Best Way to Manage a Micromanager

Last Updated Jul 1, 2011 11:42 AM EDT

You can't change a micromanager. It's like being in a bad marriage: you have to recognize people don't change. (Well, sometimes they do change, but never the way you want them to.)

So what you can do is to change your attitude so you can use this annoying personality trait to your benefit. Much of your success at work depends on how positively you frame your experience. Optimistic people do better than pessimistic people and the reason for this is that if you think the world will be good to you, then the world is, generally, good to you.

The best way to deal with a micromanaging boss is to change your outlook so you see him as positive force in your life. You might think this is impossible, but it's not. (And, I have bad news for you: the more often you say something is impossible the more likely it is that you are hard-wired for pessimism.)

Here are some ways to reframe the experience.

1. You don't have to work to get face time with your boss.
A micromanager loves to hang out with his staff, because that's the most effective way to get a handle on everything the staff is doing. So all the work you might have had to do to get in front of your boss in order to get to know her - you don't have to do that with a micromanager.

2. You can give your boss a third-rate effort.

That's all a micromanager wants. The key is to do the absolute minimum amount of work so that your boss has someone's work to redo. Micromanagers don't want to start from scratch. They are usually critical types rather than creative types. They want to have you get started so they can dismiss your efforts and feel like heroes.

So did your boss ask you to come up with a list of ideas? Surely your boss will not like any of them, so play a race-the-clock game: come up with ten ideas in ten minutes. Done! Then you are happy because you are challenging yourself, and your boss is happy because he can redo your work with psychological impunity. Since your boss actually wants to be doing your work, your giving him the opportunity is effectively managing up.

3. A micromanager gives you implied permission to blossom.
Since your boss is spending all his time redoing your and others' work, that means you can use your time to make your mark by filling in the part of the job that your boss is neglecting. People often micromanage because it's easier to do what they are comfortable with (your job) than what they are not comfortable with (management).This means there's a hole somewhere. Find that hole and do your best to fill it.

If you don't see an easy way to usurp that responsibility, write a memo identifying problems and offering specific ways you can fix them. Email the memo to a wider audience than just your boss. Someone will give the authority to implement something sooner or later.

Won't the micromanager hate that? Who cares. The worst thing that can happen is he'll say, "Don't do that again." And you'll nod and keep doing #4.

4. It's easy to win the micromanager's approval.

Make him feel helpful. You should do this with everyone, but it's especially easy to do this with the micromanager. Remember, micromanagers do not think they're micromanaging. They think they're helping. Your job is to make that person feel helpful. It's not that hard. Thank him for taking the time to line edit. Tell him you appreciate all the ideas he comes up with. Even if they suck. You can appreciate the volume of his efforts. Give compliments to keep the relationship going well while you prepare for your next move: a new job.

image courtesy of flickr user, quinn.anya