At some point, we all find ourselves working with someone who is very organized, very thorough, and, not surprisingly, very successful at their job. This relationship can be wonderful – things happen, work gets done. But it can be challenging too, especially when they reach into your work and tell you how to do it. This type of overreaching can feel like micro-managing, or distrust, or an inability to let go. It can also bring out feelings of defensiveness and uncooperative behavior. Most of us don’t enjoy feeling bossed around.
It’s also common to play both roles, depending on the situation. Sometimes, we may be the one who “knows” how something should be done. Sometimes we’re the one on the receiving end.
On the receiving end, figuring out how to establish some boundaries is essential. Whether it’s a boss, a friend, family member or co-worker, some version of a firm stance may be in order. Especially when it seems that all the politeness in the world can’t get the message across.
I’ve witnessed plenty of blow-ups in these situations (or been the one blowing up), and it doesn’t do any good. The initial shock into silence can be a welcome relief. But it can also lead the overreacher to be further convinced of your inability to do things well and the cycle eventually picks up again.
The passive-aggressive approach doesn’t work either. Pretending that we’ll do things their way and then doing it our way is really only being aggressive in a different way. As a result, distrust builds and they may try even harder to reach in and control us next time.
How do we claim our territory without blowing our top?
- It’s helpful to acknowledge the other person’s concerns. “I hear you’re worried about how I will present on this topic…..” This requires careful listening when we’d really rather fume about how they have no right to try to boss us around.
- It’s important to tell them what you will or won’t be able to do about their concerns. This confirms that you heard them clearly and sets good expectations. For example, “I will reflect your concerns about xyz in my presentation but I will not be changing my information about abc from what you already saw.”
- Tell them what to expect. Maybe, “I will share an outline with you before the meeting, but I won’t make additional changes at that time.”
- Then stop.
I believe it’s important to be clear with others about your thinking, what you will do, and what they can expect as a result. I also believe it’s okay, when this person really is overstepping their boundaries, to have the self-respect to turn your attention to your work.
If you think you might be the overreacher, listening for these types of clues might be a good place to start.
It’s a touchy situation, especially when the person you’re dealing with is someone you will have to continue to work with. Even when you think you won’t, I don’t recommend burning bridges. I’m sure others have found other ways to set boundaries with people who’d like to tell you how to do your job.
Do you think you do both of these? Neither? Do you have a suggestion?