Leadership

How to Manage a Micromanager

micro manage

Asking for daily updates on your projects, second-guessing your decisions, sending dozens of emails marked urgent.

You’re working for a micromanager.

That can zap your initiative and make you dread reading you email. The primary reason people leave their jobs is because they don’t like their bosses, and a common reason for that difficult relationship is micromanagement. But if you don’t want to leave your job or the time isn’t right to move on, you need take control of the situation and break the cycle. You need to learn to manage up.

How to Manage Your Micromanager

Each situation is unique, but in most cases, the underlying issue is a lack of trust, says Alexandra Sleator, an Ivy Exec coach. A micromanager is a control freak, and control freaks struggle a lot with trust. “The only person they feel they can risk trusting is themselves,” says Sleator.

Here’s how to handle the situation: First, understand that your manager’s problem is not about you specifically. So take a larger view of the situation. Instead of focusing on your irritation at being disempowered, consider how painful life is for the control freak that lives in constant fear.

That shift in your perspective can open up the possibility of engaging constructively with your boss, says Sleator. “The good news is that a control freak can be encouraged to trust competencies if not actual individuals,” she says.

Rather than complaining, adopt a non-threatening attitude of curiosity. “Use soft language so you don’t sound accusatory, and talk about abilities, not personalities,” says Sleator. “Ask: ‘I was wondering what I might do that would allow you to be more confident in my abilities?'” Over time, as you demonstrate your effectiveness at specific tasks, the control freak will feel more comfortable and give you more breathing room.

If your boss also lashes out when he finds something wrong, it is another sign he doesn’t trust you because he doesn’t trust himself. “Shift your perspective for just a moment and imagine how rough it is for someone to feel so insecure,” says Sleator. “His outbursts are a reflection of the self-anger he experiences, but he lashes out at others because lashing out at himself would be very destructive.”

Of course, his problem affects you. But recognize the complexity of the problem, and how difficult it might be for someone to change, and it will be easier for you to tolerate his behavior. “Start blanking out the noise,” says Sleator. “Just don’t take the outbursts seriously.”

4 Steps to Handle a Control Freak

  1. Understand it’s not about you. The more you get to come to terms with the fact that your boss’ behavior is not personal, you can begin to improve the situation. Evaluate what your manager needs and try to deliver it.
  2. Update your boss often. Remember your micromanager is essentially worried about things not getting done, and provide frequent updates to reassure her.
  3. Speak your boss’ language. Study how your boss communicates–does he like frequent emails or face-to-face updates? Does he prefer you reporting back on conversations with clients or team members, or does he simply want data? Even if it is not your preferred style, mimic your bosse
  4. Ask for more responsibility. As you build trust in your relationship, remind your boss of what you have accomplished, ask for feedback on your work, and then ask for more projects or more authority.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.