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Communication with Micromanagers

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Five Points Verbal Response Test Rules of Verbal Self Defense Seven Typical Corporate Email Errors Socratic Questions Copying with anger Negative politeness
Communication with Corporate Psychopaths The psychopath in the corner office Coping with the stress Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand Humor Etc


Note 1: Paranoid incompetent micromanagers (PIMM), who successfully combine tight control of minute details/procedures used in performing assignments with compete incompetence are often called "control freaks" (CF). This category of micromanagers represents really nasty beasts of IT jungles who tend to completely paralyze their victims.  They are dangerous corporate psychopaths completely different from PHB on Dilbert cartoons.

In this set of pages that include

we will mainly address this menace. 

Note 2: Good advice about the topic is difficult to come by and depends on your concrete situation: take any recommendations with a grain of salt.

Note 3: Most people dramatically overestimate their communication abilities. As a raw estimate consider them approximately equal to your abilities to play chess.

Note 4: Communication with corporate psychopath cannot be spontaneous.  It should be very formal and you should never avoid the possibility to ask the question or statement to be repeated to gain some time.

Note 5: PIMM often use term "improper communication" or "bad teamwork" for pigeonholing. Be prepared to those false accusation and calmly point out on the attempt to pigeonholing:

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Pigeonholing is a term used to describe processes that attempt to classify disparate entities into a small number of categories (usually, mutually exclusive ones).

The expression usually carries connotations of criticism, implying that the classification scheme referred to does not adequately reflect the entities being sorted, or that it is based on stereotypes.

Common failings of pigeonholing schemes include:

  • Categories are poorly defined (often because they are subjective).
  • Entities may be suited to more than one category. Example: rhubarb is both 'poisonous' and 'edible'.
  • Entities may not fit into any available category. Example: asking somebody from Washington, DC which state they live in.
  • Entities may change over time, so they no longer fit the category in which they have been placed. Example: certain species of fish may change from male to female during their life.
  • Attempting to discretize properties that would be better viewed as a continuum. Example: attempting to sort people into 'introverted' and 'extroverted'.
  • ....



The first rule of communicating with micromanager is to feed the beast regularly but never provide any information that is not strictly connected to your projects/assignments. Any information that you communicate can later be used against you. Remember that acute micromanagers are a special type of corporate psychopath and that the driving source of such micromanagers is their own insecurity as well as anxiety about failure. Keep him in the loop feeding with washout information, and then do so on a periodic basis that you can negotiate. As for the length of the period you mileage can vary. I saw pathological tenacious PIMM who, paradoxically, was comfortable with just monthly reports. You need to test PIMM tolerance and if monthly reports are enough consider yourself somewhat lucky, if we can talk about luck in such a desperate situation. With some inventiveness you can safely avoid him/her for the rest of the period.

Think about those periodic reports as feeding money into a parking meter. If you stop putting money in, your meter will run out and you can get a ticket.

You can feed micromanager with spam instead of useful information as long as the period is observed. Micromanagement is all about the procedure not about the substance and that observation alone gives you considerable leverage even on the worst of control freaks. In other words cheating is a noble art for anybody who reports to a micromanager. Usually control freaks do not have time to read all the mail and even if they do they easily swallow regular corporate BS due to self-induced overload. You need to understand the level of their competence and if it is dismal use this weakness. You can usually slightly fudge facts in your favor with little risk: they have no time to check them as they are preoccupied with some meaningless activity like creating yet another gigantic useless Excel spreadsheet that documents absurd procedure for doing trivial things.

The second rule is to sugarcoat everything. PIMM have deeply seated insecurity and their triggers go off at slight hint of criticism. That does not mean that you should avoid confrontations. Just present it as if this is a child. You can find a lot of material how teachers should behave with children and most of them are relevant to communication with PIMM.

Remember that you essentially are dealing with a sick person. You can practice feeding him/her an irrelevant information that makes him comfortable with the hope that it will let you avoid stupid outbursts of anger. But such approach failed to avoid emotional outburst confront such behavior calmly and firmly: "Understand but do not accept negative behavior."

Be assertive and confident but never trust paranoid micromanager and never try to build trust beyond some superficial ("I respect you") level. PIMMs are special type of corporate psychopaths and a psychopath is always a psychopath. Moreover they are usually very skillful manipulators and will try to lure you into frank discussions. Never bite this trap. Never volunteer any information that can be used against you. This is a war and "a la guerre, comme a la guerre" as French defined such relationships: war does not determine who is right - only who is left.

Never try to reform a PIMM. Leave this task to other people or to qualified medical personnel. To quote Susan K. O'Brien (see Tips for coping with a micromanager) ":

Micromanagement is a personality aberration of insecure individuals. Confronting them is likely to make things worse."

Never try to reform a PIMM. Psychopath cannot be reformed. Leave this task to other people or to qualified medical personnel.

Practice verbal aikido by deflecting direct questions and using indirect communication instead of direct whenever possible. Like the martial art of aikido, you don't brace yourself for attack, but try to use your attacker's momentum to thwart the advance. Rather than go into defensive mode, pretend to be proactive and cooperative and try to redirect the oncoming anger into complex question that always surround supposedly "black and white" situation.

When someone tries to put you on the defensive, thanks them but ask for more information using Socratic questions, for example:

Use Socratic questions; be indirect.

For more detail please check two additional pages devoted to the topic:

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Old News ;-)

[Feb 18, 2007] August 1997 -- Improving Verbal Communication

Mr. Gabor offers these tips for using TACTFUL conversations:

Other DOs and DON'Ts to Accompany T-A-C-T-F-U-L Strategies

DO be direct, courteous and calm

DON'T be rude and pushy

DO spare others your unsolicited advice

DON'T be patronizing, superior or sarcastic

DO acknowledge that what works for you may not work for others

DON'T make personal attacks or insinuations

DO say main points first, then offer more details if necessary

DON'T expect others to follow your advice or always agree with you

DO listen for hidden feelings

DON'T suggest changes that a person can not easily make.

[Jan 13, 2007] 11 Communication Tips for a Healthy Workplace by

Misunderstandings and communication problems remain one of the most common sources of workplace strife, and interpersonal difficulties are magnified when conflicting work styles coexist in one setting. Generational differences (baby boomers vs. GenX-ers), personal management styles, educational background, and cultural diversity are all potential sources of office misunderstandings.

While conflict is inevitable, it need not ruin your workday or cause unbearable stress. Try these conflict resolution tips to make your work environment a less stressful, more productive place:

  1. Be specific in formulating your complaints. "I'm never invited to meetings" is not as effective as "I believe I would have been able to contribute some ideas at last Thursday's marketing meeting."
  2. Resist the temptation to involve yourself in conflicts that do not directly involve you or your responsibilities. Even if someone has clearly been wronged, allow him or her to resolve the situation as he/she chooses.
  3. Try to depersonalize conflicts. Instead of a "me versus you" mentality, visualize an "us versus the problem" scenario. This is not only a more professional attitude, but it will also improve productivity and is in the best interests of the company.
  4. Be open and listen to another's point of view and reflect back to the person as to what you think you heard. This important clarification skills leads to less misunderstanding, with the other person feeling heard and understood. Before explaining your own position, try to paraphrase and condense what the other is saying into one or two sentences. Start with, "So you're saying that..." and see how much you really understand about your rival's position. You may find that you're on the same wavelength but having problems communicating your ideas.
  5. Don't always involve your superiors in conflict resolution. You'll quickly make the impression that you are unable to resolve the smallest difficulties.
  6. If an extended discussion is necessary, agree first on a time and place to talk. Confronting a coworker who's with a client or working on a deadline is unfair and unprofessional. Pick a time when you're both free to concentrate on the problem and its resolution. Take it outside and away from the group of inquisitive coworkers if they're not involved in the problem. Don't try to hold negotiations when the office gossip can hear every word.
  7. Limit your complaints to those directly involved in the workplace conflict. Character assassination is unwarranted. Remember, you need to preserve a working relationship rather than a personal one, and your opinion of a coworker's character is generally irrelevant. "He missed last week's deadline" is OK; "he's a total idiot" is not.
  8. Know when conflict isn't just conflict. If conflict arises due to sexual, racial, or ethnic issues, or if someone behaves inappropriately, that's not conflict, it's harassment. Take action and discuss the problem with your supervisor or human resources department.
  9. Consider a mediator if the problem gets out of control, or if the issue is too emotional to resolve in a mutual discussion. At this step, your supervisor should be involved. You can consider using a neutral third party mediator within your own company (human resources if available) or hiring a professional counselor.
  10. Take home point: It's not all about you - You may think it's a personal attack, but maybe your co-worker is just having a bad day. Take time to think BEFORE you speak in response to an insensitive remark. It may be that saying nothing is the best response.

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