Career Advice

8 Great Tips I Used to Deal with Coworker Who Makes Me Feel Incompetent

Busy workplaces bring in a diverse group of employees. Unfortunately, sometimes you may find yourself wondering how to deal with negative coworkers in the mix. With the tips in this guide, you’ll soon be able to face the bad attitudes in the office with a smile.

Here are 8 tips I use when a coworker makes me feel incompetent at work. From addressing it straight on to using emotional regulation to move past the situation, you’ll surely find a few strategies that can work for you.

1.    Remaining Confident Around Coworker Who Makes Me Feel Incompetent

It’s easy to feel insecure when someone begins to doubt your abilities. If your coworker makes you feel incompetent, they may be doing things like dismissing your ideas, talking about your mistakes to others, questioning your abilities, or demeaning you in their comments.

Hearing enough of this daily may cause you to doubt yourself, even if you are well-qualified for your position.

Many studies have shown that people tend to behave in a way that is expected of them. The Pygmalion effect in psychology has shown how believing that something is true can make it true.

Let’s say your coworker doubts your abilities to complete a project correctly, even though you completed the previous three projects without issue.

Soon, you start hearing his doubts in your mind, thinking they are facts. Suddenly, you begin to absorb these opinions, which causes you stress and distraction. Before you know it, you’re committing errors on the project and self-fulfilling the prophecy according to the Pygmalion effect.

Falling victim to this effect only reinsures your negative coworker and makes you believe that you’re incompetent. The key is to nip these thoughts in the bud early on and remain confident.

Review your past successes and lean on coworkers, supervisors, or mentors who can attest to your abilities. Focus on your work and ask for any support you may need.

By completing your tasks successfully, you will discredit your coworker’s opinion and continue your professional success.

Related Article: How To Overcome Your Shyness And Become A Bold Person

2.    Ask for Clarification from the Coworker Who Makes You Feel Incompetent

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If you’re not sure why your coworker is calling you out as incompetent, there’s no better way to clarify than to ask. For this tip, it’s best that you call out your coworker the moment they say something demeaning or degrading to or about you.

For example, if they say, “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” you may respond with, “Could you specify what you don’t like about the idea and why, so we can better see how to make it functional?”

If their comments are more callous, you could specifically ask them why they chose to express themselves in that way. For example, ask, “What did you mean by that statement?”

This question is an excellent one because it forces the coworker to pause and think about what they have said. If you are around more people, it could make that coworker realize how they sound to others, causing them to reevaluate how they address you.

As a plus, research has even shown that asking the right questions can make you appear smarter to others.

3.    Be Honest About the Issue

If your coworker’s attitude has continued without ceasing, it may be time to formally address the issue. Ask your coworker to meet one-on-one and bring up your concerns with honest, neutral language. Be sure to have the conversation in person.

Begin by thanking the person for meeting with you. Then, state your desired outcome for the conversation. This could be something like, “I would like for us to have professional discussions without including comments about the other’s ability or character.”

Afterward, make your points clearly and briefly to tell your coworker how you have been feeling. Provide examples of when they have made you feel incompetent.

Stick to I-statements, which specifically state how you feel/felt. These avoid sounding accusatory or escalating the conversation.

If need be, you may want to have a third person in the room. This could be someone from human resources or a supervisor. Speak with your coworker before inviting another person in on this conversation.

4.    Being the Bigger Person When a Coworker Makes Me Feel Incompetent

Sometimes, confrontation or asking for clarification will not work to diffuse the situation. No matter which way you choose to move forward, it’s important to do so while being the bigger person.

This tip is easy for those who can keep their cool in the workplace. You’ll want to avoid discussing your coworker with others or responding negatively towards your coworker.

Acknowledging emotions has been shown to build trust at work, but only under the right conditions. Discussing animosity, unresolved issues, or negative opinions of your coworker could cause other employees to see you as untrustworthy, so it’s best to keep things to yourself.

So long as you can take control of your emotions and remain confident in your abilities, you can come out of this situation on top.

5.    Ignore the Behavior

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Since childhood, you’ve heard mothers and teachers everywhere tell you to ignore the behavior of others when it’s bothered you. While it may have seemed like unhelpful advice at the time, they had a point.

Rude or unpleasant behaviors, whether they be by children or adults, are seen as attention-seeking behavior. Human beings typically seek attention as positive reinforcement. This is why children seeking attention throw tantrums – they know even if their action is negative, the consequence will be the positive attention they seek.

Although your coworker may not be seeking your attention specifically, they could be looking for validation from others or a sense of superiority. By ignoring their behavior, you are showing that it merits no recognition, good or bad.

Actively ignoring negative behavior requires you to momentarily stop paying attention to your coworker. Avoid eye contact, conversation, and movement towards them. You may want to engage another coworker at that time, if present.

Once you’ve taken a moment to actively ignore the negative statement, you can reengage the coworker who makes you feel incompetent.

6.    Use Neutral Body Language

When my coworker makes me feel incompetent, it’s usually done through words. While words can indeed hurt me, most communication is actually done without speaking.

Nonverbal communication accounts for the majority of communication – up to 90%!

If you come up with a great idea and your friendly coworker says, “You’re a genius!”, you could take it two ways.

If it’s said with a smile and in an encouraging tone, you’d be thrilled at the affirmation.

If instead, she said it in a flat tone, sighing, while rolling her eyes, you would know it was sarcastic and assume she disliked your idea. See the difference?

When responding to your conflictive coworker, using neutral body language will allow you to both remain professional and deescalate the situation. This leaves your coworker to be dramatic, mean, or rude all by themselves.

So, what is neutral body language? Keep your arms open to your sides or on your lap. Avoid crossing your arms, as that emits a closed-off stance to others.

Try not to raise your eyebrows, as this shows surprise or shock. While these may be your legitimate feelings, you don’t want to encourage your coworker by giving them a reaction.

Keep your tone as neutral as possible and – if you can – even swing a smile their way to show that you aren’t taking the bait.

7.    Use Empathy

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When a coworker makes me feel incompetent, the last thing I may feel like doing is being kind. Even so, the fact remains that I have higher emotional intelligence than this coworker; after all, I’m not the one putting down others in my workplace.

Using your empathy with this person means that you try to understand where they’re coming from. You can consider things that may be affecting their behavior from their personal life, such as their interpersonal relationships, finances, health concerns, or even other issues they may have at work.

Most people put down others because they have insecurities that they haven’t dealt with themselves. Insecure people may exhibit controlling or manipulative behavior, hurting people in the process.

Your coworker’s issues and feelings may not justify their behavior, but they do provide some sort of reasoning for it. If you feel this is the case when your coworker makes you feel incompetent, combine empathy with Tip #8 to try to improve the situation.

8.    Build the Relationship

This tip works best once the original negative situation has been confronted. If you’ve discussed your concerns with your coworker and they have stopped making you feel incompetent, this is your chance to reconstruct your relationship.

Building a relationship with this coworker does not mean you must become best friends. You should aim to be amicable and professional. That way, your work life can run smoothly and you can collaborate without issues.

Positive professional relationships have been associated with improved productivity, increased career satisfaction, and higher retention rates in companies.

Building professional relationships is best done through asking questions, listening, expressing appreciation, and understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

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About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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