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How to Deal with a Boss Who’s a Bully (and a Micromanager)

By |December 20, 2021

The secret to getting the upper hand in a negotiation is giving the other side the illusion of control. 

There is great power in deference, especially because bullies (and micromanagers) are fear-driven and afraid of being out of control. Keep reading to learn how to deal with them. 

How to Deal with a Boss Who’s a Bully (and a Micromanager)

Rethink Your Approach and Be Patient

Here’s the bad news: You’re not going to like this. Some of this has to do with your approach.

You are likely goal-oriented, impatient, and highly autonomous. It’s understandable.

But even small delays to “save time” in your communication approach will pay huge dividends in the effective use of your time.

Remember, patience is a weapon, and there is great power in deference. Deference is not submission—it simply gives the other person the illusion of control.

How can you be more patient? By employing tools from The Black Swan Method™—like Mirrors™ and paraphrasing—and using a downward inflection in your delivery (i.e., the “late-night FM DJ” voice) 

(Need help with your delivery? Women, watch this. Men, watch this.)

Use Mirrors a lot. In case you’re unfamiliar, a Mirror is when you repeat the last 1-3 words the other person has just said. Bullies, Assertives, and control freak negotiators love Mirrors because they get to talk more.

It’s ridiculous how good they feel when you are Mirroring them. They will go on at length and feel great about being listened to. This has the automatic benefit of changing their attitude toward you.

Stop making compromises.  Download our guide to negotiating contracts and learn  how to never settle »

What This Looks Like in Action

Here’s an actual negotiation with a bullying micromanager using Mirrors and paraphrasing. 

An employee, who was a student of ours, shared this situation:

“My boss is very aggressive and sharp. She has a competitive style that makes it difficult to come to an agreement unless somebody caves in or the negotiation turns into an argument.

One of her last requests was paper copies of documentation on a project. It is a company policy (and a federal requirement of our industry) to store two copies of documentation in two separate places. We satisfy this requirement through electronic storage (not paper).

I tried to talk about the necessity of the paper copies with Jane, and the conversation did not end successfully for me.”

This is how the “failed” conversation went before Tactical Empathy™:

Boss: We need two sets of paper copies.

Employee: Why? We only need to store our copies electronically in two places as required.

Boss: This is my project, and I need two copies.

Employee: We are already behind, which is not my responsibility in the first place. I volunteered to help with the project, and making extra copies will take a long time because I have several other projects.

Boss: Go talk to Mark. (Mark is her boss. He usually supports her and has more pull, so conversations with him don’t prove helpful).

Here’s how the conversation went with Mirroring and paraphrasing:

Employee: Jane, what are the plans for the paper copies?

Boss: As I said before, we need two copies as usual.

Employee: Two copies?

Boss: Yes—one for us and one for the customer.

Employee: So you’re saying that the customer is asking for a copy, and we need a copy for internal use?

Boss: Well, let me see if the customer needs the copy, but I want a copy. That’s how I do business.

Employee: That would be great if you could check with the customer. Do you know where we could store the in-house copy? We are out of space here in my area.

Boss: You can store it anywhere.

Employee: Anywhere?

Boss: As a matter of fact, you can put them in my office. I have some space here. I like having an extra copy even though it is not required. I will get the new PM assistant to print it after the project is complete and the files are on the server. This way, I know that they are exact copies of what is stored.

Employee: That would be great. Let me know what the customer says about their copy.

Boss: OK.

I was shocked. I think she was, too.

Inch by Inch Is a Cinch

Later on, I received an email from her saying that the customer did not need a paper copy. All they wanted was a CD or two, depending on the size of the file!

A week of work was avoided—and without any argument, either!

The bottom line? Just aim to get a little bit better each day. You will love how quickly your skills will improve.

To continue your learning, check out our free guide, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating Contracts.

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