How To Deal When You're Really Intimidated By Your Boss

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Getting used to life as an actual, functioning adult is hard enough without being terrified of your new boss. Before you freak out, you should know that it’s completely normal to be intimidated by your boss, especially if this is one of your first jobs in the real world. Naturally, you want to make a good impression and every ounce of your daily energy probably goes into not messing up. It’s no help that TV bosses like The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly are forever etched in our brains.

If the mere sight of your boss pulling into the company parking lot sends shivers down your spine, remember these important facts to help you deal. You’ll be much more productive at work if you’re not consumed by nerves and your relationship with your boss will probably be much better for it.

1. Your boss is human

This might seem like a fairly obvious suggestion but Jane Scudder, certified career and personal development coach, says it’s her No. 1 piece of advice for anyone who’s intimidated by their boss.

Scudder tells people to think of their boss as a regular person. “She's a daughter, maybe a sister and a mother. She's someone's friend. She was someone's first college roommate. Although this doesn't mean that you will act around her the same way you did with your first college roommate, it’s a mental equalizing exercise that reminds you that we're all human and we're all doing our best.”

Reminding yourself that your boss is human is comforting because it means that, like you, she’s made mistakes in her professional life and, like you undoubtedly will, she’s overcome them successfully.

2. Your boss wants you to do well

In fact, Scudder says, “Your boss needs you to do well,” which means that they are likely invested in your professional growth and development.

Rather than view your boss as an authoritative force, try to look at them as a mentor—someone you can learn a lot from. More than that, remember that you and your boss are also a team. Scudder says, “If you do well, it makes her look good. A key part of your boss's job is being your boss, so if you struggle she struggles.” Your boss is not rooting for you to fail. If you stumble, your boss will help you get back up. 

3.  Your boss hired you for a reason

When you’re new to the workforce, it can be hard to have confidence in your skills and abilities. Because you don’t have a lot of experience, you resort to questioning whether or not you’re really cut out for the job you’ve been given. The important thing to remember in this situation is that you were selected as the best candidate for the job for a reason—and your boss approved this decision.

Mary Pharris, director of business development at Fairygodboss, says, “When you're feeling overwhelmed, take a breath and reflect on what it is you bring to the table and bring it! Believing in yourself is tantamount to overcoming intimidation.” Your boss already believes in you and you should too.

If none of these reminders help and you’re still intimidated by your boss, there are a couple practical things you can try.

1. Assess the source of your intimidation

Taylor Swift actually has the best advice for this in her song, “Out of the Woods.” She sings, “The monsters turned out to be just trees when the sun came up.” Often, we are less afraid once we figure out exactly what it is we’re afraid of.

Career and relationship expert Lori Bizzoco suggests figuring out if your fear stems from your own insecurities or something more. “You may just be afraid of failing or disappointing your boss. It even may be that you’re scared of higher authority in general. Knowing this can help improve your relationship with your boss and avoid making them look like the enemy because you know it has less to do with them and more with you,” she explains.

Alternatively, if you are intimidated by your boss because they behave inappropriately—sexually harassing or verbally abusing you—toward you, your best defense is always to speak up. Career consultant Tiffani Murray recommends filing a report with the human resources department at your company immediately.

2. Channel your fears into motivation

Assuming your work anxiety is not due to a hostile or abusive environment, the next best solution is to use it as motivation to deliver your best efforts possible.

According to Kristin Marquet, editor-in-chief of Fem Founder, there are simple ways you can do this like asking for clarification on complicated tasks and showing up on time. In fact, arriving at work a few minutes before you need to be there will allow you to breathe and gather your thoughts before things get hectic.

Being well prepared for work will also help you feel more at ease. At the end of each day, make a list of the tasks you plan to accomplish the following day so you are mentally prepared for what’s to come.

3. Talk to your boss

Although this is probably the last thing you want to do, it’s actually a brilliant idea. Who better to comment on your professional performance than the person you report to?

Rachael Bozsik, CEO and founder of The Brand Girls, says, “Find a moment of bravery, email your boss and ask for a meeting where they can go over the progress you have made so far and to see what more you could be doing.”

Kailin Regutti, a second-year graduate student at Florida Atlantic University, agrees. Kailin advises, "The anxiety and nervousness you feel around your boss will not go away unless you put in the effort to communicate with them and try to understand how they operate." She adds that the more you get to know them—their work habits and expectations—the easier it becomes to work alongside them. 

Not only will this give you a better idea of what your boss really thinks about you, but it will also show your boss that you’re committed to your job and doing your best. Bozsik explains, “The feeling of intimidation begins to transform into a realization that your boss can be used as a support system. They are there to help you grow and evolve or else they wouldn't have hired you.” Don’t be afraid to go to them with your concerns or questions for improvement.

Related: How To Make Up For A Bad First Impression At Work

It’s normal to be intimidated by your boss but you should never let that get in the way of doing your job. Instead, try to figure out why you’re intimidated and how you might be able to overcome those concerns. Unless your workplace situation is abusive or toxic, quitting is never the solution. Bozsik reminds us, “You wanted this job, fought hard to get this job, and intimidation shouldn’t be a viable reason to leave.” Believe in yourself and do your best always; the rest will come with experience.

About The Author

Sydnee is, above all, a pizza enthusiast who occasionally drinks green juice for online documentation (because pics or it didn’t happen). Her lifelong social ambitions include hanging around with Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey at Central Perk at 11:30 on a Wednesday. Lover of the East Coast and the world’s worst cook. Follow her on Instagram @lovesydneemarie.