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How to Improve Your Routine When a Manager’s Like a Bad Joke

Last week’s post began with the Critic, the Control Freak, and the Micromanager walking into a conference room. (You’ll find their characteristics here.)

Unfortunately, it can be very challenging to change these tendencies. After all, these individuals may have behaved this way as early as middle school when they had to work together on group projects as kids.

But that doesn’t mean you should give up! If you know you’re one of these folks, try the suggestions below. And if you work for one of them, try the parallel steps you can take to lessen their sense of concern.

Reining In the Critic

If you’re a Critic, it’s relatively straightforward to modify your undermining behavior:

  1. After you identify the six or 67 things that could be better, choose the most important two and offer your recommendations about those. Insist on more than two and you’re likely to get no positive change at all.
  2. Focus on what’s good enough — not the sloppiest you can get away with, but what will cover all the functional bases without obsessiveness or over-investment in the last few percentage points of completion.
  3. Keep your emphasis on the team or individual’s long-term success, not their conformance to your standards or the “perfection” of their product.

And if you work for a Critic? Ask questions like: Which of these priorities is the most important? Where would you like me to focus? Or suggest: Let me focus on getting XYZ in better shape before I try working on ZYX as well…

Unwinding the Control Freak

If you’re a Control Freak, you’ll probably find it the hardest to loosen up, and at an emotional level you may have the most to lose if things don’t go the way you want. But it will actually help to collaborate:

  • Make it an explicit goal to be curious about how things could be done more easily or effectively, instead of behaving as if you’re the only one with the right to have ideas and therefore the only one who can specify which activities and approaches are acceptable.
  • Your questions might include: “How would you go about it? What do you think we should do?” Practice listening to the answers. Use more of the employees’ suggestions than feels exactly right to you; expand your tolerance for small risks.
  • Find a colleague in another organization as a sounding-board to get more comfortable with your role and options.

And if you work for a Control Freak? Remind yourself that it’s actually your job to help the Control Freak be successful and look good in the process; you’ll be less likely to sound accusatory, rebellious, or like a know-it-all. Show that you’re willing to do what the Control Freak needs, that you care about their success and comfort, and that you won’t leave them exposed without backup.

Moderating the Micromanager

If you’re a Micromanager, pay a little less attention to “what needs to be done” and a little more attention to the needs of the person who has to do it:

  • Think through your instructions as if you were teaching a class or writing a handbook. That way you can explain from the beginning, in context, instead of appearing to fire off round after round of directives on the fly.
  • Try asking employees for periodic updates instead of checking on them constantly. Encourage them to tell you if they feel you’re keeping them on too short a leash — and then take the feedback.
  • When you do check in, assess their understanding and general progress, not just which details have been done, or which detail you’re going to assign next.

And if you work for a Micromanager? Report back frequently to show what you’ve accomplished, and ask explicitly about how well things are working. Show that you’re attentive to all the details the Micromanager has specified as significant, and see how they relate to the big picture and overarching goals.

Joke’s Over

It won’t always be obvious to a senior management just how much confusion and dissension this trio can create, but for the people who work for these characters, it’s no laughing matter.

Employee support can help, but in the long run, these three “types” have to choose to modify their own behavior, or they will continue to demoralize and disengage their staffs and undercut any hope of consistent progress or development.

Onward and upward,


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