How to Deal with a Manager Who Undermines You
Having to deal with a manager who undermines you is an extra tough situation to resolve. Managers have more authority and influence with the company through their position than you are likely to have so dealing with this situation requires extra care and slightly different approach.
I am taking your through the signs of undermining behaviour to look out for and these 5 steps for how to deal with a manager who undermines you at work:
- Document Examples of the Undermining
- Speak to Your Manager
- Find Allies
- Ask Your Manager or Ally to Confront the Underminer
- Escalate to HR and / or Senior Management
At the end of the article I go through what to do if your line manager is the underminer and give you tips on how to market your work and results within the business to counteract the effects of managers undermining you.
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Signs of Undermining Actions
When undermining is taking place, you want to be able to spot undermining behaviour really quickly and take action as soon as possible.
The longer you leave taking action, the more time the manager has to negatively influence the perceptions of others in the business and the harder it will be for you to recover their good opinion.
The undermining behaviour can start for any number of reasons. Some common reasons include:
- They feel threatened by you and how well colleagues within the business think of you.
- If you have personally or socially offended them in some way
- If they just don’t like you on a personal level
- If your manager or others have offended them and undermining you is their way of getting back at them
There can be plenty of other reasons too.
Common Signs of Undermining
Common signs that a person may be trying to undermine you include:
- Not sharing information with you, such as meeting invites to make you look poor or unprofessional
- Telling you incorrect information, or suggesting detrimental courses of action
- Withholding information or work that you need to hit deadlines – i.e. repeatedly forgetting to send you info
- Gossiping about you, spreading false or malicious rumours about you, your work and capability
- Taking credit for your work or the work your team have done
- Trying to influence or take charge of your team members i.e. asking your team members to report to them
- Trying to weaken your relationship with your manager or more senior staff above you
Keep an eye out for behaviour or actions that REPEATEDLY put you in a bad light. Everyone makes mistakes at times or says the wrong thing.
It is REPEATED undermining behaviour which is not a co-incidence or mistake – that you need to keep an eye out for.
So if you are unfortunate to be on the receiving end of undermining behaviour let’s, go through the 5 actions to take when managers undermine you.
Document Examples of The Undermining – The first step to deal with a manager who undermines you
Documenting examples of undermining may seem like overkill when you first become aware of any undermining behaviour. Because undermining behaviour is usually subtle – verbal comments, put downs, or the person deliberately not taking normal action, it can be hard to prove the undermining behaviour or actions are actually happening.
Therefore, start capturing at least these 3 things as soon as you become aware of the undermining actions:
- What happened – i.e. Bill had let me know that Olivia told him “The reason we missed our targets was because Jess was the reason we lost the ABC tender”
- When – the time and date the undermining actions happened
- Impact on you, your work or your team. The impact of the undermining will be what nearly every manager or company will care about. The better managers will also care about your feelings, motivation, and the emotional impact of the undermining actions on you.
The quicker you start capturing information about the occurrences of undermining behaviour, then the quicker you can build up a convincing case that the undermining by a manager is happening.
When dealing with a manger who undermines you, having evidence to show a pattern of undermining actions is needed. Your opinion will not be enough.
Without solid evidence, you might be labelled a troublemaker or have your professionalism questioned.
Do not take any further steps until you have a good bank of examples that clearly demonstrates a pattern of undermining by the manager in question.
Speak to Your Manager – The second step to deal with a manager who undermines you
Assuming that your line manager is not the underminer, then use the evidence you have collect to prove undermining is taking place and ask for your manager’s help.
You manager should be your most important supporter and will be invaluable in stopping the undermining behaviour.
Arrange a private meeting or bring up the issue in your one-on-one meeting. Tips for the meeting include:
- Prepare what you are going say and practice it – keep to the facts rather than opinion as much as possible.
- Bring a copy of the evidence of the undermining behaviour and its impact on you, the team and business
- Ask for your manager’s advice on how to deal with this situation
- Manage your own emotions carefully during the meeting – be professional, thank them for their advice and time regardless of the outcome
Your goal is to get your manager to support and help you and take action on your behalf.
When the underminer is a manager more senior to you, getting supporters on the same level or more senior than the underminer is important.
Find Allies – The third step to deal with a manager who undermines you
You are looking to find allies who are at an equivalent level or more senior to the manager undermining you or peers that are suffering similar treatment from the undermining manager. More tips on how to do this can be found in How to Influence Your Manager & The Leadership Team
Take this step carefully and subtly. You must avoid undermining the person who is undermining you or avoid anything that might be interpreted as undermining them.
If you can find additional peers or colleagues that are being undermined by the manager in question and they are willing to collect examples of the undermining behaviour or actions, this will strengthen your case a lot and make action more likely.
With more senior allies, your goal is to ask them to support your manager to confront the undermining manager or if your manager is not willing to confront them, to ask your ally to do so instead. You have to be very careful who you ask and speak to when building senior allies. Your examples should be strong and your approach to them gradual. There is a good chance the potential ally will have a closer relationship with the undermining manager than with you.
Ask Your Manager or Ally to Confront the Underminer – The fourth step to deal with a manager who undermines you
When you have gathered all your examples, organised them and collated them, set them out in an easy to follow document and give this to your manager or Ally.
The examples will give them reference points and reminders of exactly what you talked them through, and a set of documented examples will make it more likely that the underminer will stop their undermining actions. The more preparation and examples given, the easier it will be to have this difficult conversation with the undermining manager.
Make sure that the person confronting the manager undermining you is at least a peer or more senior than the manager in question.
The outcome of the confrontation is likely to be:
- The undermining stops – hopefully permanently
- The undermining manager continues with more subtle undermining or even increases it
- The undermining manager retaliates against you in some other way
Be ready for the meeting not to go the way you hoped.
You could also accompany your manager or ally to the meeting with the undermining manager. If you do, be ready to talk through what you are experiencing, and counter claims being made against you.
Escalate to HR and / or Senior Management – The fifth step to deal with a manager who undermines you
If you need to take this step, then the situation is getting pretty serious, and you and your manager have not been able to resolve it. I would expect that speaking to your manager and confronting the undermining manager should resolve 90%+ of cases of undermining by managers in the business.
If you escalate to senior management or HR, be prepared for questions about your behaviour, the evidence you have collected and so on. This is why it is so important to be professional throughout the previous steps and avoid any actions that might indicate you are trying to undermine the other person.
If you do get to this stage, be prepared for action to be taken against you even if you are in the right. Unfortunately, HR and senior manager are likely to do what is best for the business which may not be best for you.
Throughout experiencing any undermining behaviour it remains very important to maintain your motivation, your standards of work and the results you deliver.
What to do If Your Manager is the Underminer
Line manager support is very important in dealing with undermining. If you have a boss who undermines you5, the situation is a lot harder to deal with than if another manager is the underminer.
Assuming the undermining is deliberate and continues after you have highlighted to your manager that they are undermining you, then I would suggest the most practical solution would be to get yourself another manager.
If you are able to get another good job elsewhere fairly easily, I would suggest you move company.
The alternative approach would be to go through the steps outlined excluding seeking the support of your manager. Build your evidence, get allies and hold a conversation with your manager. Then escalate if your manager continues to undermine you.
This is likely to be an uphill battle and I would suggest the outcome you aim for – is to move internally to another team, so you have a different manager.
Putting up with undermining will hinder your career as it is very unlikely you will get promoted or get exposure to the experience building projects that help move careers forward.
Tips to Market Yourself Within the Business
Whenever you encounter undermining behaviour, it is essential to maintain or improve the standards of your work and what you deliver. The more valuable the work and output you produce, the easier it is to counter when colleagues or managers undermine you at work.
Just doing your work alone is not enough. Make people in the wider business aware of the great work you are doing. This can be a scary prospect for many yet remains very important, particularly when faced with a manager trying to undermine you.
Some tips to do this well include:
- Highlighting the impact of work or projects you do for the business. Send emails explaining the impact or add this into conversation with managers and stakeholders.
- Create measurable metrics to show the value being added – revenue increased, costs saved, time saved, efficiency gained etc and circulate these to stakeholders.
- Ask supporters to shout about what you are doing to managers and stakeholders
- Build a stronger relationship with your line manager and keep them aware of the value you are delivering
- Send out team newsletters internally to the business, take opportunities to present project outputs and similar profile raising exercises
- Ask managers and stakeholders to coffee and lunch to get to know them better on a professional and personal level.
There is a lot you can do to raise your profile and shout about the positive aspects of what you deliver at work. Put in the extra effort to market yourself internally. This is great practice anyway and definitely one of many steps to take when managers undermine you.
In summary, we have gone through the signs to look out for so you can stop a manager undermining you as quickly as possible.
We have gone through 5 steps to deal with a manager who undermines you and we have discussed your options when your line manager undermines you.
To recap, the five steps are:
There is a lot you can proactively do to raise your profile within a business and shout about the good work that you are going. Take as many of these steps as you feel comfortable doing – it will pay you dividends in the long run.
Early in my career, I had to deal with my line manager undermining me. I didn’t really know what to do. Being undermined by my boss wasn’t fun and I quickly chose to move companies and ended up in a great job. I really appreciated silver linings at that point.
If other managers are undermining you, there is a lot you can proactively do to negate and stop the undermining. Do put into practice the internal marketing advice and consider following the steps outlined to actively stop undermining by other managers.