Dealing With Micromanagement

We’ve all been there at one point or another. Working with a boss who can’t or won’t delegate. Looks over our shoulder all the time. Obsesses over the most minute details. I’ve had quite a few people talk to me recently looking for some advice about dealing constructively with the micromanagers in their midst, so here I am to proffer a few ideas.

Why Does this Happen?

Micromanagement comes from….

Fear: Of someone else getting credit. Of blame if something goes wrong. Of personal failure on the part of the individual doing it. Fear that if they don’t put their stamp on it, no one will see how hard they work.

Insecurity: People who obsessively micromanage often aren’t sure they’ve got what it takes themselves, so they step on other people in order to make themselves feel better. This bit can range from the annoying to outright bullying.

Need for control: This can be not understanding that there’s more than one way to the finish line. It can be ego, bravado, or a false need to assert authority in order to demonstrate pecking order or dominance. It can be their own disorganization showing through in trying to force others to be organized for them.

Lack of Trust: Whether warranted or not, they don’t feel like the people involved can do the job handed to them. Or they don’t think things are going to get done if they’re not touching every detail. That can be a symptom of the wrong team sometimes, or the right people and a simple lack of confidence that they can deliver.

How Do You Deal?

You’re not going to change the spots on the leopard. Many micromanagers don’t know they’re doing it, or won’t fess to it if they do (and get super defensive if you suggest they might be). It can be heavily wired into some people’s personalities, and only *they* can ever be the ones to recognize it and change the behavior. You, however, can decide how you’ll react and behave in light of what they hand you.

1. Listen carefully.
Being heard is important to a micromanager, and if you can reiterate what they’ve said to you, it mitigates potential misunderstandings. Stay super clear on expectations, and repeat back to them what they’ve expressed to you in an objective way, as in “This is the project as I understand it, due by this date, with this goal. Is that correct?”

2. Communicate like crazy.
Proactively set up meetings, calls, reports, or status updates before you need to. Continually communicate about priorities and deadlines to be sure you’re in agreement with what’s most important, and what’s reasonable in terms of execution timeframes, resources, etc. Communicating early and often helps reassure your manager that you’ve got things handled.

3. Ask for input.
Everyone likes to feel some ownership in the stuff they work on, and micromanagers more than anyone. Ask for their opinion on items during your project, and ask them to help you make decisions when you can. Give them a voice (while being confident enough to share your own), and let them still feel ownership over the project even if they’ve let go of the details.

4. Offer feedback.
If you’re brave enough and think they’re open to it, let them know how they’re affecting you with micromanagement, and offer specific examples. “When you asked me three times for the status on that report, I felt like you didn’t trust me to get it finished, and as a result, I wasn’t super motivated to complete it.” This isn’t a conversation for 4:30 on a Friday. Schedule time with the manager, let them know up front that you want to discuss the style and details of your working relationship, and that your goal is to help make it better.

5. Turn it to them.
When you illustrate that feedback, ask them “How can I make you feel better informed about my projects or progress so that you can focus on the things you need to get done?” Acknowledging that they have other responsibilities that might need their attention can help them realize they’re messing too much in the dirty details.

6. Learn their tendencies.
If you can identify consistent threads in the things that get them all hot and bothered, you can preempt them by offering advance information or input, asking for feedback, or laying out a plan of attack so they feel comfortable with where you’re headed. Is your boss most nervous at the start of a project, or near the deadline? Are their worries more around details of execution, or how they report into *their* boss about progress?

7. Pick your Battles.
Enough said (and if you need more, read here). Not everything is worth arguing over. If you create a war over everything that irritates you, you won’t get anyone’s attention when you really do speak up about something important.

8. Reward good behavior.
When they let you be, thank them for it, as in “Thanks for trusting me to put together the plan for the campaign. It was great to have the time and space to get it done on time, so here it is”. Subtly reinforce the behavior you DO want by being available, positive, and accommodating when you’re given some breathing room. And when you get some slack, deliver. Don’t hang yourself with the rope, or you’ll never win their trust again.

9. Look in the mirror.
Is it just you being treated this way, or is there a consistent pattern with this person across your whole team? We’re not always blameless, so it’s important to consider what role you might be playing in your manager’s behavior. Are you contributing to it with a lack of communication, attitude, work ethic, or otherwise? Being honest with yourself can help you get some clarity around a solution.

The Breaking Point

There is such a thing as the time when you have to walk away. If you’ve tried some constructive, objective methods for dealing, and you aren’t getting anywhere, it might be time to seek greener pastures. That’s the truth. When do you know it’s time?

If your personal life suffers, be it your sleep habits, eating habits, or relationships with spouses or children. If you’re withdrawing from friends, avoiding social situations, or finding yourself feeling depressed, you’ve got to pay attention to how your work environment affects those things.

If you’ve lost all passion and motivation for the work itself, and simply can’t face going to work in the morning, you have to listen to why that is. If your manager is playing a large part in that equation, you need to take action to either work on the situation, or get out of it.

If you ask yourself “is this fixable?” and the answer is no, it’s time to start laying out a plan for what’s next.

And remember this: you are not a powerless victim, here. You are not imprisoned in your job, and you have the ability to rely on your own actions to get out of it. The question is what you’re willing to do now to change your situation for the long term, because ultimately, you aren’t going to change the people around you.

You’ve got the tools, and you deserve to work in an environment that’s healthy, supportive, and conducive to doing great work. Take charge of your own universe, take a deep breath, and grab hold of the opportunity to improve your professional situation.

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