Office Productivity: How to Handle a Micromanager

“Micromanagement is a personality aberration of insecure individuals.” — Susan K. O’Brien, organizational specialist

“One micromanager can do more damage to an organization than termites in the foundation of a house.” — Eric Boehme, IT professional

“Micromanagement doesn’t just suck the life out of the workers, it sucks the life out of the manager, too.” — Wally Bock, leadership expert

In recent months, I’ve received a flurry of responses to my articles about the evils of micromanaging. This doesn’t surprise me: according to the latest statistics, a whopping 75-80% of American workers have suffered under micromanagers at some point. One- third of us have changed jobs because of them.

My previous work on the subject has focused on the negative aspects of micromanaging, and why you, as a manager, should avoid them. But what if you’re the one forced to deal with a micromanager? How do you handle them on a daily basis, and keep them from absolutely destroying your productivity?

That’s a difficult question to answer; this is one of those situations where you have to tread carefully, tailoring any advice to your individual personality and situation. Various experts have taken differing approaches to the subject, suggesting numerous (and often contradictory) ways of dealing with micromanagers. The only thing they seem to agree upon is that you’re unlikely to change a micromanager’s ways, because they are more controlling than most.

Personally, I’m not sure that this is always the case. If you feel you’re being micromanaged, take a hard look at yourself first. Are you new to the job? How does your performance compare to that of others in your group? Do your co-workers feel they’re being micromanaged? As hard as it may be to admit, maybe you’re giving your manager legitimate reasons to micromanage you. First buckle down, and focus on your productivity, and see if things improve.

On the other hand, I agree that there’s a certain level of petty tyranny involved in some micromanaging. When this is the case, you have a few choices: you can find another job, adapt to the situation, or confront the behavior. Adapting may involve anything from appeasement to learning to manipulate your micromanager to your satisfaction.

I think appeasement stinks, and you shouldn’t even consider it unless your situation is desperate. A better option is to schedule a meeting with your manager, and politely but firmly point out that you can’t work effectively in an environment where you’re treated like an untrustworthy child. Emphasize your desire for a more empowered and professional work environment. You may find that your manager responds positively to your request. But if instead they start citing their personal strict standards, and how they can’t allow anyone the slightest bit of slack, then accept that you’re unlikely to ever get through to them.

It’s a bit manipulative, but you always have the option of micromanaging the micromanager: in other words, try to overwhelm them with the minutia they typically require until they’re sick of it. Find out precisely what they want, and get it to them ahead of time. Be relentless. Keep in constant contact. Play precisely by the rules, and be preemptive with deadlines. If they’re annoyed because you can’t get your work done, innocently remind them of all the things they require of you…and maybe they’ll stop.

Some authorities recommend trying to prove to the micromanager that you’re capable of doing your job. The idea is to take on a new role or project and roll it out perfectly, so they’ll see the error of their ways and back off. The problem is that this rarely works. Micromanagers are all about control and have an ingrained lack of trust. Even a minor mistake can be fatal: they’ll fasten on it as proof they were right to micromanage you in the first place, no matter how well you’ve done otherwise.

Whatever you do, document your interactions with the micromanager. Have them write down their requirements for you. Note down their orders in logs and journals, and be very specific as to dates and times. Carefully track everything you do to fulfill their orders. That way, when something goes wrong, you can pull out your notes and say, “Well, here’s what you told me to do on such-and-such a date.” While having to track everything this way may seem abysmally unproductive, in the end it may help you protect yourself—especially if they try to pin the blame for something on you.

If you absolutely can’t live with being micromanaged and can’t find a way to successfully manage your manager, you’re left with one choice: leave that toxic environment. Either transfer to another organization or quit outright. Some experts recommend against this, claiming that it’s self-defeating. Their argument is that since micromanagers are everywhere, you might end up working for another even after you change jobs.

I find this to be a bit like saying that if even your chickenpox is cured, you might just catch measles. True…but conversely, you might end up healthier and more productive than ever. If you need to leave to maintain your sanity, then leave. If you just can’t seem to escape the micromanagement trap even after changing jobs, consider starting your own business, so you never have to worry about being managed again— micro- or otherwise.



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