Credit and Blame at Work

Exploring the psychological forces at play while you work.

Does your boss hover over you?

How to deal with a hovering boss

If your boss hovers over you in a figurative sense, you are likely to perceive micromanagement and may become resentful after a certain point. You may need to have a candid conversation with your boss about feeling that you are not given sufficient empowerment or autonomy in your role. But what do you do if your boss is hovering over you in a literal, physical sense? Here are some suggestions that I provided as part of a radio interview on this topic.

Understand your boss. If your boss is from another country or another culture, he or she may have a different notion of personal space and nonverbal communication than you do. What to you seems like hovering may not be hovering at all in the culture that your boss is coming from. Why is she hovering? Perhaps he or she is concerned about your performance and that of your co-workers. In that case, communicating more proactively about what you are doing may set your boss at ease and make him or her less prone to walking by to check up on you.

Ask for some space. Mention to your boss, in a friendly and nonthreatening way, that he or she is making you feel uncomfortable by standing too close to you. Respectfully ask that he or she keep a little bit more physical distance. If you approach the conversation in a positive, nonaccusatory manner and present a solution, your feedback and request will be much easier for your boss to listen to.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Rearrange the work space. Some people protect their privacy in the workplace by configuring their office or cubicle in a way that minimizes the possibility that others can hover. Sometimes, people even put up mirrors in their offices or cubicles so they can see people standing behind them. Doing this may help in the short term but may also make the situation worse over the longer term if your boss perceives that you are trying to limit his or her access to you or to monitor his or her comings and goings.

Take your concern to a higher level. In today's litigious workplace, bosses are likely to be responsive to employee requests about things like physical space, especially when any kind of discomfort or harassment is potentially being experienced. If your boss is not responsive to repeated, clear requests, you may need to go to his or her bosses or to human resources to ask that they intervene.

A last resort. You can hum the song "Don't Stand So Close to Me" by the Police whenever your boss stands too close to you. This is obviously more likely to be effective with a boss who knows the song, gets the reference and takes the hint. However, even a boss who doesn't know the song could potentially be conditioned to keep a bit more distance if your humming is a direct function of his or her proximity.

Click here for the original radio segment on this topic on NPR's Morning Edition.

I look forward to hearing from you:

Have you ever had a hovering boss?

What did you do about it?

Ben Dattner, Ph.D., is a workplace consultant, an industrial and organizational psychologist, and an adjunct professor at New York University.

more...

Subscribe to Credit and Blame at Work

Current Issue

Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?