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What did I do to my incompetent manager to deserve this?

I have an incompetent manager

Your manager sucks. We have all worked for them. Maybe someone in positional power is an ass and could benefit from feedback for improvement. You may feel your incompetent manager shouldn’t have their role.  We have all thought it at one point in our career and this is OK. Today’s post explains why your manager is an ass and next week we ask, “What can I do about it?”

Your manager doesn’t understand people and the company isn’t doing anything about it. You want to give feedback but:

  • my manager isn’t going to listen
  • it’s not my right to give my manager feedback
  • I don’t want to short circuit my career!
  • it’s not my job to give feedback for improvement

Believe it or not, managers aren’t out to screw you

Today I shatter the myth that your incompetent manager and your company are out to screw you. Today, we give you the business logic behind why your manager may be an ass. So, let’s establish one thing.  

It may not be your job, but this is your career, not your manager’s career.

If you don’t figure out why your manager is intolerable, no one will. It may not be fair, it may not be right,

but we need to take responsibility for our careers.  You need to take the initiative.

What is in it for your manager to screw you? For most of us, our manager put their reputation on the line when they recommended the company hire us after the job interview. It doesn’t reflect well on your boss’s skill as a manager when there is a “problem employee”. It also costs time and money to replace (you) and train a new employee. An employee that isn’t happy or engaged isn’t providing the value that a fully engaged employee will. An employee that isn’t happy is a lose, lose, lose, situation. 

Examples of the incompetent manager:

  1. shoots down your ideas before you finish talking
  2. yells and argues with you
  3. picks apart your presentations

Regardless of how poorly your manager is treating you, we need to do two things:

  1. assume your manager doesn’t intend to treat you wrongly
  2. assume your manager doesn’t know they are treating you wrongly

Before you start cursing HRNasty, take a moment to think about this. Most people don’t want to be an asshole. If assholes knew they were perceived as assholes, they would take steps to stop being an asshole.  No one wants everyone around them thinking “That dude is an asshole”. Your manager is no different. 

Figure out the root cause of the bad behavior

Let’s figure out where bad behavior may be coming from using the examples above.

  1. Your incompetent manager shoots down your ideas before you have finished your thought

Your manager may have heard the same idea a number of times prior. They have already thought about the idea through and realized it isn’t going to work. Maybe the idea was already tested and failed. Maybe the idea really isn’t valid. Are you someone who speaks out before they think? 

Of course, just because your manager has heard the idea before is no reason to cut you off or shoot your idea down. But this may be where the behavior is coming from. Have you ever been asked the same question multiple times over and over? Was it frustrating?

  1. Your incompetent manager likes to yell and argue with you

There are a number of reasons anyone might yell. Usually, we yell to make a point or to be heard. Yelling usually comes from a place of frustration. We don’t feel like we are being heard. When a manager believes they have positional power and should be heard, this is especially frustrating.  The usual response to someone who raises their voice is to raise our voice in turn. This just results in both sides talking louder and more emotionally. Using tactics to make your loud talker feel like they are heard will help. Acknowledge, listen and nod. Yes, sometimes we need to play the game.

  1. Picks apart your presentation and treats you unfairly

I have sat in on many presentations, pitches, and requests for resources. The common traits that will put a presenter in trouble with managers in positional power:

  • Not having your facts straight 
  • Winging it, appearing unprepared (aka, you are wasting your managers time)
  • Giving the impression you don’t have 110% confidence in your idea

Blood in the water

Managers with experience can smell fear like sharks smell blood. Picking apart a presentation isn’t a conscious act. A lack of confidence in your idea, or appearing unsure will create doubt in your audience. It is assumed that if you are not sure of your facts or idea, there is something wrong. This is where the nit-picky questions come from. Presenting incorrect facts will trigger strong questions. A lack of confidence in your answer will trigger more probing questions. This is the beginning of the end. If you are asked a question and you don’t know the answer, just say “I don’t know the answer, I will get back to you on that”. Completely acceptable and better than making something up. 

It usually isn’t on purpose

In all of the above cases, your manager isn’t purposely being an asshole. Usually, something else triggers the behavior we interpret as aggressive and unfair. Should your manager know better as a senior person and role model? Absolutely! But who’s career is this? Is this your career or your managers? It’s yours so let’s own it!

In my experience as a mediator for many disagreements between employees, there is usually a trigger that has built up over time. A breaking point was reached and that is when the jerk appeared. Figure out what that trigger is and you have the recipe for a better relationship with your manager. Remember back when you accepted the position after the interview? You respected your manager then!

Next week, we discuss two ideas. The first is how to have a conversation with your manager so you can figure out what is triggering aggressive behavior. The second is how to provide feedback for improvement to your manager so you can manage the relationship. 


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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