Does Your Boss Make You Feel Stupid? Here Are Some Tips

Does Your Boss Make You Feel Stupid? Here Are Some Tips September 17, 2010


Every day people land on my Blog by typing this desperate phrase into their Google search bar:

“My Boss Makes Me Feel Like an Idiot.”

This good Google fortune is driven from a couple of posts I wrote dealing with the subject of “feeling stupid at work.” These have led to numerous comments, private emails, and even some behind-the-scenes counseling from good people in bad situations looking for some advice.

Apparently, I have captured a micro-audience of tortured souls dealing with the unpleasant challenge of facing a brutish boss every day.

Welcome, friends.

Their story is almost always the same: a once-confident worker is suddenly thrust into a new situation with an intimidating boss, and instead of rising to the challenge, a downward spiral ensues of little mistakes, negative self-talk, more fumbling, obsessive rumination and complete loss of confidence. Leading to a search on the internet to figure out what to do.

I know it might be hard to believe, but almost everyone I know has had this kind of experience at some point in their career. The arrogant boss, the feeling of being singled out, the intimidation and negative self-talk, the jealousy towards all the suck-ups around you – it’s all part of the strange hazing known as Your Career Development.

So how does one handle a boss who makes you feel stupid? Here are some suggestions, from an expert.

1. Dial Down Those Negative Thoughts! Your first order of business is to manage yourself, and quick. This negative self-talk is spinning out of control, and your other half (the real, better you) must step in and take charge, immediately. The thing is, you probably build things up in your own mind much greater than the situation calls for, and it is rarely as bad as your inner loser is telling you it is. Try not to generalize the negativity to your entire life.

When those negative voices start taking over, give them the boot with positive affirmations. Remind yourself of all the great things you have accomplished. Get with someone who will tell you how great you are. Or, do what I do, which is to furiously write them down into a notebook that no one will ever see. Then I go back a few weeks later to look at what I wrote, and think, “Ha, Ha, wasn’t that funny how I got so worked up over that little thing!”

2. It’s not you! Some people are just plain mean. But in my experience, if you are feeling the chill from an intimidating boss, then others up and down the organization are, too. And it usually comes back to haunt the bad boss later on. Hold your head up, and give it time. Keep showing up every day and looking for opportunities to shine. If you can, find an ally outside of your boss’s realm, in another department, who you can appreciate your smarts and who can back you up in the future.

3. Surround yourself with encouragers. Time to get out of your self-loathing cocoon. When you are feeling stupid, it’s usually easier to run away and hide under a rock – or cubicle. But instead, take initiative and get support and advice from others. Start meeting with people you like and admire at work and tell them you are looking to improve your performance – ask them what they think you can do to do better, how to learn and grow. You’ll be surprised at how many helpful people are actually out there, if you ask.

If you can, get a personal coach. You need someone to keep you line, to tell you that you can do it, and not to give in. Is there a friend, a confidante? A shrink? (Seriously, therapy can be life-altering). A mentor would be even better. Go out there and start networking.

4. Find your voice. Believe it or not, your confidence level emanates from your voice, and people around will respond to it. If you feel stupid, usually it shows up first in your tone of voice – and then translates to the rest of your body. Sometimes your commitment to overcome will have to precede your attitude. No matter how you feel, act confident. Dress confident. Walk confident. Talk confident. Find one or two things that you can have a legitimate opinion on, and speak up about it.

5. Do one thing really well. Focus on just one task or accomplishment that you can successfully complete in a competent manner. This will give you something to point to that will allow you to mentally tell yourself that you really are not stupid, that you are learning and growing. It can also be something that you refer others to when they are questioning your abilities.

6. Get Direct Feedback. Okay, here’s a crazy idea: ask your boss what you can do to improve your performance. If your boss is so all up in your face, why not be proactive and face it head on? Pull together any documentation you have that speaks to your performance – evaluations, reviews, examples of superior work done, so that you have an arsenal of hard data which references your good work. Take an honest stock of your strengths and weaknesses. Get a development plan together for your boss to be part of the program, so that he or she can buy into your growth as a person and as a professional.

7. Get another job. You may be in the wrong position, with the wrong boss. When all else fails, and time doesn’t help, then maybe it’s just time to look for a new job, or a new boss.

If these tips don’t do the trick for you, head over to Bob Sutton’s blog, Work Matters. He is author of “Good Boss Bad Boss” and has developed an entire career dedicated to this subject. Or, you could always prove your boss completely wrong. Go home, get your Masters in Leadership online and becoming their boss.

Photo by Nancy Rosback.

UPDATE: You might want to pick up my e-book, “At Work as it is in Heaven.” It’s not exactly on this subject of “Feeling Stupid,” but there are plenty of stories and insights around the challenges of dealing with job stress and finding a greater purpose in your work. And it’s only $2.99 – how can you say no to that?  Click here to purchase and download onto Kindle. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can get the Kindle app installed for free on your i-pad, i-phone, or home computer, and read it from there. Thanks for visiting!

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