Career and Enterprising

How to deal with a micromanager professionally

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Micromanagement is such a pain in the arse. At a point in our careers, we might have been faced with a micromanager some time, somewhere. But many out there may not even know that they are being micromanaged.

So what are the common signs of micromanagement? Here are eight common ones from such bosses:

  • Little or no work delegation
  • Always asking you for updates
  • Show a reluctance in mentoring
  • Finding fault in everything you do
  • Famous for one-way conversations
  • Sole decision-maker even for the littlest of tasks
  • Like to focus on the small details but miss out on the big picture
  • Delay project deadlines because everything requires their “yes”

If you suspect that you’re whirled up in such a situation and it’s taking a toll on you, act on it before you explode.

Here are some ways to deal with a micromanager (or colleague) tactfully. Fictitious names included!

#1: Have an honest heart-to-heart talk
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As a micromanaging superior, Peter might not be very welcoming of criticisms. Be sensitive when dealing with this. When we say to have an honest heart-to-heart talk, we mean a candid but specific conversation.

Bill Gardner, founder and managing partner of Noetic Outcomes Consulting, suggests this with over 40 years of experience coaching executives. You want to describe your feelings when Peter’s behaviours directed at you make you feel X, Y, and Z. Then, go ahead and list some specific actions you hope to see going forward.

Now, some of you must be thinking this is impossible. As Asians, we may not like to confront head-on. But grow some guts, and you never know positive outcomes could snowball out of your truthfulness.

#2: Be direct with your requests

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During your conversation with a micromanaging boss, you want to be direct with your requests. Ask Sally what you can do better to address her needs. Even if she responds with a “but you’re already doing well”, don’t stop there.

Share with Sally your intention of improving collaboration with her. If you’re the sort that requires time and space to prove your work capabilities, let Sally know.

Instead of her chasing you for updates as and when she pleases, take the initiative by scheduling weekly check-ins. This can become your silent way of saying, “Please stop checking in for information outside of our scheduled meetings.”

#3: Ask questions to understand their point of view
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When you’re pulled into a project meeting, don’t just let John do the talking and then complain about him during lunch hours. To attempt to make your life a little better, you want to understand your manager’s perspective.

To do so, ask questions.

Katharina Schmidt from the Forbes Coaches Council shares that these questions might guide you towards a better working relationship:

  • What are your deal breakers?
  • What are your success hypotheses?
  • What are your key objectives for this initiative?
  • How, and how often, do you want to be informed?
#4: Focus on behaviour and impact

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When having any conversations with Zelia, you want to avoid the “m” word – that is, “micromanaging”. What you can do is to focus on the behaviour and impact it has on you.

For example, Zelia’s need for constant updates on your progress is one such behaviour that has impacted you. Let her know that these updates are taking extra time off your productivity and attention on your urgent projects at hand.

See if both of you can negotiate an alternative solution to that. Maybe setting a fixed time for updates can help you better manage your working hours?

Don’t be afraid to offer new ideas.

#5: Identify your superior’s end goal
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Conflicts often arise when two people are not on the same page. To stand on the same ground as Raju, you want to align with his end goal. April Armstrong, CEO of AHA Insight, notes the power of the “then what” question.

Ponder over these:

  • After I complete this assignment, what happens next?
  • If this were to be a big success, what would the ideal outcome be?

When your destinations are in line, Raju may see you in a different light. It can also prompt him to release his grip on his control over you and your teammates.

#6: Keep your eye on the curveballs and overdeliver
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For folks currently facing your first micromanager in your job, the whole experience can be daunting. But don’t waddle in the toxicity and put yourself at risk of being sour over it.

Understand that micromanagement is often a result of these two reasons:

  • The fear of being disconnected leads Carrie to find out as much as she can through countless updates like reports, meetings, and one-on-one conversations.
  • Carrie finds it difficult to transit from a position of doing to a trusting and coaching managerial position.

Jill Hauwiller, the founder, principal consultant, and lead executive coach at Leadership Refinery urges us to find out what our manager values and wants. Anticipate the unexpected and overdeliver on your promises.

This is because even if you can’t change their micromanaging behaviour at the end of the day, you have your great results to back you up. Your successful work output is something no one can take away from you.

Put on a little smile
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Remember our recent article on “Strategies on how to cope with someone you dislike at work”? When working with people you find difficult working with, communicating your points across calmy without being defensive is essential.

Jeff Altman, a career coach from The Big Game Hunter, said that smiles and laughter often go a long way toward making a point with people. So put on that big, friendly smile before you enter into any discussion with a micromanager.

Career and people skills take time and deliberate effort to develop. Don’t quit your job on impulse.

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