at work late, sleeping at your desk, or taking really long breaks?
Do you have too much on your plate keeping you from completing urgent tasks on time? Or maybe you just don’t have the training to accomplish the tasks assigned to you?
If you’ve done some honest self-evaluation and you realize there’s some truth to what your boss is saying, take the necessary steps to fix the issue and make your boss happy before it costs you your job.
3. Try not to take it personally
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If you know that you’ve not done anything wrong to warrant your boss’ treatment of you, you can try to empathize and understand that their actions have nothing to do with you.
It could be that your boss is insecure about their own competence or worried about you stealing their job so they’re trying to cut you down to prevent that outcome.
They might also just be having a bad day that’s clouding their judgment and causing them to lash out at you. Or maybe they’re dealing with a lot of pressure from their superiors or the realities of running a business, and they’re taking out their frustrations on you.
Sometimes, bosses are overly critical of you because they’re trying to push you to be better. They don’t really think you’re incompetent, but they believe you’re not reaching your full potential.
4. Ensure you understand what your role entails
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Maybe the reason your boss is having a problem with your performance is because you’re not clear on what your role is about and what your responsibilities are.
If you don’t know what is expected of you, you won’t be able to tell when you’re underperforming or when your boss is erroneously expanding the scope of your role.
If your company has a role clarity framework or document, it’s time to consult it to understand what your duties are. If not, you need to have a sit down with your boss to clarify the responsibilities they expect you to handle and note it all down.
This way, the next time your boss criticizes your work, you can show that you’ve been meeting up with your role responsibilities based on what’s stated in the documentation.
Also Read: Am I Getting Fired Or Just Paranoid? – Signs Your Job Is At Risk
5. Understand your boss’ management and communication style
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You can get in your boss’ good graces, respond more effectively to their expectations, and save yourself a lot of headaches by simply adapting to the way they work or like to do things.
Pay attention to how your boss thinks, leads, and communicates and try to do things their way. If you know that they prefer being kept in the loop, include them in your processes, decisions, and project executions.
If they prefer detailed memos and in-person conversations over email over-communication, do that.
Aligning yourself with your boss’ style of doing things will ensure you’re on the same page more often than not. They will more readily recognize your efforts because it matches their expectations and preferences.
6. Find out the specific issues they have with your performance
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If your manager is making you feel incompetent, you need to find out exactly what issue they have with you. So ask questions to clarify what you’ve done wrong and what they expect of you.
Ask your boss to give you specific examples of how you or your performance has fallen short of expectations. Ask them what they would like you to do differently next time around.
By asking these questions, it shows that you’re interested in seeing things from your boss’ perspective and finding solutions to the issue so the situation doesn’t repeat itself. If your boss has valid criticisms, they won’t hesitate to share them with you.
But if they were just going at you out of pettiness or some other illogical motive, their reluctance or inability to answer your questions will make this evident.
Also Read: Simple Resignation Letter Examples
7. Ask what you can do to improve
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If your boss has valid reasons to criticize your performance, ask them what steps you can take to improve your work.
With their help, you can create a development plan that maps out what skills you want to build, the goals you should be working towards, and the timelines for accomplishing these set objectives.
You can even volunteer for further training by attending workshops or taking online courses to acquire the knowledge you might be lacking. You can even ask your boss to recommend a training program that you can take to help address their concerns.
By showing your manager that you’re committed to addressing the issue they have with you and following up with them to review your progress, you can improve the way they see you.
They’ll be less inclined to treat you like you are clueless if they can see the actions you’re taking to prioritize your work.
Also Read: Exit Interview Tips To Talk Out Bad Boss & Toxic Workplace
8. Work on building the skills you’re lacking
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If you’re dealing with an unsupportive boss who expects you to figure things out on your own, then you need to independently come up with a personal development plan for yourself.
Decide what skills you need to work on based on your manager’s criticisms, then find a mentor to coach you in those areas or sign up for training and courses.
Find little opportunities to practice your new skills or behaviors until you get more accustomed to them.
For example, if your boss has criticized your public speaking ability and you’re working on improving it, you don’t have to volunteer to be a panelist at a large conference to test your skill.
You can start by offering to lead team meetings, and speaking to individual customers. Or even giving presentations to your colleagues or friends and listening to their feedback.
Also Read: Thank You Messages For Your Boss
9. Keep doing your best work
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The last thing you want to do is let your boss’ lack of appreciation for your efforts keep you from putting in your one hundred percent.
Doing shoddy work is not going to teach your boss a lesson, but it’ll give them the ammunition that they didn’t have before and add legitimacy to their complaints.
So what if your boss acts like you’re a waste of space? They haven’t fired you yet, so clearly you’re not as bad as they say.
Just keep your head down and focus on your work. Let your expertise and accomplishments speak for you because your boss can call you incompetent every day of the week but they can’t argue with results.
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10. Be more assertive
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Bullies tend to target people they think are weak and unlikely to stand up to them. Sitting meekly and letting your boss speak over you, thrash your work, and call you unprintable names is only going to encourage them to keep picking on you.
So don’t cower or respond to their behavior with fear. Be assertive. Hold your head up and refuse to be intimidated if you know their criticisms lack substance.
Don’t give them the satisfaction of seeing you break. Instead, ask clarifying questions to understand where they’re coming from and what they expect from you.
If your boss sees that you’re not going to play their game, they might modify their behavior or find someone else to pick on.
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11. Remain calm and respectful
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When your boss is lashing out at you or putting you down, you might be tempted to respond by raising your own voice or getting equally emotional. But reacting angrily will only worsen the situation and make it seem as though your boss has a point even when they don’t.
Take deep breaths before reacting and try to keep your cool. Don’t sink to their level by rewarding their antics with a negative reaction.
Remind yourself that their behavior is about them, not you, and think of the situation as a learning experience. Learning to maintain composure and remain professional when dealing with difficult people will only make you a better employee and leader down the road.
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12. Refute their assertions with facts
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If your boss is constantly bashing the work you do or mentioning what you’ve failed to do, start documenting every task you do so you can come at them with facts the next time they try to brand you incompetent.
Keep a note of what you do, when you did it, who you did it for, everyone involved in the project, and the reason for any delays or missed deadlines.
You can even take it a step further by arranging a five to ten-minute meeting with your boss daily where you talk about what you’ve achieved and the current tasks you’re working on for accountability.
In addition, feel free to point out any flaws, contradictions, or inconsistencies in your manager’s claims or reasoning. If they’re harassing you for something someone or everyone does and have received no complaints for, point out the double standard.
13. Advocate for yourself and your achievements
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Since letting your work speak for you isn’t doing the trick, it might be time for you to start shining a bright light on your accomplishments. Don’t just get things done quietly, make sure your boss is aware of what you’re doing.
Speak up in meetings more, help your colleagues when you can, and be the person everyone counts on to tackle problems successfully. Keep a running list of the responsibilities you’ve taken on and the tasks you have completed.
If your boss fails to see the value of some of the activities you spend time on, explain how they contribute positively to the organization.
Tie your achievements to hard numbers so they can better understand how productive and effective you are.
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14. Call them out on their behavior
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Your boss may be unaware that their actions have been making you feel inadequate and unappreciated at work. This is why you need to meet with them and have a non-confrontational conversation about what has been happening.
Prepare what you’re going to say before the meeting so you don’t get blindsided by emotions. Explain what you’ve noticed about their behavior towards you and your work with specific examples.
Discuss how their comments and actions are affecting you and how you would prefer they go about handling things in the future.
Keep in mind that your boss might not be willing to accept their errors and embrace change so make sure you’re prepared for the potential fallout that may follow.
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15. Motivate and validate yourself
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Sure, it’d be amazing if you were valued for the good work that you do. But if that’s not happening, it’s time to shift the source of your validation from external to internal.
Rather than waiting around for your boss to change their attitude towards you, take them out of the equation completely.
Focus on doing great work because it makes you excellent in your field, helps you gain new skills and experiences, and sets you up as a prized candidate when you start job-seeking again.
Be your own cheerleader. When you finalize a project, give yourself a pat on the back. Celebrate your wins by rewarding yourself with something nice like a gift or time off.
Doing these things will help you find joy in your work and keep you motivated even when your boss tries to cut you down.
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16. Find solace in your support network
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Banish the feelings of incompetence you get from your boss by fortifying yourself with people who tell and show you that you are valuable and worthy. Understand that your boss’ statements about you are not facts and you don’t have to dwell on them.
Fall into the arms and good graces of friends, family members, and coworkers who care about you and support you. Grab lunch with them, call them and let them quickly reassure you whenever you need it, and hang out with them after work to detox your mind.
Constantly remind yourself of your achievements to boost your self-esteem and keep from buying into your boss’ false reality.
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17. Keep a record of their behavior
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Document every incident where your boss intentionally and maliciously belittled you. You’re going to need the records if you decide to escalate the issue to HR, sue for illegal discrimination, or explain that you resigned under duress if you decide to walk away from the company.
If you felt horrible or broke down after an encounter with your boss, write down exactly what they said to you and the events that led to it. You don’t want to base your complaint on just feelings and recollections alone, you need hard evidence that you can reference.
You need to be able to show exactly how your boss has treated you. Having this kind of evidence could also prevent the boss in question from taking retaliatory action against you for coming forward or speaking up about their toxic behavior.
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18. Make a formal complaint to human resources
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Suppose you’ve addressed the situation directly and made efforts to resolve it but your boss refuses to modify their behavior. In that case, it might be time to submit an official complaint with the HR department and your union rep if you have one.
This strategy would be more effective if you work in a large company that is owned and run by people other than your boss.
Your HR personnel might not have as much sway if your boss is the one paying their salaries. He can simply refuse to comply with their suggestions and punish you even further, or even fire you.
Submit the documentation you’ve kept of your boss’ behavior including recordings, emails, pictures, witness statements, and more along with your complaint to make it more legitimate.
19. Go to someone higher up in the company for help
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Rather than filing a complaint with HR, you can take the issue to someone higher up on the management chain than your boss.
Report your boss’ behavior to them and explain that you’ve been having trouble managing your relationship with them as a result.
Ask them to help you mediate the situation with your boss or offer some suggestions on guidance on how to deal with your boss’ constant put-downs.
The superior should be able to offer practical solutions or take disciplinary actions against your boss where necessary.
20. Prioritize yourself and your mental health
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Working with a manager who makes you feel like you can’t do anything right will certainly take a toll on you because you’re dealing with a very stressful situation. If you’re not careful, it can lead to burnout and cause your mental and physical health to deteriorate.
It’s important that you make time for yourself to destress and recover so you can live to fight another day. If you can, take time off from work and go on a vacation or do things that bring you joy.
If it’s not possible to take time off, invest in regular self-care. Go for walks, visit a spa, have a relaxing bath, take pottery classes, or read books you enjoy. Just find ways to relax and feel good.
21. Consider jumping ship
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If despite your best efforts to work through the situation, you are still made to feel incompetent at work, it may be time to start planning your exit.
Apart from the toxic nature of the work environment, there’s also the fact that your boss’ refusal to acknowledge your achievements will limit your career growth opportunities within the company.
Looking outside for a new role will not only work wonders for your well-being, but it will also set you up to succeed professionally.
Working with a boss who is overly critical of your work to the point where you feel inadequate can leave you frustrated, confused, and emotionally distressed.
These strategies can help you take control and overcome the situation so you can derive maximum safety and satisfaction from your job.
Cassie Riley has a passion for all things marketing and social media. She is a wife, mother, and entrepreneur. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, language, music, writing, and unicorns. Cassie is a lifetime learner, and loves to spend time attending classes, webinars, and summits.