Domineering Boss

How to Work with a Domineering Boss

Have you ever had a domineering boss that wants to micromanage everything you do? Managers like this can be challenging to work for, to say the least. They want to check everything and can often find fault with your work and undermine your confidence. Often this leaves us feeling like we have only two options; to stay and put up with our confidence being eroded, or, leave the company.

But if you want to leave no stone unturned before taking such action, it might be worth considering the following tips.

Firstly, any time you don’t feel compassion for another human being, it can be worthwhile to look internally. The problem can often begin by carrying a story about the other person that turns a human into a villain. Often we equate someone’s weaknesses with permanent labels and by assiduously avoiding any virtues they might have in our characterisation of them.

Take a moment to take an inventory of your bosses strengths and weaknesses. Are there reasonable third parties who would tell a different story? If so, is part of the problem in you?

On the contrary, some people’s weaknesses can be intolerable and we cannot equate compassion with permission but it is important to look at any role that we are playing and how we can influence this. It’s important that our immediate views are not deeply shaping our experience of and response to our bosses flaws.

So it’s worth considering:

  • How does our story about our boss affect our attitude and behavior toward them?
  • How does our story about our boss affect the way we try to influence their weaknesses?
  • Would a more moderated and complete story change our attitude, emotions and behavior?

Secondly, sometimes our anger, fear, resentment or blame are often evidence that we are not setting and maintaining boundaries. Therefore, could we be motivated to conjure up extreme views of our boss as a way of not acknowledging our own failure to set and hold boundaries for how we allow our boss to treat us?

Here’s an example of both of these principles in action. I once worked with a leader on a once-in-a-career project. I felt honoured, thrilled, and lucky to be involved. One day I did something he didn’t like. Whereas he had been the picture of professionalism in all our previous interactions, on this Friday afternoon he screamed over the phone at me for sixty seconds straight, hurling profanities and threats at me, then hung up abruptly. I felt stunned and terrified. Then I felt angry and weak. An hour or so later my emotions devolved to resentment and disgust.

I sat limp for an hour generating one adjective after another to describe him and how he had treated me.

I share this example to illustrate that the principles I’m sharing do not dismiss the responsibility of the other person. What he did was intolerable. What he did was rude, vindictive, and wrong.

And yet how I next responded to his weaknesses had just as much to do with my felicity or misery as his initial transgressions. I first began a narrow study of the injustice of what happened with the goal of making him the villain and myself the virtuous victim. And the more I worked at this project, the less likely I was to set and hold boundaries with him. The more I told myself that my client was an abusive monster, the less likely I was to confront his unacceptable behaviour.

Sometime that weekend I turned a mental corner. I began to open the possibility not only that I was part of the problem that led to his bad behavior, but that I had a responsibility to myself and to him to address what he had done. The larger the picture I allowed myself to see of him, the more human he began to appear to me.

On Monday morning I made my nervous phone call. I said, “I understand from what you said Friday that what I did disappointed and embarrassed you. I failed. If you no longer want to work with me, I understand and I’ll resign.” Pause. Then I continued, “And I’m willing to listen to your feedback if you want to give me another shot. But I will not work with you any further if you talk to me that way again. I want your word that you will address me professionally if you have any concerns with me.”

Should you look for another job? Perhaps. But if you haven’t first confronted the possibility that (1) your story is part of the problem and (2) your failure to set and hold boundaries motivates some of your resentment, those weaknesses may influence your experience with future bosses as well.

Latest Blog Posts

Stop Apologising

Have you found yourself in a relationship where you find yourself constantly apologising and feeling like you’re being taken advantage of? Genuinely expressing sorrow and


Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

Improve communication, habits, productivity and more with weekly insights and tips from our authors and experts.

Join our 10,000+ community.