Q. My boss is a complete micromanager – I feel as if I might as well not even be there, since she rewrites all my letters, and is constantly looking over my shoulder. Is there any way to get her to stop?
A. Don’t count on it. When subordinates feel harassed and diminished, they get defensive – either passively or aggressively. The boss becomes a fixation, a target. You can’t change her. But you can shrewdly manage yourself in a bad situation.
Since St. Augustine reminds us that “nothing in the world happens by chance” you have a God-given opportunity to help yourself and your boss. Here are four possible steps:
Docility. It is a mark of docility to be ready to be taught (St.Thomas). Though it seems counter-intuitive, ask your boss for specific training. “My letters obviously aren’t up to par. I’d like to do better. Can you train me in better composition? Or will you approve some outside training?” If she agrees, you both win. If she doesn’t, try a second tactic at a later date.
Diplomacy. “Ma’am, do you think I have the skills for every aspect of my job? Some of your oversight makes me wonder if I should handle different tasks.” The ball is in her court to give critical feedback that should help you navigate or negotiate your future.
Directing. Aristotle observed that “no man can be a long time in company with what is painful and unpleasant.” St. Thomas agrees and cites two responses to pain: either “shun whatever causes sorrow” or “pass to other things that give pleasure.” Given that formula, try focusing on the enjoyable aspects of your job. What things about your work, the environment and colleagues do you find pleasant and satisfying? Really focus.
Because aggravations and frustrations powerfully attract our attention, we must deliberately and frequently direct our thoughts to the good. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
Departure. If all else fails and you have options, actively seek another job.
I know how it feels to be on both the giving and receiving ends of micromanagement. Cool-headed, rational action beats defensiveness. “Prudence is love choosing wisely between the things that help and those that hinder. The worth of prudence consists not in thought merely, but in its application to action.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica)
Jim Berlucchi is the executive director of the Spitzer Center, whose mission is to build cultures of evangelization (www.spitzercenter.org).