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How Do I Deal with a Micromanager?

This morning started just like any other: alarm, toothbrush, shower, chat with mom, walk dog, Starbucks. Also like most mornings, I engaged in a conversation with an emerging leadership professional who had a question...

An office assistant has a boss who has been hounding her with the same question: "is it mailed?" Now, the assistant had indeed answered the question with a resounding yes a multitude of times, but I could sense there was some "stuff" around her question. She was feeling frustrated and conflicted because she felt in her role, she was obligated to comply. Still, the fourth email to the assistant prompted her question.

After a bit of probing I learned the assistant had done her due diligence to track the mailing, even referring to a third party. And STILL, her boss has this question. *BING!* As we spoke, another notification that her boss was again texting or emailing her with the same request. My response to her was, "what would you really like to do in this situation?" She pause to think about this. The assistant said, "I want her to understand that I am on top of things." Understandably, this young lady is looking for validation--not the "atta-girl" baseless pat on the back. She needed genuine recognition and affirmation that she was doing all that she could in her situation.

So I gave her some. I acknowledged that it sounded like she really was doing her best to accommodate her boss's demands without seeming contrary or insubordinate. As such, it was completely understandable that she would feel frustrated by what seems to her like distrust and disconnection. Then I asked her, "what question do you have for your boss?"

woman girl portrait

Again, the office assistant thought about this while sipping her double-milk, no soy, extra whip frappewhatchamacallit. She said, "I want to understand why she wants me to keep contacting the third party mailer for a status when I know it hasn't changed." This wasn't a snide or snarky question. I observed there was a little bit of judgment around it--which the assistant admittedly had to laugh at. So I guided her to focus on the curiosity and frame her question to her boss. Together, we came up with wording that let her boss maintain her dignity, and allowed the assistant to gain some clarity around the situation.

How to Deal with a Micromanager

For one, if it was easy for you to dub the boss as a micromanager, you may want to consider what that means to you and how you interact with that personality type. Micromanagers are high Level 2 leaders, meaning they operate just outside the confines of Level 3 compromise and rationalization. Instead, they use persistence and dogged communication, even lingering to look over your shoulder, bombard your inbox, and inundate you with phone calls from just across the office. A Level 2 leader is bent on getting the job any means necessary.

Before you plot revenge, try this to RESET.

Seek clarity. (Review & Realize)

Ask questions to become more clear on your boss's motivations. Make sure that the questions are without pretext, and well thought out. In other words, don't ask questions for the sake of asking questions--that will make you look disingenuous or manipulative.

Be genuinely curious. (Energize)

Your questions are an opportunity for you to learn how to better communicate with your boss while steering your focus to doing your job efficiently. Maintaining the relationship with your boss may help you to expand your network, or at the very least, help you to navigate how you interact with this type of person.

Set expectations upfront. (Strategize)

Once you start to detect that your boss is micromanaging you, volunteer a follow up time with him or her (EX: "the mailing status has not changed as of 8AM today and I will get another update to you by close of business today"--NOTE the and instead of a but). Let your boss know when you will give the next update so he or she does not feel compelled to ask you, and to give your boss an opportunity to suggest a different time. Making your boss part of the process is essential for you feeling a little more in control, while giving your boss implicit respect.

Solidify trust. (Empower)

Sometimes this may be the hard part, but if your boss is a micromanager, just go with the flow. You are not going to rebuild that tower in one day, so don't fight this behavior. Instead, find ways to gradually build trust with your boss and then look for opportunities to take initiative over tasks that will create a benefit to your boss (save him/her time, money, build interdepartmental relationships). This will empower you both!

Take action.

You're either in or you are out. Either way, doing nothing is not an option (unless you're a Level 1 leader who would rather focus on being a subjected to poor treatment). You must act if you want your situation to change. Just remember that the way you choose to act may determine whether you are in or you are out....of a job, that is.

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