How to Respond to Controlling Behavior at Work

Dr. Melanie Chinchilla, Owner of Approach Therapy and a Clinical psychologist who works with many individuals to improve their work, life, and , offers tips on how to respond to controlling behavior in the workplace.

Most people have at least one story or experience as to what it is like to have a micromanaging or controlling boss.


People may attempt to exercise excessive control in the workplace as a means to manage their own worries or anxiety. They may lack confidence in others’ abilities to meet expectations and attempt to compensate by offering excessive guidance and support.

Make sure you understand what is being asked of you.

When working with a controlling individual, communication, clarification,  and expectations are very important. First, make sure you understand what is being asked of you. You can say something like, ” What I am hearing is that you want this project done and e-mailed to you by Friday at 5 pm.” Then, seek clarification if you have any questions or are uncertain about any aspects of the project.

Manage expectations and set realistic goals for what can be done within a specific timeline.

Aim to be proactive in your communication with your supervisor so your supervisor understands what you believe you can achieve given your overall workload, timeline, and competing priorities. This may help build trust and could also go a long way in terms of building goodwill. Set realistic goals, and do not spread yourself too thin. If you are not realistic with respect to deadlines and what can be achieved, you may end up making a bad situation worse. Of course, if you do end up missing a deadline, do your best to address the issue as soon as possible. Sometimes it seems appealing to avoid the problem and hope your boss doesn’t notice. Unfortunately, this could make controlling behavior even worse. Open communication is the best way to go in these situations.

Don’t dismiss feedback just because it came from your controlling boss.

If you are receiving feedback, consider what is valid and try not to defend yourself or your actions immediately. This can be very challenging at the moment, especially when you feel frustrated or caught off guard. Give yourself a few minutes to take a walk, take a few deep breaths and try to identify the root of what’s going on with you. Hit the pause button and try to determine how you are feeling. Are you worried? Overwhelmed? Stressed? What feelings are underneath that? What would it mean if the feedback was valid? How might you respond if you assumed the feedback was given to you as an opportunity to grow instead of criticism? What would it look like to rise to the occasion?

Prioritize self-care.

Working with an individual who you perceive as controlling can be extremely draining. Set boundaries between your work and home life. Do your best to prioritize your life outside of work and ensure you engage in enjoyable activities outside of work. When you are at work, consider whether you are in a position to seek guidance or mentorship from another employee or supervisor in your organization. Perhaps you could communicate your concerns to others and work together to plan for the group’s success. If you feel like controlling behavior is negatively impacting your work or your workplace relationships, perhaps you can share this article with coworkers and bring it up for discussion. How do others handle uncomfortable situations in the workplace? Do other people ever feel like they have room to grow and sufficient guidance from their supervisors? Is your workplace the type of place where you feel comfortable expressing your opinions to your supervisor? If not, what would need to change

Help is Available

If you do not feel ready or emotionally safe enough to start these conversations in the workplace, that’s okay. You are not alone. Many people aren’t sure how to start these conversations yet know their work impacts their personal lives. This may be something you want to talk about with friends, family, or a trained mental health professional. At Approach Therapy, we have helped many people learn to manage anxiety and navigate stressful or toxic work environments.

Dr. Melanie Chinchilla has worked as an in-house Employee Assistance Provider with the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF). She is passionate about helping young professionals learn to navigate the workplace better. If you are interested in learning more about working with Dr. Chinchilla or Navigating stressful work situations, please get in touch with us.

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