What to Do When People Think You’re Incompetent


A reader wrote asking: “How do you counter a person who steam rolls over you in a conversation? Recently, a colleague dismissed what I was saying in a meeting and took control of the agenda. No one, including my boss who was leading the meeting, knew what to do. I get that this person lacks social skills, but how do you handle this kind of person?”

The most common time for someone to become difficult is when they believe you’re not going to get an assignment done — whether it’s because you’re incompetent, lazy, or you just don’t have what it takes.

Convinced you’re not up to the task, a person can act out in any number of annoying ways. Two faves:

The Tank — will push you aside verbally, authoritatively, and even (seldom) physically. They literally want you out of their way.

The Know-It-All — will dump everything that they know on you. They’ll dominate a conversation, lacing it with all the faults they readily find in your work and your thinking.

How do you deal with people when they’re annoyed because they believe you’re not able to get a job done or your thoughts are useless?

Don’t give them what they want! Because these folks are acting in a passive-aggressive way, this has become a game for them with the goal of making you feel like crap. So, spoil their fun by not giving them what they want.

What do they want?

The Steamroller wants you to feel intimidated. Don’t be! Hold your ground — not by becoming defensive or by yelling or crying — rather, by listening, then interrupting, so as to acknowledge their point and assert yourself.

Reassure, offer specifics, call the person by their name (calling someone by their name has the power to snap them out of their self-imposed emotional trance), be calm, and make sure your non-verbal matches your verbal.

The Know-It-All wants you to feel stupid. If you know that you’re going to be working with a Know-It-All, then you better know it all. If not, you’re leaving yourself open to ridicule.

If you’ve done your work and know what you need to know, then, when the Know-It-All attempts to silence you with a data-dump, assertively, collegially, interject your thoughts: “Mike, I agree absolutely with you AND I’d just add….”

Let your non-verbal convey that you are confident and not feeling bamboozled. Look the person in the eye, smile in agreement, feel like a colleague and not the quaking high-schooler you may be feeling like!

Bottom line: Don’t let them see that you’re rattled — that’s what they want. Understand why the other person is being difficult and then you can adjust your communication strategy.

Please send your communication questions to me at: jp@jpr-communications.com Follow me on Twitter: @jprweddings

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