How to Handle a Manager Who Makes You Look Incompetent

How to Handle a Manager Who Makes You Look Incompetent

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Handling your role at your job is a lot of work already, and having a boss who seems to undermine your work could make things downright unbearable. We all hate to hear it, but part of being an adult usually means that walking out the door isn’t an immediately available option. You can learn to cope with such a boss while being excellent at your job, but it may require even more work.

Here’s how to handle a manager who makes you look incompetent:

  1. Don’t let your emotions get the better of you.
  2. Conduct an honest appraisal of your work.
  3. Understand their management style.
  4. Figure out the reason for their behavior.
  5. Identify and avoid their major triggers.
  6. Have a professional conversation to set boundaries.
  7. File a formal complaint.
  8. Don’t let it get to you and keep doing awesome work.
  9. Consider your alternatives and decide whether to leave.

This article will explain in detail how to apply these tips to handling a manager who may be insistent on undermining your work. Keep reading to understand how to work around seeming incompetent!

1. Don’t Let Your Emotions Get the Better of You

When you’re triggered, your first impulse may be to lash out. That’s understandable, but it’s rarely ever the best choice. 

Venting is unhelpful because you need to be analytical with your actions in a work environment. Giving in to the urge to lash out, especially when you don’t have a plan to handle the bigger problem, may end up making your work conditions even worse. 

It could further strain your relationship with your boss or get you reported for insubordination.

Letting your emotions get the best of you won’t do your psyche much good either. According to Jill Sutter, a doctor of psychology, venting your pent-up negative feelings may make you feel better for a short while. However, research has shown that it’s worse for your emotional health in the long run. 

Acting out your emotions without properly addressing the situation strengthens the neural pathways for your anger and makes it easier to get angry the next time around.

Controlling your emotions may seem like a lot of work in the heat of the moment, but neuroscience researcher Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor has found that it takes an average of only 90 seconds to identify an emotion and allow it to dissipate. 

A simple technique like counting to 90 under your breath until you’re calm enough to think and respond clearly could help you handle the situation much better.

2. Conduct an Honest Appraisal of Your Work

Have you ever heard of cognitive bias? The human brain is wired to simplify how complex the world is. That simplification often results in a cognitive bias, which is an unconscious error in how you view situations. 

One type of cognitive bias is the self-serving bias, an error where a person tends to blame their shortcomings on any other external thing asides from themselves.

After getting your emotions in check, the next thing to do is to evaluate yourself honestly. You need to appraise your work performance by logically analyzing your strengths, weaknesses, and accomplishments at work. 

The purpose of assessing your performance is to ensure that you’re not making the error of having a self-serving bias. Sometimes, it’s just easier to convince yourself that your boss has it out for you than to look closer and honestly examine your work.

Understanding your work performance will also help you identify the points where there is a need for improvement. If you have indeed been unfairly treated and you eventually need to file a formal complaint, an appraisal will help you build a solid case for yourself when you tender your complaints.

While assessing your work performance, you could use personal or general workplace goals as metrics. If you have numbers or data to measure your achievements or shortcomings, factor them in. 

Pay particular attention to areas where you may have fallen short, learn from them, and draw up a plan to improve on those areas.

The most important part of your evaluation is ensuring that you are honest and fair when viewing things from your perspective or your boss’s. If you have concerns about evaluating your work yourself, you could get a friend or family member who understands your line of work to help you with the process.

3. Understand Their Leadership and Management Style

Different people have various styles of leading and managing their subordinates. Without even consciously realizing it, your manager could have a commanding, democratic, demanding, communicative, pacesetting, or visionary leadership style. 

A naturally autocratic, demanding manager, for example, may resort to making you feel incompetent because they’re trying to get you to improve.

You’ll want to take note of how your boss interacts with you, your colleagues, their clients, and their superiors. Notice how they communicate, how their mood varies, and the signals they send on the not-so-good days. Understanding your boss’s management style can help you understand their decisions and reactions better. 

It can also help you figure out the best way to communicate with them, what you can realistically expect from them, and why they may act in certain ways.

When you figure out your manager’s leadership style, you should determine whether or not it’s suitable for you. If it’s so incompatible with your person that you can’t work with it, you could talk to them or start to consider your alternatives in other positions within and outside your organization.

4. Figure Out the Reason for Their Behavior

If your manager’s behavior has more to it than their management skill, you may have to dig a little deeper to figure out why they make you look incompetent. If you’re new at the job, you could ask questions from your coworkers who have been there longer, such as: 

  • What was the predecessor on your job like? 
  • Were you hired against your manager’s wishes? 
  • Does your manager have an abusive personality? 
  • Do they treat other people the way they treat you? 
  • Is that the general culture at your company?

If you’ve been on the job for a while, you could mentally run through your manager’s behavior. 

Have they always acted this way? Was there a trigger for this? It’s common for bosses to act harshly towards their employees or subordinates because they’re insecure or transferring some external aggression. 

You should keep an open mind and explore these possibilities to figure out the reason for their behavior.

5. Identify and Avoid Their Major Triggers

Figuring out why your manager makes you look incompetent means you’re one step away from identifying what makes them tick. You should continue to keep track of their behavior to notice what sets them off and steer clear of it. 

Better still, you could pre-empt your manager’s requests and set things up beforehand to minimize friction when you’re at work.

6. Have a Professional Conversation To Set Boundaries

“Good fences make good neighbors.” You’re entitled to a decent, healthy, and reasonably peaceful work environment, so you definitely should not have to take whatever is handed to you. 

If your manager does the following, you may need to set clearer boundaries.

  • Refuses you of the employee benefits you’re due.
  • Overworks you.
  • Fills your time with unnecessary tasks.
  • Blocks you from communicating with your colleagues.
  • Makes work difficult for you. 

The easiest, most upfront way to set boundaries is through honest conversation. 

You could schedule a meeting with your manager to discuss your challenges working with them. Table your complaints in a professional, non-confrontational manner, communicate tactfully, and be open to understanding your manager’s perspective of those issues.

Be careful not to get caught up in a professional web. Be cautious with your words, and don’t be swayed off-balance. As you discuss the issues you have, make sure you reach an understanding with your manager, map out the way forward, and clearly state how you’d prefer to work.

7. File a Formal Complaint

A conversation may solve the problem of miscommunication or misinterpretation, but it’s almost impossible that it’ll be any help with bigotry, bullying, or harassment problems. If your manager refuses to have a conversation or flippantly dismisses your complaints, it may be time to take the issue one step further.

Filing a formal complaint at your company’s HR department is a decision you should take with great care, so you might consider speaking to your attorney first. You’ll need a concrete plan to build a watertight case, so don’t rush into things. 

Review your company’s HR policy and document as many specific facts and tangible evidence as you can get before filing your complaint.

8. Don’t Let It Get to You and Keep Doing Awesome Work

Nobody can take away your competence, even if you’re not getting enough credit for it at the moment. While you’re trying to improve your work conditions, don’t let any of the negativity get to you. Focus on your passion for your work, and let the positive parts of your job keep you going.

Keep your chin up and continue to do your awesome work.

9. Consider Your Alternatives and Decide Whether To Leave

A disturbingly high fraction of one in five American workers are victims of verbal abuse, bullying, harassment, and threats at their jobs. If your manager makes you look incompetent because your work conditions are inherently abusive, there may be little you can do to change that.

You should start to weigh your alternatives as early as possible. Make a decision on when to leave, figure out a plan for how to do it, and take appropriate legal action, if necessary.


When you have a manager that always seems to make you look incompetent, it might seem very difficult to bring up the topic. But if you don’t, it could jeopardize your job and your self-esteem. Be sure to follow the tips in this article to make your job just a little easier.