How to Manage a Micromanager

Is someone always looking over your shoulder? These three steps will help you out from under the microscope. By Bridget McCrea | August 2016

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If a micromanager is what ails you, don’t worry; you’re not alone.

In My Way or the Highway: The Micromanagement Survival Guide, Atlanta-based management consultant Harry E. Chambers cites the fact that 37% of workers feel as if they’re being micromanaged, and 67% think they’ve been micromanaged.However, a mere 22% of managers admit to “demonstrating micromanagement behaviors.” Obviously, “People recognize that they’re being micromanaged, but managers don’t perceive that they are doing it,” says Chambers.

And that spells bad news all over.

Chambers’ survey also reports that 69% of respondents have considered changing jobs because of the problem, and 36% of respondents actually have changed jobs.

What’s more, 71% of employees feel that being micromanaged interferes with their individual job performance, and a whopping 85% say that a micromanager’s behaviors and work style negatively impact company morale.

Before getting too ahead of ourselves, how do you know you’re working for a bona-fide micromanager—or, heaven forbid, are one? See if any of these three traits sound familiar.

Zero Confidence: Rather than assigning tasks and deadlines, micromanagers closely oversee employee actions, provide quick criticisms and seemingly fear that no one else can handle the tasks like he or she can.

Control Freak: Instead of establishing the basic “Ws” of the project—WHAT we’re going to do, WHY we’re going to do it, and WHEN we’re going to do it—Chambers explains that micromanagers will “try to control the ‘how’ across the board.”

Daily Dictator: If every project, every step, every decision is being watched and directed by someone higher up the totem pole, beware. “Micromanagers have an insatiable appetite for information; they need to know what's going on and they frequently misuse meetings, reporting and approvals to keep themselves informed,” says Chambers. Unnecessary approvals and reporting are the two biggest red flags to watch for, he adds. “They tend to require too-frequent reporting or the same information across different formats (an email check-in followed by a phone call and then an instant message).”

So, what’s to be done if you’re suffering the micromanager’s wrath? Easy answer: Put effort into making your working relationship more productive, less adversarial and—most importantly—more enjoyable by following these three steps.

1. Be Objective:

“Rather than just telling everyone in the workplace that you can’t stand or work with this particular person, take a step back and assess the situation,” says Tara Goodfellow, a career consultant and managing director at Athena Educational Consultants Inc. “Try not to take it personally—even if it’s creating a high level of frustration; instead understand that it’s simply his or her style rather than a personal affront or any reflection on you.”

2. Ask Questions:

As Chambers uncovered, a fairly high percentage of managers don’t even realize that they’re micromanaging. “Depending on your relationship with the person, you might just ask for a little more leeway when working on a specific task or assignment,” says Goodfellow. “A good way to position this is by saying something like, ‘Can you share with me the main objectives that you want to accomplish, but give me a bit more flexibility on Section A or B?’”

3. Beat Them to the Punch:

Proactively anticipate what your micromanager is going to ask for. “Try to be proactive; know that your boss is going to ask for this, this, and that,” says Goodfellow. “Over time, your proactivity can help build trust and push the manager to give you more responsibility with less oversight.”