There are as many reasons of why we seek control as there are people on the planet. So, this column is one of many more to come to explore control.
Today, we talk about how we can authentically deal with the controlling boss in our workplace. Imagine the following: Every morning you are dreading to go to work because your boss, Meryl, is micro-managing you in everything you do and do not do. It’s easy for Meryl to lose her nerves, get frustrated and even presents verbal and psychological abusive behaviour towards you and your colleagues when things don’t go her way. To give responsibility away, to trust others and rely on others are not a strength of hers. Now, I wonder, why is that? Why does Meryl lack softness and has an existential need to control situation around her?
Very often we wouldn’t really ask ourselves this question. Instead, we’d come home after a long day of work and terrorization and make disparaging remarks about the crazy bit** at work because we are exhausted from having been attacked, humiliated and disempowered all day. It’s understandable if we did some good old ranting – I reckon, it was needed. Yet, while ranting can give us some sense of short-term relief about the distressing situation at work, it does not help us to understand the situation and to find greater ease in it long run.
So, let’s now focus on how we can improve this situation for us long-term.
4 Step Guide to authentically deal with your controlling boss
Step 1 Don’t take it personal
Don’t take it personal, because it simply is not about you. As a rule of thumb – whenever someone gets dramatically loud in their emotions and expression – it’s no longer about you. Meryl potentially had a point when she said: ‘Your spreadsheet is a mess’, however, how she said it was coming from a different, internal, heavily conditioned and wounded place that very possibly was unrelated to you and your actions in that moment.
Step 2 Be open and curious
I know, I can see you cringe even from the distance when you just read the words 'Be open and curious'. I understand that being open to and curious about ‘a bully’ is incredibly hard and you might even think it’s impossible. Yet, if you want to feel more empowered then that’s the way forward. You already know that it is not about you, so from this rather safe place, aren’t you at least a bit curious what all of this perceived charade is about?
In this step you have understood that it is not about you, and you can relax back and attend with greater ease to the situation unfolding before your eyes. Just witness and be open to see the traits and behaviours for what they are – echoes and projections from the past that were revitalized and triggered in the moment.
Step 3 Meet the child in your boss
That might sound a bit too therapeutic for your taste. However, I encourage you; give it a shot. We all have our own conditions that we deal with on a daily basis. From the very first moment we are born, conditions get thrown our way. Literally. “It’s a girl” or “It’s a boy” happens only seconds after you are born. From now on we will learn and experience the world in a particular way. We will learn what is favourable, desired and right, and what is to be avoided, rejected and wrong. We might learn that there is 'good' and 'bad', 'pass' and 'fail'. And we learn that we must avoid one of those two options at all times.
No matter what someone’s reasons are by holding controlling traits, control is always accompanied by fear. We cannot talk about one without the other. When Meryl gets all controlling, her conditions, fears and her desperate attempts to get it right become obvious. I invite you to attend to such echoes and projections by attending to the child - in this case the girl - in front of you. You then can see that the girl in front of you is genuinely scared to get it wrong; scared to not be good enough and is covering it all up by projecting her fears onto you. She does so by making you feel exactly the way she used to feel when she was younger and the 'victim'. - A victim who was told off, judged (or even punished) by the 'persecutor' (often these are our immediate caregivers). The victim has now become the persecutor. What was ‘done to her’, she now is ‘doing’ to you. One of the classics of psychological development. The ‘done-to’ becomes the ‘do-er’.
Step 4 Radically empathise
By no longer taking it personal and by meeting Meryl with greater openness and curiosity, we were now able to see the potential origin of the projections she is throwing at us. It’s now our choice how we want to meet the ‘despairing, scared child’ in front of us. It’s much easier to empathise and care for someone if we see them not us our authoritarian boss but as fellow human who is clumsily unaware of their (childhood) conditions.
Yet, even if they cannot see what is happening, we can. It’s easier for us to become aware of inappropriate behaviour and distress when we are not in it. So, let’s use this privileged position to empathise with them when they cannot do the same for themselves. We can do so, by remaining in the I-Perspective and saying something like this: “I can tell that this is very important to you. What would work better for you?” The important thing is that Meryl needs to finally be heard. By empathising, we indicate that we hear her without judgment and that we are trustworthy.
Tip! - Radically provide all the empathy that you wish to be offered by your boss. Or in Gandhi's words: Become the change that you want to see in the world.
I suggest, try these four steps and let me know how things are going for you with the controlling – I mean, conditioned and self-loathing – boss in your workplace.
...AND WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE?
How do you deal with your controlling boss at work? How can you change your discomfort at work into comfort and greater ease? Would the discussed approach above be worth a try?