Dr Bev Smallwood

Articles Library: Coping

Control Freak Boss

Responding to my invitation for subscribers to submit article ideas, I received the following email from a woman I'll call Mary.

Dear Dr. Bev:

I have a controlling, micromanaging boss who only sees what she wants to see and most of what she sees is negative. The staff is miserable.

Finally, a supervisor who went to work for a different office and told her why he was quitting. He told her, quite frankly, "I love my job, but I'm miserable working for you. There can be 20 good things going on in the office and one negative thing, and you focus on that one negative thing and ignore the rest. I KNOW I do a good job, but I don't FEEL like I do a good job. You told us at our Christmas party last year that if you had a million dollars, you'd give us all a raise because we work so hard. When you were given the money to do so, you withheld it and decided that employees have to show they've EARNED it. I don't know how you decide that when you don't know enough about what they do to make that decision." (The money was available in October...we're still waiting.)

It fell on deaf ears. The staff was told that he quit because he was "burned out" and "needed more of a challenge."

She picks apart everything and if there's nothing wrong, she'll find something wrong anyway. Woe be unto anyone who does anything without consulting her, but when you do consult her first, you are ridiculed for bothering her with something insignificant and are treated like an idiot incapable of independent thought. What is significant and what is insignificant changes on a whim.

Her office policy is detailed, condescending, and oppressive. The "dress code" is spelled out down to how many earrings you can wear (one at a time in each ear, and then only if you are female). The worst part of it is that she is an elected official and as such does not answer to anyone but the voters, who have no idea. As a result, the managers are constantly losing and having to train staff. Morale is at an all-time low.

Sooo...how do you deal with someone who is a complete control freak, along with being rude and arrogant towards staff, customers, and her peers...but who is in a constant state of denial?


Dr. Bev's Comments

Dear Mary...(and all of the rest of you with similar bosses, and all of you bosses who just may have recognized some of your own behavior in this letter),

You've just put your finger on one of the biggest problems in employee motivation and retention...bad bosses. I've seen this over and over as I've worked with organizations to resolve these problems, and the research literature supports it.


I'm curious. Why are you staying? And that leads me to my first suggestion.

1. Zero in on the positive parts of your job. There must be something about your work that you find satisfying or meaningful, or you wouldn't still be there. If you do elect to stay, it will be critical for you to develop a keen focus on the positive parts of your work, how you personally are making a difference, how you can work with peers to accomplish important goals. In other words, learn to turn your attention away from your boss as much as possible. I know that's a tall order, but if you can do it, it will make a tremendous difference in how you feel every day.

2. Compliment her. I hear you saying, "For what?!?" Find something! It may have to begin with something as simple as what she is wearing. Or, it may be her attention to detail that helped out in some situation. Try to pay attention to what she seems to enjoy about her work, and genuinely compliment her on something she does related to that.

Despite rumors to the contrary, she is human. Humans enjoy praise. It often opens them to giving out more positives to others.

3. Volunteer lots of information to your micro manager. Usually people who love control, love information. I know, when you have a boss who constantly finds fault, it's tempting to try to be as secretive as possible about your work, staying off her radar screen. However, this is not a good idea. The more she feels in the dark, the more out of control she feels. The more out of control she feels, the more paranoid she may become. She'll suspect that something is wrong and look for it...therefore find it.

I know that you said she changes what she believes is significant based on her mood at the time. However, I believe that plenty of "FYI" memos will work in your favor overall.

4. Conspire with your co-workers to create a positve workplace. While bosses have a huge impact on workplace atmosphere, their bad behaviors do not have to determine your reactions. You and your co-workers do not have to choose to let her control your attitudes.

Guard against perpetuating the negativity by spending your time sharing the latest horror story about her. You can unwittingly fall into that trap, feeling her presence even when she is not there and when she is not doing anything negative.

Praise each other for a job well done. Put your heads together to figure out better ways to accomplish what matters. Support one another when you are struggling. Celebrate each other's accomplishments. Rely on your collective sense of humor; laugh a lot! In short, take responsibility yourselves for creating a positive place to work.

5. If all else fails, look for another job. If you've honestly tried everything you know, and if it's just too big a challenge to keep yourself peaceful despite her bad behavior...you can always walk. Don't do it on a whim, and don't put yourself in financial jeopardy. Polish your resume, talk to people you know, and begin your search on the side.

In the meantime...use this as an opportunity to practice your skills in dealing with negative people without becoming one yourself!

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist and professional speaker who is the author of “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.” Visit her website, www.DrBevSmallwood.com; or contact Bev at 601.264.0890 or by email, Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. Also connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and her blogs, Shrink Rap and New Morning Devotionals.

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