Dealing With Difficult People: The Micromanager
April 12, 2016 3:13 PM   Subscribe

About to get a new boss at work. New boss is a [reputed] notorious micromanager. I need quick tips and best practices for 1) developing compassion and understanding for the micromanagement supervision style, and 2) establishing and maintaining boundaries to protect my mental health without letting my work quality (or work relationships) suffer.

I've been at my current workplace for ten years. During that time, the only point when my work quality ever suffered was when I had a supervisor who micromanaged me and everyone else on our team. I know for a fact that, as an employee, I flourish when I'm given my independence (within reason, of course) and there is not only respect, but also trust between myself and my supervisor. This tends to be most people at work, but for me it's a HUGE sticking point. I'm not a supervisor, but I am a senior member of my team and know my job well. Needless to say, I'm not looking forward to again being subject to an overtly invasive supervision style.

I realize this person isn't my boss yet and I need to give them a fair chance as opposed to succumbing to the [well-vetted, in this case] rumor mill, but for the sake of this question let's just assume that they're a 100% verified micromanager.

Also, since I don't know the specifics of how this specific person micromanages (their micromanagement 'flavor', I suppose), I understand and would only expect general, broad advice and insight on how to cope with this management/supervision style.

Online resources are appreciated, should you have any you'd recommend. Anecdata is also greatly appreciated, but if you feel more comfortable keeping it anon, obviously feel free to MeMail me.

Understanding the mindset of a micromanager is important to me. Having compassion for a micromanager is important to me. Most important to me is knowing what I can do to pro-actively keep a micromanaging supervisor satisfied, while also establishing necessary and appropriate boundaries in the workplace.

Many, many thanks in advance!
posted by nightrecordings to Work & Money (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Ask a Manager is a great resource for these types of questions. For example, this and also this specifically address how to deal with micromanagers.
posted by jazzbaby at 3:45 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Assuming that your micromanager's intentions are fundamentally good... In my experience, micromanagers prefer to feel as though they are fully in control of their teams and projects. They meddle when they feel that something (or someone) is out of control. Your goal is to present yourself as completely 'in control,' regardless of the fact that you should be implicitly taken as such due to your seniority.

The strategy that I've found most effective is to proactively email my micromanagers a bulleted list of goals for the day (or week, or whatever unit of time is most relevant to your workplace). Sometimes I give them an opportunity to course correct my plan of action by presenting them with a choice between two things which I would have done anyway. (That is, ask them, "Do you want me to look into Thing A or Thing B first, Meddling Boss?" but never, "Which vague, undefined thing do you think I should pursue, Meddling Boss?") If something goes off-script along the way, I check in. If things are going well, I check in. When the task is done, I check in again and recap my original bulleted list, stating what's been accomplished, what's been pushed off, and what's evolved. Wash, rinse, repeat.

If they're not an email-y kind of person, then schedule quick standing meetings. This can be tedious, but overcommunication and an abundance of information should reduce their need to invade your work -- they should feel that they already know what you're doing and that they've signed off on how you're doing it.
posted by zeee at 4:05 PM on April 12, 2016 [12 favorites]

I think one flavor of micromanager does so out of a sense of anxiety and the knowledge that the entire team's performance reflects on them. That's management -- being responsible for anything that anyone on your team might screw up. You might try to have sympathy for them as someone with all that responsibility but without the innate confidence to assume things will go well, nor the skills to more finely sort out what will and won't go well.

It might help if you take on small tasks to prove you do deliver -- say "I will get the speakers lined up by Wednesday" and then do so -- so that when it's crunch time, they don't feel the need to hover over you to ensure a certain outcome comes to pass.
posted by salvia at 4:23 PM on April 12, 2016

I know you asked for resources and not advice, but I'm out of the former and have a surplus of the latter, so my strategy with this is radical transparency. Hyperbole, but if I breathe, it gets logged. Every project is logged in detail in a place where micromanaging boss can get to it. My message to that person is "Get off my back. It's in the file. If you want to know what I'm doing, don't ask me. Look at the file."

Basically, I would do a lot of what zeee already said!

I have problems being micromanaged every bit as much as you do. Frankly, if I was micromanaged to the degree that you say this person does, I would probably quit.
posted by cnc at 5:08 PM on April 12, 2016

I know you asked for resources and not advice

To clarify, advice alone is great and very much desired! It does not have to be just resources.
posted by nightrecordings at 5:39 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

In my experience micromanaging comes from a place of fear - the manager is afraid to delegate and wants to directly guide everything that happens. It's a career limiter for the manager, as it doesn't scale beyond small teams.

I would suggest two phases. In the first, over-communicate as per the advice already on this thread. Weekly goals and daily updates are often a good balance. Also a good idea to ask for input on things even if you don't necessarily need it, which you can use as an indirect way of demonstrating your own competence. Hopefully over time the manager learns to trust you and their micromanagement weaknesses are focused elsewhere.

However, if that doesn't work, you'll have to have a sit-down meeting. You want to approach it with as much preparation and as little confrontation as possible. Start it with how much you enjoy working in the team and respect the person as a colleague (and hopefully this will in fact be true), and then gently but directly say that when they get too involved in the details you feel they don't trust you and your work suffers accordingly. Then see if there's something you can do together to sort it out, making it a shared problem.

If this is done well I have never seen it fail, because most micromanagers know they are micromanagers, and they want to stop. But if it doesn't and the micromanagement continues after that, your choices get more stark and boil down to new team or new company.

Good luck!
posted by StephenF at 5:50 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

In my case, which was design, it was helpful to offer three offerings to said micromanager, but there is a problem where they might choose the least welcome design. And then we would have to herd them into the most desired design.

Honestly, it was like dealing with a 2-year-old, so we offered choices, and often skewed them to our advantage.

Fear of not being good enough, and wanting to trust the design team that we were, in fact, good enough, was one thing. But it hurt the team to make three different designs to present to someone, so I question how it is great for you and your job and team, in the long run, to have to adhere to a little Hitler. I eventually quit.

Sorry, I didn't answer you question. It's sort of unanswerable. You really can't deal with a micromanager, for very long, because they are jerks, and they undermine the work that you do every day, and make your life a living hell.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:27 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hm. In my experience micromanagers are usually motivated by anxiety. I've known ones who were compulsive perfectionists or people (boss) pleasers, others who were kind of generally deeply mistrustful and figured the work would be shit if they didn't check everything, and also people who were just inexperienced bosses and so they micromanaged because it was more comfortable for them to do the work than to oversee it. Also sometimes my micromanagers themselves had bad bosses and were sort of taking on their bosses' anxieties and pushing them farther down in the organisation.

So the motivations I think are basically fear, sometimes mixed with contempt. Fear of being found out, found undeserving, getting in trouble, being scammed. That kind of thing.

And sometimes the fear is super-buried and hard to see. Especially if they are themselves very competent at the substance of the work, they sometimes micromanage junior people to force them to live up to their standards. It's not a great strategy but some people do it.

But upshot: in my experience the way to fix this is by relieving their anxiety. Over-communicate, over-explain, over-update. Show your work, demonstrate your competency. This way, they will often put you in the bucket of "things I don't need to worry about" and focus their micromanaging elsewhere. On preview +1 to StephenF, and his second step also.

In terms of compassion, my guess is that extreme micromanagers were raised by perfectionists with high standards. No grade was good enough in school, mom and dad were never happy, etc. It's not hard to feel sorry for those people.
posted by Susan PG at 6:46 PM on April 12, 2016 [8 favorites]

I tend to micromanage, although I am (hopefully) somewhat aware of when it is happening and I hate doing it! It satisfies the itch of anxiety that a supervisee is not making progress, but as soon as my 'look-in' is over, the anxiety just starts ramping up again. It is so un-productive. I don't want to say that this is not an inherent characteristic of my own self, but I have noticed that my tendency to micromanage varies by supervisee and even over time with the same person.

I currently manage only one employee and her workstyle makes it so that I am very comfortable with leaving her to own day-to-day scheduling, most of the time. I only find myself having the urge to look in on everything when I start sensing she doesn't feel in control. Her desk gets a little crazy, she's working more hours than me, she's not reporting things done.

So here's some transference, but if there's any hope for your boss, it will be that he doesn't actually *like* micromanaging and wants to be convinced not to do it...I really like The strategy that I've found most effective is to proactively email my micromanagers a bulleted list of goals for the day (or week, or whatever unit of time is most relevant to your workplace). that zeee mentions. This sounds like heaven to me and as long as it was paired by periodic checking off of items and/or consulting me if things are not going smoothly, I would happily leave my supervisee to do what she needs to and concentrate on what needs my own attention....
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:19 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ah, the dreaded micromanager, beloved punching bag of MeFi workers everywhere. I've never seen a set of answers that adequately represents the two-sided nature of the supervisor-supervisee relationship. It's always just the jerk face manager being a jerk face.

I do not enjoy micromanaging. When I am doing it it's because something has gone seriously wrong with the work relationship. IOW, it isn't the cause of something going wrong, although my staff like to see it that way. Basically I end up micromanaging for three reasons:

1) The worker isn't doing an adequate job. Sometimes they think they are, and sometimes they were by the criteria of th past manager, but they are not meeting my expectations despite attempts to help them do so.

2) The worker is not responsive to changes at my agency for which I have responsibility. They may not agree with them, they may not believe me that I've been instructed to do things differently, or they may just not care despite attempts to help them do so.

3) The worker has been taking advantage of the self-governance that was previously in place. I'm pretty relaxed, but when you start leaving without telling me, not showing up at meetings, or generally disrespecting me, I tend to start micromanaging.

I've known people who just walk around as micromanager so, it I've known and know far more who are reacting to what is, after all, a relationship with two people.
posted by OmieWise at 5:31 AM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

OmniWise makes a very good point - there are people who micromanage as an appropriate response to circumstances, and there are people who micromanage irrespective of the circumstances. The latter give the former a bad name.

Sounds like your new boss has a reputation as the latter. Nthing the "be professional, set up regular (over)reporting initiated by you (i.e. not reactive), ask for advice / approval before doing anything new", and wait for the penny to drop and your new boss to say "hey, I'm happy with a weekly update rather than a daily one" or "sounds like project X is going well - just send me a monthly status update and if you need advice / decisions in the meantime, my door is open" and "for the love of all things holy, PLEASE stop copying me into emails about X - clearly you've got that in hand, I don't want to know about it unless something goes wrong".

Good luck in your new role! (Also, ask your new coworkers for advice - they've all had to learn to deal with the management style and will have some useful tips...)
posted by finding.perdita at 12:21 AM on April 14, 2016

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