How to Deal With Micromanagers (aka Bullies)

If you’ve ever dealt with a bully in your life, you’ve probably figured out that the best way to deal with them is not to. Walking away or removing that person from your life is the most effective way of dealing with a bully. What if you can’t just walk away? What if that bully is your boss?

Our LOSW leaders are supposed to uphold the values of our firm and lead according to the guidelines in our Vision Script. We are working towards a future where all LOSW leaders embody the very best leadership tactics and strategies and shed poor leadership habits like micromanaging and motivating away (using fear).

There is great power in deference, especially because micromanagers (and bullies) are fear-driven and afraid of not being in control. The secret to being successful in a negotiation with them is giving them the illusion of control. 

Be Patient, Reflect, and Rethink Your Approach

Here’s the bad news: You’re not going to like this. If you are goal-oriented, impatient, and highly autonomous, some of this may have to do with your approach. Even small delays to “save time” in your communication approach will pay huge dividends in the effective use of your time.

Remember, patience is a weapon, and there is great power in deference. Deference is not submission; it simply gives the other person the illusion of control.

Bullies, assertive people, and control freaks love Mirrors because they get to talk more. Use Mirrors a lot. In case you’re unfamiliar, a Mirror (borrowed from Chris Voss and the Black Swan Group) is when you repeat the last 1-3 words the other person has just said.

It’s ridiculous how good they feel when you are Mirroring them. They will predictably go on at length and feel great about being listened to. This has an instant and automatic benefit of changing their attitude toward you. Here is an example taken from the Black Swan Group demonstrating the power of using Mirrors in a negotiation with a bullying micromanager. 

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An employee, who was a student of ours, shared this situation:

“My boss is very aggressive and sharp. She has a competitive style that makes it difficult to come to an agreement unless somebody caves in or the negotiation turns into an argument.

One of her last requests was paper copies of documentation on a project. It is a company policy (and a federal requirement of our industry) to store two copies of documentation in two separate places. We satisfy this requirement through electronic storage (not paper).

I tried to talk about the necessity of the paper copies with Jane, and the conversation did not end successfully for me.”

This is how the “failed” conversation went before using Mirrors.

Boss: We need two sets of paper copies.

Employee: Why? We only need to store our copies electronically in two places as required.

Boss: This is my project, and I need two copies.

Employee: We are already behind, which is not my responsibility in the first place. I volunteered to help with the project, and making extra copies will take a long time because I have several other projects.

Boss: Go talk to Mark. (Mark is her boss. He usually supports her and has more pull, so conversations with him don’t prove helpful).

Here’s how the conversation went with Mirroring:

Employee: Jane, what are the plans for the paper copies?

Boss: As I said before, we need two copies as usual.

Employee: Two copies?

Boss: Yes—one for us and one for the customer.

Employee: So you’re saying that the customer is asking for a copy, and we need a copy for internal use?

Boss: Well, let me see if the customer needs the copy, but I want a copy. That’s how I do business.

Employee: That would be great if you could check with the customer. Do you know where we could store the in-house copy? We are out of space here in my area.

Boss: You can store it anywhere.

Employee: Anywhere?

Boss: As a matter of fact, you can put them in my office. I have some space here. I like having an extra copy even though it is not required. I will get the new PM assistant to print it after the project is complete and the files are on the server. This way, I know that they are exact copies of what is stored.

Employee: That would be great. Let me know what the customer says about their copy.

Boss: OK.

I was shocked. I think she was, too.

Later on, I received an email from her saying that the customer did not need a paper copy. All they wanted was a CD or two, depending on the size of the file!

A week of work was avoided—and without any argument, either!

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What’s the takeaway? If you set out to be a better listener and communicator, and learn this strategy of using Mirrors, your negotiation skills will quickly improve. Remember, people enter into an average of 7 negotiations every day. They don’t just happen at work. The most dangerous negotiation is the one you don’t know you’re in!

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