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Dear STC: My Boss Thinks I’m Inexperienced And Incapable!

December 17, 2009

Hi Brad,

I am constantly aggravated at work. I go above and beyond at work on special projects (that I do on my own/take initiative to do), etc and still feel like my “higher ups” think I’m a 17 year old out of high school. I’m 23 in actuality but have a young face.

Recently, for example, I asked my boss about a project a customer was inquiring about. It’s been 3 weeks and I found out he passed it off to the accounting manager. When she told me about it I said “Well if I knew he would need someone to do research on it, I would have helped, if you want me to do it, I can”. I said it nicely but I was responded by “No…that’s OK”, and the way he said it was like “No, you’re obviously incapable of handling this small task”.



Hi Meghan,

It sounds to me like you are doing exactly what you should be doing, and that is: taking initiative; asking what else you can do; and looking for opportunities to make life easier for others. It sounds like this could simply be a matter of your boss growing to trust you, getting to know what you are capable of, and slowly migrating him away from the pre-existing relationships that he has with others before he hired you.

Don’t worry about it. Instead, try to find ways to build trust with your boss. Some of it you are probably already doing, like: 

  • Be consistent and dependable. This is simple, but important: always show up on time and meet the basic expectations of professionalism. Don’t give any room for question.
  • Ask how you can help. Do this all the time until someone asks you to stop.
  • Take initiative to anticipate your boss’s needs. This is called “managing up,” and it’s one of those unwritten rules of career advancement. Your job is to make your boss look good. That’s just how it works.  
  • Flatter your boss. I’ll admit, that sounds a bit gratuitous and contrived, but the truth is there is nothing wrong with endearing yourself to your higher-ups by acknowledging their various strengths. Obviously, you’ve got to be sincere (somewhat) and not over-do it, but otherwise you can not believe how beneficial this can be. No one wants to work with someone who is difficult, distant or impersonal.
  • Flatter the suck-ups to your boss. Same thing, except with the others in the inner circle. Yes, it is important that they think you are fabulous, too.
  • Portray an air of confidence and poise. You are a professional, so make sure you act like one. It is important to observe how the other respected professionals in the organization behave, and follow those social cues – what they wear, how they speak, how they socialize – watch, listen and learn.

Always maintain that helpful, poised attitude, and sooner or later, an opportunity will present itself that will begin to establish an opinion of trust for you. Word will get around. Be patient! But for now, be consistently dependable and keep looking for ways to edge your presence in. Sometimes these things simply take time.

Keep up the good work, Meghan, because I know you are going to get your chance to shine!


This is one of a sampling of letters – well, emails really – that I have received from readers of my posts “It’s Okay To Feel Stupid Sometimes” and “Are You Feeling Stupid At Work? I’m Here To Help.” It’s also a chance for you to comment with better advice than what I gave. I mean, what do I know?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. nancy permalink
    December 17, 2009 9:59 pm

    boy, bradley.

    i am sure glad you are answering the questions and not me. you give a lot of good advice of things that can be tried and worked on.

    i was wondering if you have any good thoughts for avoiding the feelings of aggravation or even what to do with some of those feelings that some on is already having?

  2. December 18, 2009 6:32 am


    I was wondering what you would think about Meghan getting some advice from hair, makeup, and professional dress consultants that could help her look older and more professional.

    just a thought.

  3. December 18, 2009 8:55 am

    I learned in the Navy that a little sucking up goes a long way. Most people are too proud to even “appear” to be sucking up. Then of course there are those who go way overboard too.

  4. December 18, 2009 10:26 am

    nAncY: Try what’s called mirroring and validating. I found these two techniques to be useful to diffuse potentially explosive issues among employees (in my favorite application of these, I got an employee to back off filing a sexual harassment suit against another employee). If the aggravation is your own: talk a walk. I used to do that when my editors failed to meet their deadlines.

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