How to Manage a Micromanager

Deborah L. Jacobs, Forbes Staff 5/07/2012

If you’ve ever worked with a micromanager, you know how unproductive and demoralizing it can be. This control freak is reluctant to delegate, may second-guess everything you do, and can shake your confidence in your own abilities. Simple tasks that you could accomplish quickly if left to your own devices take twice as long. Your efforts may be reduced to dust as the micromanager completely re-does your work.
Sure, you may be tempted to bolt, but at a time of high unemployment, you might not have that option. So better to master the art of managing the micromanager.
Start by understanding what causes someone to act this way. Often it’s a need for control that stems from insecurity: lack of confidence, workplace instability and pressure to produce–both individually and as a team. Deep-seated psychological issues and problems at home can also influence the way people behave at work. Many of us have the propensity to be a micromanger, but some of us rein it in better than others.
With this in mind, here are eight practical steps you can take.

1. Look for patterns.

As annoying as micromanagers are, they’re incredibly predictable. Watch for behavior swings. There will be certain situations, times of the day or week, when they get especially agitated. Knowing their pressure points can help you ease them.

2. Anticipate needs.

Once you know what triggers them, you can stay ahead of those stressors and ease the tensions early on. Flag potential problems before they escalate and offer solutions. Always have a stockpile ready of new initiatives and demonstrate that you are proactive. This helps them curb their responses to the pressure points without slipping into micromanagement mode.

3. Show empathy.

Remember, the micromanager is under pressure to produce. Show that you understand his or her plight and are willing to share the load. This could be as simple as offering to help. Tomorrow might be the day when this colleague has to take a child to school but also has an early meeting. So today ask what you can do to make life easier tomorrow.

4. Be super reliable.

It’s much easier to manage an office where everyone turns up on time and meets work deadlines. This goes back to the fact that a micromanager hates feeling out of control. If some members of the team don’t deliver, the micromanager gets aggravated and makes unfair demands on everyone else. Discuss as a team what you can do to coordinate things in such a way that there’s no need for the micromanager to fret about how everything is running.

5. Be a role model.

Treat the micromanager the way you would like to be treated. Give the micromanager space. Don’t smother or micromanage back. In working with other people, show how your management style is different –and gets equally good results.

6. Speak up—gently.

Often micromanagers are oblivious to the effect they are having on other people. They actually think all their micromanaging is producing a better work product. Show encouragement and support for the micromanager’s strengths. Then, without being confrontational, find a way to let this person know how micromanagement affects you. A little levity could diffuse the tension. Or you might just ask how he or she thinks it feels to be second-guessed and mistrusted all the time.

7. Enlighten others.

It’s not just you who should be shouldering the responsibility of neutralizing someone’s instinct to micromanage. And chances are you’re not the only one suffering either. Explain to others on your team what you’re doing to ease the micro-manager’s anxiety and encourage them to do the same.

8. Run interference.

If a micromanager reports to you and has a detrimental effect on other team members, be a sounding board. Often the micromanager has a skill or quality that’s important to the organization. But it’s up to this manager’s boss to play a leading role in preventing other team members from getting squelched.