Dear Claudia,

My best friend and I have worked together at the same company for years. A few months ago we competed for a manager job in our department, and she got it; it’s her first time as a manager, and she’s turned into this horrible little micro-managing boss-from-hell. Everybody hates the new rules, morale is rock bottom, and most of the recruiters are talking about leaving as soon as they find something else. Because she’s my best friend, the team is pressuring me to talk with her about it; I think it may strain our friendship even further than it already is, and am pretty sure a talk won’t change anything (she’s very stubborn when she thinks she’s right). How would you handle this situation?

Really Stuck in the Middle

Dear Really Stuck,

It sounds like your friend is not only a first-time manager, but possibly also the parent of very young children at home. Did I guess that right? A parenting style geared toward the developmental ages of one’s children can sometimes translate into a similar management style in the office…and a “control and direct” that keeps the peace with a two or three year old can get ugly with direct reports who are used to choosing what to wear and eat by themselves.

An intervention is needed ASAP, and I agree that as her best friend you may be the right one to do it. Get her out of the office and into a neutral place where you can talk privately and without interruption, and then tell her honestly what is happening in your department. She probably senses the hostility, even if she may not yet be aware of what is causing it.

You may have heard me say this before, but there’s a classic formula for an intervention:

This is what I see.
This is how it makes me feel.
Here’s what needs to change.
And here’s what will happen if things stay the same.

Start with a general statement that acknowledges your role as both friend and direct report.

“We’ve known each other for a long time, and as your best friend I consider myself your eyes and ears on the team. But I also love you enough to tell you when I think you’re making a mistake. Will you give me a few minutes to tell you respectfully what’s on my mind?”

Then speak the truth, and come prepared with specific examples of micromanagement. Focus on the facts, not on the emotions of the people around you, and speak to her as respectfully as you’d want her to talk to you. It’s important if you want your friendship to weather the storm.

Be specific, too, about what needs to change for the team to regain trust in her as a manager. Tell her you need her to pick the hill, or point the direction, but that you’re all quite capable of figuring out how to get there and make her look good while you do it. Acknowledge that everyone is different, and that there may be some on the team who need more direct management than others; it’s her job as the manager to figure out where people fall on the directive-autonomous spectrum, and to provide the right level of support and structure for each. That's what managers do.

The final part of the formula sounds like a threat, but it's really just a statement of cause and affect. “If you continue to manage this team as if we are children, people will leave at the first opportunity for another job. It may not happen today, or even next week, but it will happen. The turnover rate in our team is in your hands.” Simple, direct, without tears or recriminations. And then the choice really is hers.

Oh, I almost forgot the most important part of the intervention:

I want you to be an amazing success as a manager, because I’m so proud that you got this job. How can I help you do that?

Sometimes, just knowing that we are accepted in spite of our screw-ups is all that is necessary to pick things up and start fresh. Tell her that you're proud of her accomplishments, and that you really are committed to her success in this role. It will probably make all the difference in how she processes the information you've shared with her.

Bottom line is that she’s lucky to have you as a caring friend, and even luckier that you’re on her team. Difficult conversations are when we learn the most about our capacity to face our fears, and I wish you the best of luck in this one.


In my day job, I’m the Head of Products for Improved Experience, where we help employers use feedback to measure and manage competitive advantage in hiring and retention. Learn more about us here.

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Nice post, Claudia! I'm enjoying the working together soundbites this week. It could be more simply put than this....

"This is what I see.
This is how it makes me feel.
Here’s what needs to change.
And here’s what will happen if things stay the same."

Very nice. I hope the reader takes the advice.

Kari : )

What a sticky situation! I love your advice, it seems like a really nice and hopefully effective way to handle the situation and keep the friendship.

You should have called this one "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang".

I find that my criticisms work really well when I have tons to praise
and some minor points to criticize. The people are so overwhelmed
by the genuine praise that they are willing to concede an error.

I don't see that happening here.

My advice to the writer. DON"T DO IT
Why should you be the sacrificial lamb?
You have the most to lose.

Let the others who have no extra-curricular friendship
with this ogre take her on.

Rayanne, if the person is worried about telling the friend, the friend is not the kind of person who wants to be criticized.

I have some great friends who are great guys but they can't stand to have real errors pointed out to them. It makes them feel too bad. And they have to shoot the messenger to protect themselves.

Not many friends or family members are eager to learn what their mistakes are. That's a very rare thing.
As others have stated, I like the the advice to confront head on following the intervention formula, but I wonder if that might be a bit premature.

Maybe the first step is go get drinks or lunch with your friend and ask them how they feel the new position is going. If you ask them that question you will get a one word answer of great, fine, etc. But there are questions that might get a response and allow your friend to open up. You might find your friend feels stressed and inadequate in the new position at which point you can ask to partner instead of going straight into (from friend's view) "This is why you suck" session. And if your friend is completely disillusioned you should know to abort the casual setting idea and make sure to handle it through the appropriate professional channels because if you force an issue it's going to get ugly and your going to need backup (the reason interventions aren't normally done one-on-one).

Bottom line: if you want to be heard and understood, you have to first be willing to listen and understand
Thanks Sandra! From me.

Rayanne, most listeners are not live.
I send them out to the people in my Linkedin group and facebook group.
Problem is that ning has changed the way the music player works.
I used to be able to post clips in the music player and get an URL
for each one that I could then shrink and repost. Haven't been able
to do that for a few weeks. Big problem for the show.


Sandra McCartt said:

Great show yesterday animal. Informative and cleared up a lot of misinformation.
Now you got me singing that song all day...Well, I don't know why I came here tonight
I got a feelin' that something ain't right...nice post Claudia!
Funny that they say it's the Grateful Dead when the actual band singing is Stealer's Wheels. Haven't they seen Reservoir Dogs, and heard the DJ, a famous Canadian, Steven Wright? : ) It's a great song.

Recruiting Animal said:
To me, it's an okay song. Never been crazy about it.
But if you like it maybe I'll get one of my guests to
sing it on the show.
Excellent. : )

Recruiting Animal said:
To me, it's an okay song. Never been crazy about it.
But if you like it maybe I'll get one of my guests to
sing it on the show.
Thanks for all the great input, everyone. It's been fun reading your comments so far, and I think "Stuck" has some good options to think about. My personal favorite so far is Kyle's addition - listen first, help next.

Good stuff, co-writers!

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