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Published:Dec 15, 2021

The Right Way to Deal With Micromanagers [According to Psychology]

Does dealing with your manager take you back to the time you were first learning C++? You’re not alone. As it turns out, three out of four employees feel that dealing with their boss is the most stressful part of their job.

It’s hard enough when you have a chunk of code to write on a short deadline, but it’s worse when you have to provide constant updates and show up at daily meetings that go on forever. Dealing with an over-involved project lead doesn’t just lower your productivity, it also destroys your work-life balance and hurts your mental health.

So, how do you push back against a manager who doesn’t know when to stop? Is it possible to stand up for yourself without creating hostility in the workplace? In this article, we take a look at the most effective strategies to help you manage your micromanaging boss and avoid burnout.

What is Micromanagement?

Micromanagement is a business management term for employers who are so obsessed with controlling their subordinates that they end up taking away individual freedom and reducing the overall productivity of the workplace.

Micromanagement is a bad management style that can lead to a toxic work environment. It can make employees feel trapped, take away their creative thinking skills, and reduce their ability to perform at their best.

A micromanaging boss can upend the entire workflow of the office and create incessant chaos among team members. It’s not just damaging to the company’s bottom line, but also to the mental health and wellbeing of individual workers.

Micromanagement is especially bad when it happens in software development, which is a creative process requiring individual freedom and problem-solving skills. It’s easy to feel helpless when that happens, but luckily, there are steps you can take to spot, understand, and manage a micromanager.

Signs for Spotting a Micromanager

Micromanagement can sometimes be borderline abusive. It can easily sneak up on you — leading to a downward spiral of frustration, anxiety, and self-doubt. That’s why you need to detect the signs early on and ask for help before things get out of hand. Here are some pointers to help you decide if you’re being micromanaged.

  • Micromanagers obsess over minor details and ignore the big picture. If your manager wants to be kept in the loop at all times and gets frustrated if they don’t receive constant updates that jeopardize your boundaries, they could be a micromanager.
  • Does your manager suffer from a superiority complex? The belief that no one else is good at decision-making often leads bosses to micromanage. They fear the very idea of relinquishing control, lest their employees perform badly and harm their reputation.
  • Being thorough is usually a good thing, but sometimes, project managers can be so thorough that they end up over-complicating things. They can provide complex instructions that add confusion and take away individual autonomy.

So, what should you do when you’re being micromanaged? A direct confrontation with your boss is never a desirable option. But if you don’t stand up for yourself at the right time, things can quickly escalate. Up next, let’s take a look at some best practices for dealing with micromanagers at the office.

Signs for Spotting a Micromanager

How to Manage a Micromanager: 8 Do’s and Don’t’s

Once you realize you’re being micromanaged, it’s time to evaluate your situation and determine a strategy for taking back control. It’s hard to recommend a single correct approach as the right course of action depends on your individual circumstances. However, here are a few do’s and don’t’s worth keeping in mind when dealing with micromanaging behavior:

Don’t: Give In to Procrastination

When you’re struggling under the thumb of a micromanaging boss, it’s hard not to feel depressed and undervalued. But it’s important to understand that a micromanager’s behavior is never about you, it’s about their lack of trust and a pathological need to establish control.

Deliver projects on time and try to establish a good working relationship with your manager, but don’t procrastinate or hesitate to push back politely when things get intense.

Do: Try to Build Trust

If there’s one thing micromanagers struggle with, it’s trust. They are constantly involving themselves with the minutiae of their subordinates’ work — because they struggle to let go of control and trust those who work under them.

Establishing trust with a micromanager is a long game, but it starts with managing your time effectively, delivering consistent results, and clearly communicating your project status.

Don’t: Be a Pushover at Work

As important as it is to keep your manager satisfied, you have to draw the line at some point — if only for the sake of your own mental wellbeing. Micromanagers act out of a compulsive need to assert control, something which can escalate when people give in to their demands.

While you can’t just throw a fit or refuse to cooperate, being upfront with your manager and establishing clear boundaries is a good starting point.

Do: Create Upfront Agreements

According to Jean-François Manzoni, a professor of management at INSEAD: “Try to agree on standards and basic approach. Be sure you understand upfront what the guiding principles are for the work — not just the tactical elements.”

In other words, sit down with your boss before every project and discuss how you should scope the project as well as address things like time frames, updates, and feedback.

Don’t: Engage In Direct Confrontations

As tempting as it might be to confront your micromanaging boss, getting into fights with your manager may only escalate their controlling behavior. When they conclude that you can’t be trusted, micromanagers tend to get even more aggressive and involved.

Instead, try to evaluate your manager’s behavior and figure out what triggers their tendencies. Once you understand their underlying motivations, you can decide on the appropriate action.

Do: Establish Clear Boundaries

Before you start working on a new project, have a detailed discussion with your manager on the preferred communication methods and time frame. When they overstep the boundaries of your initial agreement, politely remind them about what you agreed upon.

You may not realize it, but a statement as simple as “the project is on track: you don’t need to worry at this stage,” can sometimes be enough to get a micromanager out of your hair.

Don’t: Hesitate to Ask for Help

When things get really difficult, having a friend, colleague, or mentor in your corner can make all the difference. Not only can they offer a sympathetic ear, but they can also vouch for you when things go wrong.

Relying on your support network isn’t the same as talking behind your manager’s back. In fact, it’s crucial to work up the courage and ask for help when you find yourself in a dark place.

Do: Reassess Jobs If You Must

It’s a tough economy — and sometimes — quitting your job is easier said than done. However, if things get really bad, you should reevaluate your financial situation and consider looking for better employment opportunities.

More often than not, micromanagement is a sign of toxic company culture. You’ll be much better off doing a job where you’re appreciated and cared for, even if it doesn’t pay as much.

Use Time-Tracking to Keep Micromanagers in Check

Most developers get paid by the hour. Using a stopwatch to measure your hours might just work in a pinch. However, having an established process for tracking time across different projects can boost your self-confidence and put your manager at ease.

Micromanagers suffer from an intense lack of trust, which is why it’s extremely important to be very transparent in your dealings. One way to do that is to retake control of the situation by showing them that they can rely on you.

Project managers often question whether the people working under them are really doing the work they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it. By showing your team leader that you have a transparent way to manage and track your hours — like a time-tracking app, you’re giving them the confidence they need to let go of control.

7pace: The Ultimate Time-Tracking Solution for Developers

7pace is a time-tracking solution that empowers software developers and project managers with technology and data to report and manage their time across different projects. It also gives you all the information you need to provide accurate time frame estimates on upcoming projects.

By tracking your hours on a regular basis and sending proactive updates to your manager with 7pace, you can enable them to let go of their micromanaging tendencies and give you the autonomy you deserve.

Want to give 7pace a try? Our time-tracking app is available as an add-on for Azure DevOps and soon coming to Github. Sign up for a free 28-day trial today!

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