Disheartening. Demoralizing. Soul-sucking.
These are just a few of the ways people describe the experience of working for a micromanager. We’ve likely all experienced a boss who’s occasionally demonstrated excessive control, unnecessary involvement, a tendency to undermine decision making or hawk-like monitoring. It’s annoying. But when it’s habitual and is complemented by the constant absence of delegation, trust, autonomy, support and appreciation, this creates an untenable, unsustainable and unhealthy set of circumstances.
If you find yourself in this situation, you’re not alone. A February 2023 study by Accountemps discovered that “as many as 59% of people have been managed by a micromanager at some point in their career. Of those who reported working for a micromanager, 68% said it had decreased their morale, and 55% claimed it had hurt their productivity.”
But micromanagement doesn’t take a toll on morale and productivity alone. It also negatively impacts motivation, efficacy, confidence, creativity and well-being — and frequently results in unwanted turnover.
Managing your micromanager
While micromanagement can inspire feelings of powerlessness, there are several concrete ways individuals can take control, manage themselves and perhaps facilitate behavior change on the part of their managers. Consider these top 10 strategies for responding constructively to micromanagement.
- Don’t take it personally. When dealing with a micromanager, it’s really not about you. Micromanagers rarely distinguish among employees. Instead, they act as equal opportunity controllers, treating everyone in the same toxic and demotivating fashion.
- Be realistic. Micromanagement is a deeply embedded behavior pattern that will not disappear overnight — regardless of your effort, competence or performance. You can help nudge your leader toward more productive behaviors but don’t expect miracles.
- Look in the mirror. Cast a critical eye on your performance and work product. Does it represent your best effort? Does it consistently meet or exceed expectations? Would you trust yourself based on what you’re delivering?
- Stand in their shoes. Try to understand what might be motivating the micromanagement. It may be a result of a lack of trust, their own perfectionism, fear related to the stakes associated with mistakes, ego or a lack of confidence or skill. Understanding the cause can help you tailor your response in a way that will resonate.
- Share your experience. Express your commitment and desire to perform effectively, as well as the feelings and consequences that the micromanaging behaviors inspire. Example: “I’m committed to producing the highest quality product. I feel discouraged when you make last-minute cosmetic adjustments, and I think it undermines the customer’s confidence in what we’re producing.” Well-articulated consequences help put the behavior into a relevant and understandable context.
- Ask for what you need. Don’t expect your micromanager to read your mind. Identify specifically what you need and make a clear request — along with the benefits associated with meeting the request. Fewer check-ins might allow you to reach your goal more quickly. Agree-upon expectations will ensure that what you deliver meets your manager’s vision. Greater autonomy or decision-making authority will allow you to respond more quickly to changes and be more helpful in the future. Adding what’s in it for them creates a more compelling request that doesn’t sound like complaining.
- Communicate proactively. Volunteer regular updates on your progress before being prompted. Keep your boss informed about key milestones, significant developments and challenges. Creating a cadence that preempts the micromanager’s inquiries lets them know you’re on it.
- Cultivate trust. Micromanagement frequently emanates from a lack of trust — trust in the capacity, commitment and understanding on the part of others. So, take every opportunity to highlight these qualities — in yourself and others. Make sure your manager knows you’re on their side and that it’s your goal to make them look good.
- Invite feedback. Routinely invite feedback on your performance. Respond curiously and non-defensively. Take action and report back on progress. Demonstrating a willingness to improve and grow can help alleviate their perceived need to micromanage.
- Take care of yourself. Since being on the receiving end of micromanagement takes a psychological toll, practice self-compassion and self-care. Identify strategies that allow you to remain calm, centered and confident in spite of it all. Maybe it’s repeating a mantra, taking breaks, spending time with friends or communing with nature. And, if the situation becomes unresolvable or untenable, the ultimate act of self-care might be taking your talents elsewhere.
Even in the face of disheartening and disempowering micromanagement, there are ways to reclaim your power and some control. By implementing even a few of these strategies, you can transform your own experience and potentially inspire positive change that will elevate your leader’s effectiveness as well.
Julie Winkle Giulioni is a champion of growth and development in the workplace, helping leaders and organizations optimize the potential of their people. Named one of Inc. Magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers, she’s the author of the bestseller “Promotions Are So Yesterday” and co-author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want.” Learn more about her work at JulieWinkleGiulioni.com.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.