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Balancing act: Authors offer tips for dealing with a controlling boss

Published: Monday, Oct. 10 2011 1:00 p.m. MDT

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So, are you ready for the big holiday next week?

I can only assume you’ve been out shopping for the perfect gift.

If not, don’t worry. There’s still time.

National Boss Day is Oct. 17 this year, so you have one more week to find that special item that says, “Thanks, boss, for encouraging me, praising me and helping me grow in my job … not to mention always having my back.”

What’s that you say? Your boss hasn’t helped you in those ways?

Well, that’s not surprising. According to a column I wrote a few months ago, a recent survey by OfficeTeam found that 46 percent of the 441 office workers contacted said they had worked for an unreasonable boss.

The survey went on to ask those people, "How did you respond?" The poll showed that 35 percent stayed at the job and tried to deal with the issue, while 24 percent stayed and "suffered through the torment." However, 27 percent quit working for the unreasonable boss once they had another job lined up, and 11 percent quit immediately without having new employment ready.

If you’re one of those people working for an unreasonable boss, you may not be inclined to send your supervisor a nice present next Monday.

However, according to a press release I received recently from executive leadership coaches Kaley Klemp and Jim Warner, there are some things you can do to manage a controlling boss.

Klemp and Warner are the authors of “The Drama-Free Office: A Guide to Healthy Collaboration with Your Team, Coworkers, and Boss.”

They say in the release that a controller is “usually a perfectionist who ‘always knows’ the right solution. Controllers take charge of everything while setting impossible goals for themselves and everyone on the team. Regardless of your skills or efforts, this workaholic boss obsesses over tasks and picks relentlessly at your outputs. While you try your best, it seems you can never meet their expectations — and you pay the consequences!”

But don’t fret, they say. There are several things you can do to manage a controlling boss. For example:

  • “Develop rapport. Overtly confronting a controller boss is risky and can limit your career. … Instead, build a relationship with him before initiating a difficult conversation.” Klemp and Warner say you should try hard to demonstrate your support and trustworthiness, because such bosses typically reward loyalty.
  • “Clarify expectations.” Controllers tend to be poor delegators who give vague or incomplete instructions. “They assume you’ll know what to do and then reprimand you when your deliverable differs from their expectation. Consequently, you must clearly define goals and time frames up front.”
  • “Deliver results. A Controller boss expects you to perform well so that he’ll look good. Focus on delivering quality work on time and then let him get the kudos. Since a Controller expects strength and energy from himself and others, hold your ground, speak your truth and perform assigned tasks with high integrity.”
  • “Appreciate their value. Compliment your boss for his efficiency, which he highly values. However, Controllers are sensitive to false praise or fawning, so keep the appreciation short and specific.”
If none of this works, Klemp and Warner say, your best strategy may be to stay off the controlling supervisor’s radar screen.

“If you’re willing to take the risk, you might go over his head to seek reassignment or upper-level backing for your role,” they say. “This is usually a high-stakes move, so be prepared for the Controller to react with swift, angry retaliation, which may mean your termination. …

“Controllers often make their way to the boss’s chair because they champion efficient and thorough completion of assignments. Also, under pressure they can be tough-minded and resolute. By following these guidelines and tips you can position yourself as a responsible team member, whom they can trust to understand their goals, ask good questions and deliver results.”

This is good advice, I think. There’s no guarantee that it will work, but at least it gives you a place to start if you’re in a bad situation.

As for National Boss Day, I can offer some more concrete advice: Chocolate is always good, and flowers are nice.

Or, if I ever happen to be your boss, you might want to consider doughnuts. Just sayin’.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing and on Facebook on my journalist page.

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