The Best Ways to Handle a Micro-Manager Boss

July 20, 2020


If only that micro-managing busybody knew just how irritating and counterproductive their behavior can be. Then maybe they’d back off.

It’s what’s floating in “the bubble over your head” – the thoughts and responses you keep to yourself and hope the boss can't interpret from the looks on your face.

Two notions may burst that bubble: There's always at least one good reason people micromanage, and they're unlikely to change, unless you change.

This means it is incumbent on you – the emotionally intelligent administrative professional – to learn how to handle an ardent micro-manager. Understanding the psychology of micro-managers is a great place to start. And if you can grasp why they behave as they do, you will be able to handle one with professionalism and goodwill – and keep the thoughts in your little mental bubble safely to yourself.

Employ Psychology to Understand a Micro-Manager

Micro-managers seem like they can’t help themselves. They need to know about every detail and development, no matter how small or insignificant. Their burning curiosity prompts them to inject themselves in conversations and meetings that really don't require their time, nor are a good use of it. Even though they may delegate a task, they often do more than monitor it; they may take it over eventually, too. Behind their backs, employees call them “helicopters” because micro-managers tend to hover closely overhead, just waiting for the chance to swoop down and intervene.

As a rule, micro-managers aren't on a mission to be disliked. Management experts agree that their behavior is often rooted in one of these factors:

  • A lack of trust
  • A lack of experience
  • A need to prove themselves
  • A fear of failure

As a supervisor, these factors may take root within themselves OR with you in mind. I.e., low self-esteem may drive their need to prove themselves; alternatively, in observing your work style they may fear your failure or distrust you.

What Can You Do?

It's one thing for the bubble over your head to start filling in commentary when a micro-manager approaches you. But to speak the words out loud and push against the looming behavior is probably counterproductive. If anything, pushing back or putting up a fight may cause a manager to feel you lack self-awareness, and feel their fears are being realized. , and conclude you cannot be trusted after all, making them even more determined to manage things to the “nth” degree.

Avoiding confrontation is the first step in successfully handling a zealous micro-manager. The second is to accept that you can’t change other people – you can only change yourself. So – what can you do to foster an environment where less intervention is needed?

These three commitments should help you demonstrate to your manager that you warrant trust, while keeping your sanity intact.

Conduct an Honest “Work Audit”

This requires some inward examination. Put your work and work habits under a high-intensity microscope. Does your work need edits and revisions from others to pass muster? Do you miss deadlines? Do you need verbal or email reminders to complete your tasks or stay on track? These may be difficult questions for you to answer, so ask a trusted colleague for insight. Your goal is to isolate and mitigate any action – or inaction – on your part that may be contributing to the micro-manager believing that level of hands-on management is needed.

Provide Regular Updates

Without being asked, start giving your manager regular updates about the progress of your work assignments. A weekly accounting should suffice, but it's important that the updates be regular and reliable as clockwork. Leave space in these updates for “comments or questions” and you may be able to head off many of the questions, nudges, or intrusions you typically see week-to-week.

Stay One Step Ahead

One of the best ways to silence a micro-manager is to give him or her what they want before it's expected. This means pulling ahead of deadlines, when you can, and acting on hints and suggestions. This doesn't mean you have to be a mind-reader; it simply means showing the kind of initiative that empties the steam from a micro-manager's engine—and maybe even deflating the bubble over your head once and for all.


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