How To Manage Your Micromanaging Boss Before They Manage You
You can’t choose your boss. If you’re lucky, you get an amazing manager whom you can learn from and who supports your career. If you’re unlucky, you get a micromanager. Don’t panic: you’re not quite doomed if that’s the case. But you’ll have to manage your micromanaging boss before they manage you.
The challenges of having a micromanaging boss
Michael Moran, the founder and CEO of Green Lion Search Group, a boutique recruiting firm based in Austin, Texas, has worked under micromanagers before and understands the frustrations that come with the situation.
“The biggest challenge is that it makes it difficult for employees to do their best work. Being constantly asked for updates or corrected on minute, unimportant details of the work process interrupts your flow and focus,” he says.
It also generates a lot of needless busywork if your boss requires excessive updates or additional tasks that don’t contribute real value. Not to mention the fact that it’s not fun to feel like you’re not trusted. “It ends up creating a sense of dread in employees every time they see their boss walk in or open their work email,” says Moran.
According to him, working under a micromanager for too long can even create a kind of “learned helplessness” where you lose your sense of agency and end up feeling the need to ask for permission or instructions all the time.
Needless to say, all these challenges can impact your career negatively. “This makes it impossible to grow, excel, and advance your career because you’re not able to innovate or prove your ability to work independently, something that’s necessary to be considered for promotions and other advancement opportunities,”adds Moran.
What to do if your boss is a micromanager
Proactivity over-reactivity is key, according to Valerie Dauphin, a multi-certified L.A.-based life coach who helps women of color in bad office jobs create careers and lives they love. “Proactivity is the best way to address problems before they arise, which will leave you feeling empowered and confident. Reactivity to an overbearing boss who’s used to being that way doesn’t always favor a higher-level way of thinking.”
According to her, you want to nip the problem – in this case, your boss’ controlling tendencies – in the bud before it has a chance to sprout.
Here are a few habits that will help you deal with your micromanaging boss without souring your relationship or ending up in a situation where you hate your job.
“Do things their way first to build trust. It’s possible that their method actually is more efficient and effective (though this is often not the case), so give them that benefit of the doubt and do your work the way they want it done for a little while. This shows them you’re capable and reliable, and, in some cases, will build enough trust that they back off,” suggests Moran.
Micromanagers have a control problem. This isn’t necessarily something you can change about your boss, but you can figure out a way to work within their need to maintain control, he says.
Enter planning and communication. “Be preemptive with your plan of action: Consider what calms an anxious, worried, stressed person who’s also managing other people: knowing the step-by-step plan of action,” according to Dauphin.
“So think through your projects ahead of time and create that plan before your boss asks you about it. Present this plan to them. These considerate acts help assuage a vigilant person.”
Also, Dauphin says you’ll want to give your boss frequent updates on project milestones before they have a chance to even think about it.
How to set boundaries with a micromanaging boss
Despite your best efforts though, you might feel frustrated at times. You might also need to set boundaries.
“Establish communication boundaries and explain why they’re necessary. Often, micromanagers are the bosses who will message you five times an hour, expect an immediate reply to each, then demand to know why you haven’t completed your work on time,” explains Moran.
“An effective response to this is to schedule times with them when you will always respond to messages. Explain that this allows you uninterrupted work time so you can produce better work, then prove your reliability by always sending them a progress update or responding to their messages during that timespan.”
Avoid ruining your relationship with a micromanaging boss
Having a micromanaging boss can be an awful experience because nobody wants an unhealthy relationship with their boss. And if your boss drives you crazy, it can be hard not to show it, which doesn’t exactly help the vibe between you. Remembering that your boss is a human being and that their behavior is not personal might help you keep your cool.
“Successfully managing your boss also looks like seeing and treating them as a human with feelings, thoughts, and their own lives. Ask yourself, ‘How can I make my boss’ life just a little easier today?’ Then do it. It could be as simple as bringing them their favorite drink from the break room when you see them slumped over their laptop screen,” suggests Dauphin.
She also recommends practicing empathy and compassion by putting yourself in your boss’ mind and shoes. “A micromanager tends to be worried and stressed. This perspective can help alleviate whatever anger or frustration you might be feeling, which will clear your mind and emotions to do your job without resentment.”
Finally, nothing stops you from trying to inject lightness into the relationship to improve the dynamic. Suggest lunch or a walk-and-talk meeting every once in a while. Talk about non-work-related matters.
“This will help you see your boss as a human being rather than a robot just carrying out orders. It’s hard to hate on people you respect, genuinely care about, and appreciate. These sentiments go both ways,” says Dauphin.