When I was in secondary school, while other kids were ferried to school by either their parents or a school bus, I had the unique opportunity to arrive in a van. About 10 or so of us shared the vehicle to and fro from school, a mixture of personalities and ages. One day I heard a girl say (rather loudly), to her friend who sat beside her:
“Men don’t know or deserve respect. If you have a boyfriend, you need to pull him away one day, and for no reason give him two tight slaps across the face, one, two, one for each cheek. Men need to know who’s in charge of the relationship!” Sagely relationship advice from a 13 year old you might say. You just can’t make this kind of thing up.
At this point in your life, you would have met someone like the girl up above, whether on a personal or professional basis. People who just see others as ‘things to be controlled’ – like sheep or a computer mouse. And if you’ve lived such a blessed life that you haven’t met one before, chances are that you’ll come into contact with one sooner or later. What I’m talking about here are the:
That’s a big, scary term right there. We have all sorts of labels for people like that: OCD. Anal-retentive. And if they so happen to be in charge over you, Bosszilla. You know the sort – if they could, they would dictate your daily schedule down to the minute. They would tell you when and what to have for lunch, when and how to pick up and talk on the phone. You basically don’t do anything without their say, and oh God bless your poor soul if you decide to get ‘creative’ with your work.
Let’s examine: How do you know if you’re dealing with Bosszilla?
ONE: They get unreasonably angry when things don’t go according to THEIR plan.
Not just any plan, but their plan in particular. Bosszillas are so enamored with their own ideas that they see any and every possible change of course as a threat that needs to be killed with fire.
TWO: They believe THEIR plan to be the best despite evidence to the contrary.
“I’ve been doing this for so many years, I know what I’m talking about.” “You don’t even know what you’re saying, just trust me.” “I know what’s best. Just do it my way.” These are the Bosszilla’s go-to lines in the face of opposition.
This is not discounting that their ideas may be perfectly valid and sound. Sometimes, their ideas may actually be the best ideas as many Bosszillas do have some degree of expertise in what they do. The problem begins when they dismiss objectively better plans in order to run with their own. This is when their focus shifts from “doing things the right/efficient way” to exclusively “doing things my way”.
THREE: When push comes to shove, they pull RANK.
When all else fails, the Bosszilla’s go-to line is “I am the boss, so that’s that.”
Some of you might recognize this as an ad hominem (a directive) argument. The moment this line is dropped, you know that this person cares more for their ego than the success of the project.
Control freaks are a dime a dozen, usually operating under the cover of a perfectionist or “someone who cares”. Hey, you yourself might be one and not even realize it – but self-awareness leads to self-management. There are books already written on the subject of dealing with control freaks, both the one inside you and the one beside you. But for the sake of this article, let’s keep things strictly professional.
So now that you understand the typical mind of a Control Freak, here are steps to deal with them:
STEP ONE: Understand
The first thing to do is, without judging, is to understand. Some people are simply born wired this way. They have a need to force this chaotic world to make sense. Some others, however, are made this way through their upbringing or through repeated encounters that have shaped them to be this way. Without going into it too much, let’s just say that there’s a good reason why firstborns are strict rule-makers and enforcers.
Here’s what I understand about the non-neurotic ones: Bosszillas are usually motivated by a strong sense of duty and fear. Not necessarily the fear of shareholders or customers riding their asses, but sometimes the fear that the team is slacking off, or that the company’s fullest potential is not realised.
STEP TWO: Demonstrate Trustworthiness
Once you understand why Bosszillas work the way they do, it’s simply a matter of making the issue less “me vs you” and more “us vs the problem”. Don’t make your company any more of a warzone than it already might be, but work on making it better for everyone – not by removing the person, but by eliminating the problem.
How do you do that? By demonstrating trustworthiness. If you can prove that you are consistently able to deliver the goods on time without fussing or complaining, you’re on the fast track to earning your Bosszilla’s trust.
Another tip is to always keep them in the loop: updates on your progress before they ask for it; asking them questions to clarify (even if you already understand it well enough!); cc-ing them in outgoing emails. The better you demonstrate your ability to handle your own shit, the less likely your resident Bosszilla is to come and handle it for you.
STEP THREE: Redefine Boundaries
If you’ve done STEP TWO well enough, in time you will have enough ‘trust tokens’ to use as corporate currency. Your demonstrations of ability in the past are your bargaining chips for more freedom, and now it’s your turn to say, “Hey, I got this. Just trust me.”
Now at several points along your journey, your Bosszilla might try and bring up your various existing shortcomings to use them as ammunition to continue micromanaging you. This is where you say, “It’s a learning curve. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll learn how not to do it in the future.”
However you choose to say the above, keep in mind to phrase it in such a way that puts you in control rather than putting your Bosszilla out of control. This is to say, instead of saying “Don’t tell me what to do,” say, “I know what needs to be done”. Instead of saying “Get off my back”, say, “I need some space”. Because there’s nothing that sets off a control freak like someone trying to control them, as ironic as that sounds.
To close this, keep in mind that the corporate environment is like one of those old-timey dance floors (What, you thought the shirt-and-coat combo was a fun coincidence?). When you’re new, you’re more prone to making missteps in this tightly-choreographed scene; but the sooner you get into the rhythm of the place rather than rebelling against it, the sooner you’ll be waltzing your way to the top like a real pro. It’s about learning the right things to do and say at the right times and occasions; it’s about seeking to understand before seeking to be understood.
You can’t change your Bosszilla, but you can change yourself.
Once you get the hang of it, don’t worry, you’ll go far.