4 Tips for Working with a Micro-Manager

Whether your manager is instituting an Elon-Musk style return to office mandate, or just constantly stalking your availability status on Microsoft Teams, when you feel like you aren’t in control of your day (or career) it’s maddening, especially for high performers.

If you’ve diligently proven your value to your team and organization, you should have a level of mutual trust with your manager.  Yet, too often, the micromanagers among us erode the morale of their teams by over-indexing on control.

Working for one of these managers will quickly zap your enthusiasm. It’s unlikely you can do a 180 someone’s entire personality overnight (bummer). So here are four tips to help you stay sane:

Set (frequent) check-ins.
Is your manager constantly blowing up your phone? Having a designated time to check in can help fend of unwarranted interruptions. Even if this check-in is more frequent than you’d like (for example, daily), a standing meeting gives your manager a place to land. When they know they’re talking to you soon, they’re more likely to save their questions and comments.

Ask for their help.
This may seem counterintuitive. After all, don’t you want to see less of this person? It’s important to understand, many micro-managers don’t behave the way they do out of a lack of trust or respect for their teams. They simply want to feel needed. Often times, checking in is their way of making sure you have what you need. When you ask them for help on something specific, you’re directing their energy. This doesn’t need to be patronizing- like when you ask a toddler for “help” unloading the dishwasher. Really think about what your manager is good at. Maybe it’s brainstorming, building relationships, or having a detail-oriented lens on things. How can you leverage that?

Establish the cost of micromanaging.
Most of the time, micromanagers don’t realize how much time and energy they’re costing you. And let’s be honest- you usually answer their call with a ‘hey, of course I have time!’…right? Respectfully establishing the cost of bottle necking, constant updates, or checks ins can help your manager see things more clearly. You can say something like, “I appreciate how involved you’d like to be with this! Just a heads up- sometimes the status updates interrupt my workflow. Could we set a regular time to check in? That way, we can both be efficient with our time.” Stay factual and respectful, but don’t shy away of transparently communicating just how much time and energy you’re spending.

Have boundaries.
You teach people how to treat you, and that includes your manager. Yes, you need to respect their preferences and abide by the hierarchical norms of your organization. But the more you take after-hours calls or continually jump through hoops to loop them in, the more that behavior becomes the norm. Establishing boundaries early sets the tone for a productive relationship, where neither party becomes resentful.

One thing I often say to my executive coaching clients (when they’re frustrated with their boss, peer, or team member) is – people don’t come to you clean. Meaning that have a background and style of working that may not have been healthy, but it’s become habit.

It’s highly unlikely your manager woke up this morning and said to themselves, “How can I make sure my employee feels no trust, autonomy, or empowerment?” They had their own series of events, be it working for a micromanager themselves or trying to lead a team who consistently let them down, that brought them here.

It’s not an excuse for their behavior, but it should give you an empathetic lens. By embodying the best practices above, you and your manager will both experience more joy, creativity, and camaraderie at work.