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Coping with a Toxic Boss – “MICHAEL THE MICROMANAGER”

Surviving the Toxic Workplace, by Linnda DurreBy Linnda Durre, Ph.D., Author of Surviving the Toxic Workplace – Protect Yourself Against Co-workers Bosses and Work Environments That Poison Your Day published by McGraw Hill, February 19, 2010.

As a business and corporate consultant and psychotherapist, I’ve analyzed, worked with, and consulted with many difficult bosses over the years.  In order to cope and deal with them, you need to know why they act the way they do and how best to deal with them, in order to earn their respect, get things accomplished, change negative situations to positive ones, and preserve your sanity.
 
In my twice-monthly column, I will help you cope with a different type of boss, whether male or female. And remember – all of these toxic bosses in all of my columns can be of either gender.  Toxicity does not discriminate according to the sexes. The previous ones include: Dick the Dictator, Bashia the Backstabber, Sewell the Sexual Harasser, Carl the Control Freak, Paula the Passive Aggressive, Clayton the Clueless, Greta the Gossip, Susie the Sugar Coater, Ian the Idea Stealer, Al the Alcoholic, Nancy the Narcissist, Donald the Deal Maker, Vernon the Verbal Attacker, Bobby the Boss’s Relative, Cynthia the Silent Treatment Torturer, Phil the Philanderer, Ned the Negligent, Sal the Slave Driver, and Porter the Political Soap Boxer.

One of the most frequently asked questions in the seminars, workshops and speeches I give is about the boss in this column — Michael the Micromanager. People ask, “How can I handle him? What can I do to stop him from driving me crazy?” I hope this column will answer those questions.  Michael shares some characteristics of Sal the Slave Driver and Carl the Control Freak, so you may want to read those previous columns as well for additional tips and information.

SITUATION:
Michael the Micromanager literally looks over your shoulder, constantly asks you questions, sees if you’ve completed the assignment yet, and communicates constantly with  you through phone calls, voice mail, emails, texts, and in person, sometimes as often as three or more times a day.  He is more than annoying – he is frustrating and he’s driving you crazy.  He asks you “Are you finished yet?” on a job that he knows will take at least three months, and he just assigned you to it yesterday. It is counterproductive, interfering in your concentration, and your pace to complete the job.

You dread going to work and ask if you can work from home – but the same thing happens – he hounds you no matter where you are.  I’ve known some bosses to come to the employee’s house to see if they’re sick and/or really working from home.  Michael is are relentless, nit picky, and won’t take no for an answer.

EXPLANATION:
Michael the Micromanager doesn’t trust people to do the job correctly. He’s terrified of what his boss will say and he’s nervous about being fired himself. Michael cares mostly about himself and his job. He is a control freak who watches his own back.  He seeks raises, promotions, and advancement.  He yearns for acknowledgements from his boss and higher ups, yet ironically doesn’t compliment his own employees or doesn’t know how.  He needs to be needed to feel like his job has meaning and to justify his paycheck. 

He thinks he can do everybody’s job as well or even better than the person doing it and he would if he had the time, but he can’t so he hires you to torment.  He may give you work that is his responsibility to finish, hence his additional hovering and nervousness.  Michael has high levels of anxiety, can be a bit paranoid, and always suspects that people are goofing off, surfing the Internet, and not doing the work, which in his mind justifies why he calls constantly.

He may be an obsessive compulsive personality or have a big streak of OCD – nit picky, super attentive to detail, and always finding fault.  His cup is usually half empty, not half full.  He focuses on the negative and doesn’t acknowledge how much great work you may have done.  Michael doesn’t know how to compliment his employees or inspire them. His idea of motivation is to ride your back and hound you.  In his mind, that shows you how much he cares. 

Michael the Micromanager sometimes will look to blame others for things that haven’t gone right.  Know that you exist to serve him. That is how he views his employees.  So it is crucial that you explain to him why and how you did what you did.  Also, keep a log so you can document where you were and what you were doing in case he accuses you of slacking off.  You may think this is just playing into his game, and in some way it is, and it will also serve to protect you when he gives you the third degree.

Since he has a streak of paranoia, he may think you’re after his job, so he will be  looking for ways to put you down and prevent any of your possible promotions. He can’t stand anyone being smarter or more capable than he is.  So it’s crucial to put everything in writing and cover yourself.

As for his childhood, he may have had negligent parents who didn’t have much structure, so he believes in control, structure, rules, consequences, and deadlines, and may be over-reacting to that laissez-faire parenting style.  Conversely, he may have had super-controlling parents – a mother and/or father who did the same thing to him that he’s doing to you.  So Michael thinks this behavior is normal – whether you parent, supervise, or teach – so he does this to everyone around him – his children, spouse, and employees.   It is up to his spouse, children, and employees to set him straight as diplomatically and clearly as possible. 

The solution for Michael is to hire the right people for the right job, train his employees correctly, and then he can relax.  Here in the Solution is how you can help him change.

SOLUTION:
Know that in order to keep your job and your sanity, you have to do the job the way he wants it done or he will consider you to be insubordinate, rebellious, and will look for ways to fire you.

It’s very important to know exactly how, when, and why he wants you to do each assignment. You have to be assertive with him and set limits if you’re going to continue to work with him.  Excellence at all times is his SOP – standard operating procedure – so you have to be super-competent if you intend to stick around. 

Since he thinks you’re after his job, he’s looking for ways to put you down and prevent any of your possible promotions. He can’t stand anyone being smarter or more capable than he is.  So it’s crucial to put everything in writing.

He may try to set you up and say that he didn’t tell you a certain directive. If he tells you something verbally, put what he said in writing in an email and ask him to confirm it and cc it to his boss and others on the assignment to cover yourself with Michael, who can be tricky, sneaky, and deceitful when he needs to cover his own back. 

So document everything in writing – put his verbal instructions in an email or memo and cc it to all those people involved, especially his boss and HR. That way he knows you mean business and other people are being informed about the situation.

Write something like this: “Michael, as per our conversation on Monday, January 22, 2011,at 11:30 AM, you told me that… [then give details of the assignment]. Please confirm this in a return email. I’m cc’ing this to Robert Smith and Bonnie Lawson and HR.”

As for dealing with his constant hounding of you, learn to be diplomatic and set limits before any blow up can occur. Say something like this: “Michael, I so appreciate your attention to detail and the time and effort you put into making sure things turn out well here at work.  I want to do a great job on all the projects and assignments and I want to do it the way you want it done. I also hope you will be open to my suggestions as to how it could be done better and/or faster.  For us to work well together, I’d like you to outline exactly what you’d like me to do, your vision of how the end of the project will look, and be open to hearing my suggestions. Then I’d like to establish a time line and target dates for each stage of completion.  If I have any questions, I will ask you. If you have any additional information for me, please tell me. Other than that, I expect to be trusted to do it according to our agreement.  You have hired me to do a job, so my credentials must be what you were looking for.  Constant interruptions and micromanaging interfere with my thought process, my concentration, and my pace of getting things done in a timely fashion. I know we both want the same thing in the end – to have the project finished according to our vision, plan, and time table.  I hope I’ve made myself clear.  Thank you for hiring me and I enjoy working here.  Do you have any questions?”

If that doesn’t get the point cross, then you need to be more direct. Say something like this:  “Michael, I so appreciate your attention to detail and the time and effort you put into making sure things turn out well here at work.  As I stated before, I need the directions at the beginning of the project, which we agreed upon, in order to concentrate and finish the job. Your constant interruptions disturb my concentration and throw me off track.  I’m doing exactly what you told me to do and your intrusions are counterproductive for me.  If you have information crucial to the completion of this assignment, then tell me. Otherwise, I’m proceeding ahead as we agreed at the beginning.”

And if that doesn’t work, you must be blunt and say: “Michael, I appreciate your concern. If you have crucial information, tell me now.  If not, please know that you hired me to do this job, so I assume I am the right person for this assignment. You have trained me and told me what to do.  Please trust that I am doing what you asked me to do.  Stop micromanaging me. It’s intrusive and counterproductive. Let me finish the job. Thank you, Michael. I appreciate you listening to me.” 

If none of this works, then it’s time to contact HR and/or Michael’s boss. Best to go to HR first or he will feel you have gone over his head.  Explain the situation to the head of HR, citing specific examples of Michael’s behavior. Tell them how you’d like it to be and ask for a meeting with Michael, the head of HR, and his boss, after HR talks to Michael individually.  If all that still fails, think of a transfer to a new department or leaving the company and finding another job somewhere else. 

I hope these tips will help you in dealing with Michael the Micromanager.

—Linnda Durré, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, business consultant, corporate trainer, national speaker, and columnist. She has hosted and co-produced two live call-in TV shows, including “Ask The Family Therapist” on America’s Health Network, which was associated with Mayo Clinic and aired from Universal Orlando. She is the author of “Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against Co-Workers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day” (2010 – McGraw-Hill). The book’s website is: www.survivingthetoxicworkplace.com

She has been interviewed on Oprah, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Daytime, Good Morning America, Canada AM, and The O’Reilly Factor (twice), and the national and/or local news on ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, PBS, Fox and CW.  She has written for Forbes, CareerBuilder, Monster, A&U Magazine, Orlando Business Journal, and American Cities Business Journals. For more information about her consulting or speaking, contact her at Linnda.Durre@gmail.com and 407-739-8620.

Coping with a Toxic Boss – “MICHAEL THE MICROMANAGER”
1 vote, 5.00 avg. rating (98% score)
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  • Ed Tessmacher

    This article fails to address the fact that Michael holds the power to fire you if you ever question him. At least, my boss threatens me with that twice and sometimes three times a week. I’ve got a huge long list of all the times he’s told me “I am in a dead end job and better learn to like it, because I’m not going anywhere as long as he has anything to say about it” (direct quote) and that I can’t ever question him because it’s “insubordinate”. My performance evaluations steadily go down, in spite of the fact that his predecessor rated me much higher. I have no way out.

  • Kris

    With all due respect Ed, I know what you are going through but you DO have a way out. You can always vote with your feet. Find another job, and then quit. Abuse is abuse no matter how you slice it. As long as you allow your boss to threaten you and get away with it, you will always be a slave to your job. You ALWAYS have a choice. If your job is physically effecting you, get it on record…and then file for disability…once you do that, if your boss fires you, you then will have a discrimination complaint against him. Bottom line though, you DO have a choice, you just have to have the courage to make it.

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  • Diana

    I like the advice and the explanations for why these people act this way. However, no matter what the problem I have had and how bad it has been, I have never found that HR ever helped me with anything. They seem to be there just to protect management from the consequences of their own actions, not to actually make the workplace a good one or help employees.

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