Paralegals: How to Cope With a Micro-Managing Boss

I belong to several Facebook paralegal groups that I keep up with on an almost daily basis.  Hearing the stories other paralegals are telling about their jobs and daily work is always interesting and enlightening.  Today a paralegal had a good one and it had to do with an attorney boss that was obviously micro-managing his employees to the point of madness.

micro-manager boss

Being micro-managed is frustrating and discouraging. Your progress is often blocked by your boss's need to review and approve everything, and since you never have the chance to suggest improvements or demonstrate your own ability with a micro-manager you have no opportunity to really shine. In this instance, the paralegal came to the group asking for advice on how to handle a recent situation.  She had made the "terrible mistake" of making a single typo in an email that was sent to the defense counsel.  Now her boss insists on reviewing every one of her emails before she sends them.

That seems a bit extreme given it was one typo and this paralegal claimed a near spotless mistake-free work history.  In addition, she was carrying an intense caseload (something a lot of us can relate to).  Her complaint was that in addition to this instance, her boss was also micro-managing multiple other tasks she performs including the very mundane task of filing.  She was nervous all the time, was becoming filled with self doubt, and her work pace was being throttled.

The micro-managers scrutiny and attention to detail will take time away from your job, putting you in a no-win situation. You may also feel confused by contradictory messages and information you receive from your boss, which reflects his/her shifting (and sometimes mutually exclusive) priorities and goals.

The good news is that you, as paralegals, can reduce the stress and strain of working for a micromanager attorney-boss. However, you can help only yourself because you won't be able to rehabilitate your micromanaging boss.

The first thing you can do is replace your boss with your own positive inner coach boss. Talk to yourself and treat yourself the way you want to be managed. Encourage, empower, appreciate and value yourself and your ideas. Secondly, be prepared, be thorough with each task, be able to back up your work with proof, and keep a smile on your face.
  • Prepare in advance for scheduled calls/visits with your boss and certainly be ready for surprise calls and visits. Always have an update on the tip of your tongue. If the boss is nearby, expect a visit and have a detailed response ready.
  • Learn your boss's pattern and anticipate it. He/she will call you less if you always have the info ready and may learn to trust you. 
  • Get detailed project instructions from your boss in order to avoid future errors. 
  • Pay attention when your boss shows you his/her priorities and concerns, then play to those aspects to your advantage.
  • When presenting options, provide two equally acceptable alternatives so that your boss feels as though they have control when choosing one.
  • If he/she calls unexpectedly and you are dealing with a time-sensitive problem, ask if you can get back to them. Let them know you must prioritize it. 
  • If the boss won't listen to your perspective, enlist the aid of statistics, representatives or other authority figures whom the boss respects to win your point.
  • When dealing with a sticky issue, speak to the micro-managers strengths and comfort levels, using clients, favored people, articles, news reports and competitors' information rather than your opinion against theirs.
  • Keep up with company politics and stay on good terms with as many people as possible. You'll need allies, support systems, and a solid reputation as you continue to work out issues with the micro-manager. 
  • Alert, warn, and inform your boss about important information to show you have his/her back on potential issues. Reinforce that you are on his/her side.
  • Use the boss's own beliefs, preferences, and concerns when presenting suggestions.
  • Keep an email trail of the communication between you and your boss.
  • Avoid direct confrontation.
Instead of fearing the micro-manger boss and keeping your head down and hoping for the best, empower yourself and do things you know are good at and that produce good results that your micro-managing boss can appreciate.  Remember, you are a valuable asset and know your job.  Don't let the micro-manager throw you off.

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