31st January 2018
It’s no fun feeling undermined, is it? It can lead to feelings of frustration, misery and helplessness. The only way to tackle this is to take back some control so that you no longer feel helpless or frustrated. You may not be able to change your boss’s behaviour – only they can do that – but you can change how you react to it, and you may able to influence how they react to you.
If they undermine you by taking credit for your work, make sure people know you did it. This could take the form of copying in others when you email your boss, or asking someone else to ‘review’ your work before it is passed to your boss (and then making sure your boss knows you have ‘just run it past’ someone else for their input or OK.
If your boss undermines you by criticising you in front of others you have two choices: fight back on the spot or take issue with them afterwards.
Fighting back in the moment isn’t always the best solution because it’s very hard to stay unemotional, but just occasionally it can be really powerful.
Don’t get sucked into defending yourself in front of others – that has the potential to spiral downwards into a slanging match or to end in tears. Tell them you’d prefer to have the conversation privately as you really don’t think your colleagues want to be embarrassed/bored/delayed by listening to them give you feedback, and ask when would be a good time to meet to have that private discussion.
If you can’t (or don’t feel it’s right to) fight back on the spot, try to stay as calm and unemotional as you can whilst it’s happening. Silently remind yourself that the way your boss is giving feedback is as much about their inadequacies as a manager as it is about you. At the same time, listen hard for the truth in what they say. There may be a small nugget of useful feedback hidden in the negativity!
Then make sure that you do take up the issue with your boss on a one to one basis as soon as you possibly can. Don’t let it fester! Ask them for 5 minutes to follow up on their feedback. If you have managed to listen objectively to the feedback, acknowledge the issue they raised, thank them for the feedback, tell them that you found it embarrassing/upsetting to hear it in front of others, and tell them that you would prefer to have a private discussion next time.
Many of us shy away from talking about our emotions with our colleagues, and especially with our bosses. We fear they will think us weak and emotional. But they have emotions too! Usually it isn’t hearing emotion described that makes our colleagues uncomfortable – it’s witnessing emotion. So get all of your emotion out in private, at home, or with colleagues you like and trust to support you, and then put your objective hat on when you embark on the difficult conversation.