Ugh, there’s no worse feeling than when your boss makes you feel incompetent at your job. When our boss makes you feel inadequate in any way, dealing with the accompanying feelings of devaluation and self-doubt can be extremely tough. It can also be challenging to understand if your boss is trying to help you improve or intimating that they want you to leave the company. Whatever the case, we hope to shed some light on this challenging situation and offer tips to work through it.
What to do when your boss makes you feel incompetent?
When your boss makes you feel incompetent or inadequate, the best way forward is to seek to understand, then to be understood, own your mistakes, challenge yourself to improve your current role or seek employment elsewhere.
A manager may make you feel incompetent because of their lack of leadership or emotional intelligence, inability to deliver construction criticism or an overall toxic work environment from top to bottom. Further, it can fuel the fire when their employees lack professionalism, show minimal effort, or are unwilling to clean up their mistakes. Whatever the case, your boss making you feel incompetent is terrible, and it’s okay to take it personally. Still, it would be best to address it one way or another to move forward for a fulfilling career.
What are signs your boss wants you to leave?
Clear signs your boss wants you to leave are when they micromanage you, constantly disagree with you, don’t give you more responsibilities, speak down to you, don’t acknowledge your achievements, exclude you from interactions with other team members, stop providing feedback, give your work to someone else, ask you to document your work more often, and write you up.
If your manager finds fault with everything you do, even if you’re trying your best, you are likely under a lot of pressure and wondering what to do next. Understanding why this happens, how best to handle the situation, and how to determine the best path forward for your career and personal life is essential. This blog post will discuss some strategies for feeling incompetent at work and how to move forward at your current company or look elsewhere where the grass may be greener.
10 Things to Do When Your Boss Makes You Feel Incompetent
When a boss demeans or belittles their employees, most or all working-class members will feel uneasy at work.
Finding a career path and an encouraging and challenging supervisor is extremely important. Abuse, demotion, or undermining from your superior is unacceptable; it will inevitably harm your mood.
Instead of suffering in silence from the disapproval coming from your manager’s perception of your incompetence, it is preferable to seek a solution actively. Your mental health, relationships with coworkers, and work ethic will all suffer if you do nothing. Not to mention, it could lower your self-esteem.
Here are some suggestions on steps you can take to cope when your boss makes you feel incompetent.
1. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
The wise words from Dr. Steve R. Covey work for leaders and those trying to be great employees but dealing with the kind of manager that can’t communicate effectively.
Seek First to understand, then to be understood involves a profound paradigm shift. We typically seek first to be understood. Instead, most people listen to the reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak.
Empathic listening is listening with the intent to understand. Empathic listening is powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with. It takes time, but nowhere near the time it takes to back up and correct misunderstandings when you’re already miles down the road.
Once you realize your boss’ actions are damaging your sense of self-worth and creating self-doubt, you should take steps to address the situation by having a discussion. Start by understanding where they’re coming from regarding your job competence. Good bosses will appreciate your willingness to understand where you’re falling short in your current job and may note that they could’ve handled things differently. Consider inviting a neutral party to the meeting if you feel the discussion could escalate into an unpleasant situation. Whether alone or with someone else, question your boss nicely about where he thinks you went wrong in dispersing your responsibilities.
The key is to be courteous when seeking to understand and, when appropriate, strive to be understood regarding the situation.
2. Take it Personally
Bad managers tend to have low confidence and project that insecurity onto their staff. For this reason, you should take a deep breath, gain some perspective from your boss’ criticisms, and grow from it. “Don’t take it personally” is terrible work advice.
It’s a sentiment we have all often heard in work contexts:
Don’t take it personally” or “Hey, it’s not personal; it’s business.” I’ve heard it said about feedback, conflict, difficult conversations, restructuring, losing deals, collaboration, career ups, and downs — all kinds of daily workplace issues.
And yet it’s an absurd idea.
Work is the place where I’m going to spend the bulk of my waking hours — indeed, the majority of my life — and yet I’m not supposed to take it personally? I should accept the idea that the bulk of my life from twentysomething to sixtysomething is somehow not personal?
Don’t beat yourself up about it. Don’t overly introject this as a failure that is a representation of your value and worth as a person. Your life and your career are not defined by this.
But do be disappointed. Do be frustrated. Do seek to understand what happened. Do seek to know if you could develop your management and leadership. Do seek to learn from this experience.
3. Take a Reality Check
Ensure that it’s your superior causing your low self-esteem or uncertainty at work. Insecurities often lead people to believe others are trying to bring them down. You can ensure this by conducting an introspective self-assessment to determine if you lack any necessary skills to carry out the duties of your position effectively and to the standards set forth by your superiors.
You can also find out by asking and actively listening to your coworkers about your work attitude and performance.
A leader who listens well does so with active, not reactive, listening. This helps to filter any criticism and find the facts. Then you can respond appropriately, cutting out the drama.
If the issue seems to originate from a lack of knowledge or ability, whether technical, professional, or social, then you should work to improve those areas. If so, try supplementing your current skills by enrolling in training programs.
4. Own Your Mistakes
It’s okay to feel stupid on the job once in a while. Inconvenient as it may be, we must all face the repercussions of our actions, which is something we are all too familiar with. However, taking responsibility for your actions is a terrific way to restore your confidence if your supervisor constantly belittles you. When you own up to your mistakes, you show that you are willing to develop professionally. Moreover, you’re sending a message to your superior that you’re eager to go the extra mile to excel in your position.
Researchers found that people who think they can learn from their errors may have a different reaction in their brain to mistakes than those who don’t expect to learn from their mistakes.
Setbacks happen to everyone, but how you react to them determines your progress. If you transform your failure into a growth experience, you can effectively own your mistakes in the workplace. You can recover from this situation and improve regardless of who is at fault.
5. Build a Support Network
It’s tough to take on a challenge by yourself when your boss constantly undermines your confidence. However, having friends and coworkers who have our backs makes us less dependent on our manager’s approval.
When we’re feeling down, these people can help lift our spirits by listening to us and providing constructive feedback and advice. If you’re having trouble at work, it can help to talk to people you trust about it. They might have resources you didn’t know about, like sound advice and encouragement.
Unless the workload you are feeling is also being felt by all of your colleagues right now, start by going to them for help. Keep the following in mind:
- They will feel flattered. Asking someone for help indicates to that person that you see them as having something of value to offer.
- Study after study has shown that people have an innate desire to be helpful; they want to lend you a hand.
6. Practice Self-Compassion at Work
It’s easy to doubt our abilities and beat ourselves up when a boss makes us feel like a failure. Being kind to yourself is crucial in caring for your needs, and self-compassion can be helpful when facing these emotions. Self-compassion entails being gentle and forgiving when you screw up, taking stock of your actions, identifying what went wrong, and working to prevent a recurrence.
The ability to practice self-compassion can improve one’s sense of self-worth and confidence and strengthen one when facing opposition.
So what is self-compassion at work? It isn’t beating yourself up over every mistake you make. It’s common to be upset with yourself if you make a mistake, but diminishing your self-worth isn’t okay. Self-compassion at work happens when you allow yourself to be vulnerable as you reflect on your strengths and weaknesses.
You should display self-kindness with a growth mindset for the sake of your growth and well-being. Use your self-awareness to better understand yourself as a Whole Person and learn how to be a thoughtful employee.
7. Play to Your Strengths
When your supervisor is always picking at your work, even in a new job, dwelling on your wrongdoings is tempting. Remember your many excellent qualities by listing all the things you excel at doing. Remember when a good manager or others praised you for increasing your confidence in yourself and your talents?
Ways to play to your strengths include:
- Which activities are the most satisfying or fulfilling for you? What energizes you at work?
- What tasks do your colleagues come to you for help with? What types of work do you get the most praise for?
- When you look up from your work to find that two hours have flown by, what kind of projects are you working on? What skills or abilities are you using when you feel most “in the zone?”
- What kinds of activities do you do when you’re not at work? What types of hobbies or volunteer work do you do? Organizing events? Building relationships?
8. Challenge Yourself and Take Initiative
When your boss makes you feel incompetent, it is more likely that you’ll feel demoralized, and a great way to rise up is to set personal challenges. Do this by noting goals you want to achieve or new skills you want to learn within a particular timeframe.
Consider pushing yourself more if your daily job routine engulfs you in the ugly black hole of boredom. By engaging with new projects or considering novel opportunities, you will be able to challenge your strengths and learn practical ways to work in different environments.
9. Report the Issue to the Human Resources
Human resources often act as a go-between for employees and their employers. A big part of their job is to look out for the company’s best interests, and filing a report and taking acceptable measures in your case might be necessary. After analyzing your situation, a trip to the HR department to speak with a representative can help you determine if your complaint has merit.
Every situation is different, so here are some ways to help you determine if you should go to HR regarding an issue with your boss.
When you must go to HR:
- If there is illegal conduct concerning how you are being treated in the workplace.
- If you want to take advantage of government protection.
- If you notice anything else illegal going on. Health and safety violations? Regulatory violations? HR isn’t necessarily the right place to go, but they will know what you should do.
- You have a problem with or question about your company-provided health insurance.
When you must NOT go to HR:
- You’ve done nothing to solve the problem yourself.
- When you’re actually the problem.
- When you haven’t done your homework.
- You want other people to change.
When going to HR depends on the company and the HR person.
- When your complaint is not over something illegal, and the perpetrator is high-level.
- When you want guidance on your career.
- When you want to talk about something “off the record.”
- You want to talk about something that will affect the company.
- You’re having personal problems. Again, sometimes HR can help, and sometimes they cannot.
10. Start Looking For Another Job
Working in an environment where you don’t feel appreciated and valued is unsuitable for you, your health, or your career; therefore, if this keeps happening, start looking for alternative employment. Try to find work in fields that interest you. Sometimes, it’s best to leverage your at-will employment status, quit, and move forward with your career. In others, resigning from your current position makes more sense once you are accepted to the new one.
Reasons Why Your Boss Makes You Feel Incompetent
Understanding your boss’ motivation for making you feel incompetent is the first step toward overcoming their attempts to undermine your confidence. Probable causes of your boss’s behavior include:
Perhaps your supervisor means well when they make you feel incompetent but lack the skills to do so effectively. Some supervisors may be harsh in their criticism to spur you on to tremendous success.
Perhaps your manager has noted that you could further benefit from honing a particular ability. They might try to make you feel stupid, so you’ll study harder or work harder.
They may also believe in your inherent greatness and encourage you to develop it to its fullest extent. It’s difficult to hear criticism of this nature. Remember that the motivation behind it is good-natured.
Less effective leaders can be highly insecure in their roles. Instead of addressing the underlying root of their insecurity, such people often resort to tactics that amplify those feelings. You might not have much say if your supervisor uses that method to overcome their underlying issues. It would help if you were sympathetic and understanding. And do what you can to aid them.
If your boss has an aggressive personality, your entire world may collapse even if you do good work. Bad bosses take pleasure in bringing others down and giving them the impression that they could instantly lose their job. Toxic bosses like this want you to feel uncomfortable no matter what you accomplish or who you are; they will lead you to believe it’s never good enough.
Your firm’s culture may be to blame for your boss’ insecurities and will, in turn, take a toll on you and your colleagues in the long run. The corporation may take an “only the strong will survive” approach to the workplace. They would like it if all of their employees had the same thick skin. Feel free to force yourself to do something you’re comfortable with as you embark on your adventure. You can spend your working hours anywhere you like. An employer will pay you through a job contract in exchange for your services. You’re perfectly within your rights to take steps toward resolving your employment dissatisfaction. It would be best to get on that immediately for your mental health and well-being.
Signs Your Boss Wants You to Leave
What is a clear sign your boss wants you to leave? Below are some telltale signs that moving on from your current role might be best.
- They micromanage you
- They constantly disagree with you
- They don’t give you more responsibilities
- They speak down to you
- They don’t acknowledge your achievements
- They exclude you from interactions with other team members
- They stop providing feedback
- They give your work to someone else
- They ask you to document your work more often,
- They write you up.
Genuine feedback focuses on specific tasks and provides constructive suggestions for improvement. If your boss consistently uses derogatory language or belittles you, it might indicate a problem.
Signs of a toxic boss include excessive micromanagement, inconsistent communication, favoritism, public humiliation, and not valuing your opinions or ideas.
First, reflect on the situation. Isolate specific aspects that made you feel incompetent and consider seeking clarification from your boss. Communicate openly about your concerns and ask for guidance on improvement.
Yes, it's possible. Some bosses have a direct communication style that may come across as harsh. However, consistent belittling and lack of support indicate a toxic environment.
If you've tried addressing the issue with your boss and the behavior persists, or if the behavior is affecting your mental well-being and work performance, it's appropriate to involve HR or a higher-up.
Focus on your accomplishments and strengths. Seek feedback from colleagues or mentors who appreciate your work. Engage in activities outside of work that boost your confidence.
Yes, but do so professionally. Choose a private and calm setting, use "I" statements to express your feelings, and request clear expectations and guidance for improvement.
If your boss's behavior persists and negatively impacts your well-being, consider discussing the matter with HR or seeking alternative job opportunities. Prioritize your mental health and career growth.
When Your Boss Makes You Feel Incompetent Summary
Sometimes, a less effective leader, such as an incompetent boss, doesn’t know how to deliver negative feedback without belittling you, but they still want you to stay on board. In other cases, they show signs of wanting you to leave the company by acting indifferent toward you, not informing you of important meetings, or excluding you from organization-wide decisions. Knowing what to look for when you suspect a manager wants you to leave can allow you to respond appropriately and maintain positive personal feelings and mental and physical health.
If your manager finds fault with everything you do, you are likely under a lot of pressure and wondering what you should do next. When your boss makes you feel incompetent, the best thing you can do is seek to understand, then to be understood, own your mistakes, challenge yourself to improve your current role or seek employment elsewhere.