How to Work with a Micromanager

3 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Managing a Project Team

Working with a micromanager can be difficult if you don't know how to manage the micromanager. If your boss scrutinizes every move on your project, questions your decisions and methods, and gives unsolicited "guidance," let her know you feel that her oversight is a bit excessive. Try to give your manager some objective indicators to explain why you feel the way you do.

If the person doesn’t change, you need to understand why she continues to micromanage you. Consider whether one or more of the following explanations may be the reason, and try the suggested approaches:

Reason for Micromanaging What You Can Do
The person is interested in and enjoys the work Set up times to discuss interesting technical issues with the person.
The person is a technical expert and feels that she can do the job best Review your technical work frequently with the person; give the person opportunities to share her technical insights with you.
The person may feel that she didn’t explain the assignment clearly or that unexpected situations may crop up Set up a schedule to discuss and review your progress frequently so that the micromanager can promptly uncover any mistakes and help you correct them.
The person is looking for ways to stay involved with you and the team Set up scheduled times to discuss project activities. Provide the micromanager with periodic reports of project progress, and make a point to stop by and say “Hello” periodically.
The person feels threatened because you have more technical knowledge than she does When talking about your project in front of others, always credit the micromanager for her guidance and insights. Share key technical information with the person on a regular basis.
The person doesn’t have a clear understanding of how she should be spending her time Discuss with the person the roles she would like you to assume on project activities. Explain how the person can provide useful support as you perform the work.
The person feels that she has to stay up on the work you’re doing in case anyone else asks about it Discuss with the person what type of information she needs and how frequently she needs it. Develop a schedule to provide progress reports that include this information.

Your boss may be micromanaging you because she doesn’t yet have full confidence in your ability to perform. Instead of being angry or resentful, take the following steps to help your boss develop that confidence:

  • Don’t be defensive or resentful when the person asks you questions.

  • Thank the micromanager for her interest, time, and technical guidance.

  • Offer to explain how you approach your tasks.

  • Work with the person to develop a scheme for sharing progress and accomplishments.

You can reduce or even eliminate most micromanagement by improving your communication and strengthening your interpersonal relationships. Consider the following tips as you work with a micromanager:

  • Don’t assume: Examine the situation and try to understand the motivations of the person who’s micromanaging you.

  • Listen: Listen to the micromanager’s questions and comments; see if patterns emerge. Try to understand her real interests and concerns.

  • Observe the person’s behavior with others: If the person micromanages others, the micromanagement likely stems from her feelings rather than from your actions. Try to find ways to address the person’s real interests and concerns.

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