How to deal with a micromanager

Follow these steps to shrug off that lingering dark cloud known as your boss.

How to deal with a micromanager

Take these steps to (hopefully) have more breathing room.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one: You have a large project in front of you and the project brief is so detailed that it probably took longer than the work itself. Having done this sort of project before, you know exactly what needs to get done. But before you can tick off the first step in your workflow, your boss is already being asked for a status report. She even asks to sit in with you for part of the day. If only you could just be left in peace to do your work, it would get done. If that sounds all too familiar, it’s time you learned how to deal with a micromanager.

“Nothing positive comes to mind when thinking about the word micromanage,” says Rachel Gauthier, vice president, practice leader, health care software and services with The Tolan Group, an executive search firm. Rather, she says, it stirs up words such as “mistrust, control, interfering, nitpicking, and demotivating.” In short, it’s not an environment that most employees can thrive in.

Of course, there’s a fine line between micromanagement and simply having a supervisor who is passionate about making sure your team succeeds.

Think you’ve got a micromanager on your hands? Read on to find out how to spot the signs and how to deal.

Is it micromanagement?

Here’s one telltale sign that your manager is taking his job way too seriously: You’ve got no breathing room.

“Micromanagers have a history of providing direction to the point of over-communicating the last nitty-gritty detail of a project,” says Gauthier. Not only that, once the information has been provided, they can’t seem to take a step back. “They follow up shortly after inquiring on progress, offering suggestions, and asking for a draft so they can provide markups,” she says.

Think of your typical workday, and ask yourself if your manager is overmanaging everything you do, and if others are getting the same treatment.

“I think the number-one thing you have to ask yourself in dealing with a micromanager is whether or not this is an issue of projection of their feelings about you, or if it’s their actual preferred work style,” says Wendi M. Weiner, Esq., an attorney and career- and personal-branding expert.

For instance, did you recently blow a project deadline? If so, then it may not be so much a micromanagement issue as it is your manager trying to ensure the work gets done. In that case, you will want to have a face-to-face talk with your boss and discuss different protocols for moving forward and ensuring that deadlines are met. “This may require check-ins during the process to keep your manager updated on a weekly level,” says Weiner, “while also earning his/her trust back.”

On the other hand, what you perceive as micromanaging could simply be your manager’s tried-and-true way of doing things—or it might even come from a mandate above. In that case, you could be dealing with more of a workplace-culture issue rather than a manager on a power trip.

If neither of the above scenarios apply, then it could very well be that you’re stuck with a true micromanager.

What’s so bad about micromanaging anyway?

“The bottom line is that micromanagement accomplishes the complete opposite of fostering a healthy, collaborative, autonomous, and productive work environment,” says Gauthier. If you’ve ever worked under a micromanager, you know that it can be emotionally taxing and does little to improve the quality of your work. There’s also a good chance that you’re not the only disgruntled staffer, turning your office into a hotbed of disgruntled co-workers.

“Micromanagement impacts overall employee performance, engagement, happiness, motivation, and even creativity within the workplace,” says Dania Shaheen, vice president strategy and people operations at Kazoo, a people-management platform. “When left unaddressed, the micromanaging mentality creates an overall negative workplace culture, low office morale, and increased turnover rates, which doesn’t exactly sound like a fun place to work day in and day out.”

How to deal with a micromanager

If you find yourself working for a micromanager, start by giving them the benefit of the doubt. “Most likely, they don’t know they are micromanaging, and maybe can’t help it,” says Gauthier.

Before being promoted to management, people like this were probably high performers, so they feel like they can still do their old job—and perhaps better than you, which is why they feel the compulsion to orchestrate your every task.

Another possibility is that they are feeling pressure from their superiors to meet goals. “If you can uncover reasons why your boss is a micromanager,” says Gauthier, “it will certainly help with finding a solution to deal with it.”

Follow this checklist:

  1. Begin by looking inward. Have you given your boss reasons to manage you this way? “Remember that trust is a two-way street. In order to establish and maintain trust, you have to look at reasons that trust was created in the first place,” says Gauthier. How well have you communicated progress, and have you followed through on projects, completing them within the timeframe and, if applicable, under budget?
  2. Beat them at their own game. Ask for a kick-off chat to start a project, or at the beginning of the week. “Discuss the project at hand, what your understanding is, and the end goal that you, or the team, is working to accomplish,” suggests Gauthier. Then—and here is the important part—let your boss know that you understand how much is on their plate, and you want to run with this. This might not get your boss totally off your back, but it could give you a chance to prove that you’re competent and dependable, and earn you some wiggle room.
  3. Provide frequent updates to keep them in the loop—without them having to ask. “These updates should include things about what progress has been made on the project, future plans, and outlines of ideas for progressing forward, as well as any problems that may have arisen and how you worked to resolve them,” says Weiner.

Ultimately, by putting yourself in your micromanager’s shoes and talking through what needs to get done, you might be able to find common ground, says Gauthier.

When all else fails, you could suggest trying out a project-management tool or people-management software. Such technology can help create transparency in goals and track how each employee is working towards meeting their goals, says Shaheen, thus eliminating the need for more traditional micromanaging.

Cut the cord

Getting out from under the thumb of a micromanager is a challenge, to say the least. If you still feel like your boss is hovering a foot above you at all times, there’s really one only solution: jump ship and find a new job with a less-controlling boss. Could you use some help taking the first step? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. You need some breathing room in order to flourish, and finding a boss who understands that can set you up for career success.