How to Deal with a Micro-Manager

By Dr. Alice Waagen
President & Founder
Workforce Learning

The biggest problem with determining if someone is being micromanaged is that it depends on what the manager and the employee consider to be good (or bad) management.

In the last three decades that I’ve been in the workforce — as an employee, manager, and now a business owner who trains managers — I’ve seen a lot of managers in action. Sometimes their style is to be a micro-managing maniac. Other times, it’s the insecurity of the employee that is unbalancing the scale.

The truth is that we all have different work styles and needs. So while one employee whose manager requires weekly updates feels like they are being micro-managed, another employee may see weekly updates as not enough contact and feel abandoned.

Why is there is so much angst over this topic?

Lack of communication. In most cases where there is conflict, the boss never had an open discussion about what they expect from their employees, or how they prefer to manage.

As a result, staff members have to guess what is expected of them. If they guess wrong (clairvoyance is often not listed in a job description) they tend to get “micro-managed,” or not managed enough, and no one ends up happy.

To avoid this drama, managers need to take the lead and determine the proper level of management for each employee.

1. The manager needs to set the level of involvement they will provide by having an open an honest discussion with each employee. Similarly, the employee needs to honestly share their comfort level with management interaction, and be open to negotiating a middle ground.

2. Managers tend to want more input and direction when they lack trust with the employee’s abilities or experience. Employees need to build that trust over time by consistently meeting the manager’s expectations.

3. Employees need to take responsibility for their end of the bargain. If they are feeling micro-managed, they need to say, “What can I do to let you know I can run with this? How can I make your job easier by doing my job better, faster, and more efficiently?” By actively working to build a relationship based on trust, employees and managers need to match their words with action. So if you promise to deliver something by a certain date, make sure that you do.

Of course, there are some cases where managers simply can’t let go of the work and constantly insert themselves “fixing” things.

If micro-management is a chronic condition, then exit as graciously as you can. Before you take another job, ask yourself the question: How can I find a new manager who will give me the freedom I need to do my job?

One good approach is to craft some questions to ask prospective hiring mangers to ferret out the dreaded micro-management bug.

Ask your potential new boss:

  • How often do you meet with direct reports?
  • Describe a great working relationship you have(had) with a staff person? What did it look like?
  • If I took on a new project for you, how much of the work do you expect to do, do you expect me to do?

Answers to these questions will give you insight as to whether this person is a micro-manager.