If Your Boss Says These 7 Things, It's a Sign They Underestimate You — How to Improve Their Opinion

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Terri Williams10
Feedback is the key to success on any job, but some comments or responses may be warning signs of potential problems. Sometimes, the issue is a micromanaging boss. In fact, 59% of respondents in an Accountemps survey admitted to working for a micromanager at least once. If your boss uses the statements listed below, pay attention because there may be issues (real or perceived) with your work performance or attitude.    

1. “Why?” questions.

It’s a part of your boss’s job to ask you questions and then provide feedback. However, according to Carisa Miklusak, CEO of tilr, “The type of questions asked could indicate a potential problem.”
She provides four examples of problematic “why” questions:
  • “Why are you meeting with that person?” 
  • “Why did you do that?” 
  • “Why didn't you do that first?”
  • “Why do you feel that's important?”
“These types of questions could indicate that they’re concerned about your performance or losing confidence in your abilities,” Miklusak warns.

2. “Please let me see your work.”

When you’re a new employee, your boss might ask to see your work before it is sent out. Even after you’ve been with the company for a while, this might happen on occasion – especially for a big project. However, Roberta Matuson of Matuson Consulting warns, “If this is happening all the time, it means that your boss lacks confidence in your ability to do things exactly how he or she would like them done.”

3. “You’re ambitious/assertive.”

During performance reviews, feedback can provide the type of constructive comments that can help to advance your career. “However, women tend to receive vague feedback in performance reviews, while their male peers receive specific feedback with action plans and even sponsorship from their bosses,” according to Dr. Patti Fletcher, a technology executive, gender equity advocate, and author of DISRUPTERS: Success Strategies from Women Who Break the Mold.
“Vague feedback, in which no specific behaviors or scenarios are called out, with no actionable insights on what you should keep doing, what's working, what isn't, and areas of development, are red flags,” Fletcher says.  
“If your boss describes you as ‘ambitious’ or ‘assertive, you are probably not receiving a compliment (though if your male counterparts receive those same words as descriptors, they likely are receiving compliments),” she explains.  “Without this insight, as well as the desired outcomes, women are not able to come to a common understanding and create mutual expectations -- in short, your boss will get frustrated and so will you.”

4. “You have a lot going on.”

If you’ve been passed over for new projects or “stretch” roles, your boss may use an indirect approach to communicate a lack of confidence in your skills. And, according to Miklusak, this may be a gender-based response. “Men are positioned based on their potential, and they’re asked if they are interested in taking on a big project, and they are part of the decision,” she says.
“Women, on the other hand, are hired or appointed based on experience, and if your boss lets you know that you were not chosen by saying things like ‘you already have a lot going on,’ that's a red flag.”  Miklusak believes that this could be an unconscious bias, especially among male bosses, but she warns that not being allowed to participate in other projects or stretch roles can negatively impact your career.

Other Red-Flag Phrases

Grant Findlay-Shirras, co-founder of Parkbench.com believes that there are other words and phrases that should be cause for alarm.

5. Let me do that for you

6. What are you doing?

7. How are you (insert task)?

According to Findlay-Shirras, “These phrases and questions should alert an employee to the fact that they are not doing well, they are not fitting in, and they should do something about it.”

Tips to Reverse the Situation

If your boss underestimates you, fortunately, there are steps that you can take to reverse the situation. Sometimes, your boss’s analysis may not be accurate, but in other instances, there may be performance issues that you are not aware of.
Abbi Whitaker, co-founder of The Abbi Agency believes that employees who want to gain the confidence of their boss or supervisor need to go the extra mile. “Go above and beyond: stay late to get the job done by a deadline, and proof your work very carefully to ensure there are no spelling errors or other mistakes.”
Whitaker also recommends sending thought leadership articles to your boss - and include comments on how the lessons can be incorporated by the company. “These actions demonstrate that you want to help drive culture and new ideas show that you’re engaged as an employee, and someone I would definitely want to keep around for years,” Whitaker explains.
Sometimes, it may be necessary to take a more detailed approach to changing your boss’s perception.
Cynthia Bucy, senior career consultant at IMPACT Group, advises the following steps:
  • Ask your boss if there any are concerns about your ability to accomplish the work 
  • Acknowledge any difficulties; don't try to cover up mistakes
  • Provide details of your plan to accomplish work, including measurable milestones with deadlines
  • Request checkpoint meetings to reassure your boss that you’re on track
  • If there have been problems in the past, recount steps taken to change and share successes those steps have led to
  • Emphasize strengths and achievements from the past, as well as what you’ve learned that will lead to improved work
  • Request training/development opportunities 
If your boss refers to you as being ambitious or assertive, Fletcher recommends asking for an explanation of those terms. “Don’t use this opportunity to argue, but to help your boss understand his/her unconscious bias,” she says.
When you’re not assigned to new projects or roles because your boss says you have a lot going on, don’t just passively accept this response if you’re certain that you are an excellent worker who has good time management, multitasking, and organizational skills. “Use data to explain why you would be a good fit,” Miklusak explains. If you have personal or family commitments outside of work, she says this is none of the company’s business if you excel on the job. “Do not let your boss bring your personal commitments into the conversation; redirect attention to the reality rather than the perception.”
Another thing you can do is find a mentor. According to Bucy, a mentor who is considered a strong team member can help you figure out the best approach for working harmoniously with your boss.
However, a mentor is also beneficial for other reasons. According to Autumn Manning, co-founder and CEO of YouEarnedIt, “As a woman, it's important to find people in leadership positions that not only have formal authority over your role, but people who can also be an advocate for you, offer perspective, give you real feedback, and most importantly, encourage you to step into opportunity when they see it.”
Manning warns that a boss who only looks at your title or your level of experience isn’t necessarily considering your potential.  “However, when someone sees the passion, the intuition, the skills and knowledge you bring, and what you can do for the team regardless of formal title, then there's something special there,” she concludes.
So, how do you get the boss to look past your flaws and consider what you could add to the company?
According to Findlay-Shirras, you must get your boss and coworkers to want you to succeed. “The top performers at a company can literally MAKE a person successful. Therefore, you need them to support you.”
Therefore, he says you need to be the type of person that they want to keep – even if your performance doesn’t merit it. “Work hard, be a champion of culture, ask questions, and show that you want to improve,” Findlay-Shirras explains. “And you can buy more time until your performance improves.”

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