The High Maintenance Manager: Work with Them or Leave Them?

Glory Borgeson

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Over time, I have heard from several people who shared their stories of working with high maintenance managers (HMM). The most interesting were from people with family businesses whose spouse or parent is a HMM. That adds some interesting implications!

What happens when your HMM has crossed lines with you? Ideally you want all conflict, especially from situations where you feel beaten down, to cease. If you have years of experience working with all kinds of people (including a few HMMs), you know that striving for conflict resolution with this type of person can sometimes be rewarding, and is often frustrating. How far you're willing to take the process with this person will depend on what has defined the person as being a HMM and your current state of affairs (i. e. your stress level).

Use the Help of an Advocate

Does your HMM respect (and even fear) someone at the office? Could that person be your advocate? This is probably the best alternative for getting the person to change his or her approach and for reducing the amount of your stress. This is what I did - and have done a couple times - and it worked well. It's important to try to talk with the HMM first, before going to the advocate. It is also helpful if you, the HMM, and the advocate can meet together. If that is not possible, a discussion between the two of them while you are absent is the next best thing.

The advocate needs to know and understand the HMM from experience and needs to understand the issues at hand. Be brief and to the point when you update him or her, giving an executive overview" of the problem. If they talk together in your absence, get an update from the advocate, noting the points discussed, the position taken by the advocate during their meeting, and the advocate's perceived response by the HMM.

Then schedule a new meeting with the HMM, making certain you are no longer steamed when you meet. If necessary, schedule a meeting for a few days later.

Meet With the HMM

Whether you have an advocate or not, you will need to meet with the HMM. Because HMMs tend to talk very fast and to think while you are talking (rather than listen to you), remember to speak slowly. When you take a turn to talk, count 1 or 2 seconds before you start. Be deliberate. If necessary, write out notes before the meeting, bring the notes with you to the meeting, and use them. Notes will help you stay focused.

Start the conversation by mentioning something positive. For example, “When I heard that you were selected to manage the project, I was glad about that because I knew you were bringing a lot of experience to the project. "

Don't back down on the issues. Don't wimp out. Don't make excuses for the HMM. Don't accept his or her excuses (you can listen without agreeing).

See where the conversation goes as you discuss your points. Are you getting any agreement? Is there evidence that you are being manipulated? Is the HMM trying to fight with you or is she trying to solve problems? Can the HMM agree to disagree with you agreeably? Or does he agree to disagree in a disagreeable fashion?

Getting Pushback

If you don't have an advocate, and meeting with the HMM proves to not help very much, you need to decide how much you can take. What other types of changes can you make? At what point does life become too short to deal with the situation? Some of us put up with way too much for way too long. After some time that can really wear you down, making you susceptible to stress and disease. Is it really worth it? If not, what can you do to make a change?


As of this writing, I've come up with 18 bad habits of high maintenance managers. I've had some fun discussions with people who currently work for a high maintenance manager and they've found it helps to tell stories and laugh in order to use the laughter to lower the stress about their situation.

If you are currently in a work situation with a HMM, can you find an advocate to help you out? Will you meet with the HMM to discuss your issues? Are you getting pushback? In the meantime, can you discuss it with someone and laugh?

© 2005 Borgeson Consulting, Inc.

Glory Borgeson is a business coach and consultant, and the president of Borgeson Consulting, Inc. She specializes in working with executives in the “honeymoon phase" of a new position (typically the first two years) to coach them to success. Glory is the newly appointed executive's Secret Weapon!. Top athletes have a coach; why not you?

Click here for Borgeson Consulting, Inc.

This article was originally published in The Business Express, Borgeson's free monthly ezine. You may subscribe by clicking here: Ezine


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