Working closely with many colleagues—as Office Ninjas frequently do—means you see the good, the bad and the ugly of people’s personalities. And sometimes, the ugly is that people are control freaks—a difficult enough trait to handle in a co-worker, but in a boss? It can be unbearable.
The control freak boss is a well-worn archetype of pop culture, but resonates because, well, people can identify with having an extremely difficult manager.
But some bosses truly believe micromanaging is the way to lead—they believe that to be a good manager, they must answer all the questions they ask and watch your every move. Others haven’t yet learned the fine art of delegation: having climbed the ladder, they’re unwilling or unable to let go. And some, well—some people are just jerks.
For many Ninjas, especially those working closely with high-level execs—many of whom have strong personalities and idiosyncratic work styles (heard the one about 4% of CEOs being psychopaths?)—the issue of a control freak boss can be particularly difficult to deal with.
It’s stressful, demotivating, counterproductive and you leave work feeling like you haven’t been trusted to do your job.
So how do you deal with a boss whose controlling ways are driving you up the wall? We asked some Office Ninjas about their best tips for dealing with micromanagers.
Do You Actually Just Need to Get Out?
There are control freaks and there are control freaks. Your boss might simply like to feel busy and to get check-ins every half hour to make sure everyone’s working hard and that projects are moving in the right direction. That can be annoying and frustrating, but some people can live with this as a management style.
But in some cases, a manager might actually be abusive. As Kiyomi D. points out, “All the books I’ve read on how to work with difficult people only mention to leave. The coping strategies aren’t for staying long term. It’s for how to get out; much like how to plan an exit strategy if you are dating an abuser—whether verbal, mental, or physical. Because working for a difficult boss is in essence the same type of relationship, it just so happens to be at work. The bottom line is, if you are not thriving, you’re in a losing battle.”
Monica P. adds, from personal experience, “At the end of the day, no job can ever pay you enough to put your wellbeing into harm's way.”
If you’re absolutely dreading going to work every day because of your controlling boss, Kiyomi recommends some great books on how to deal with such situations, check them out below:
Assuming your boss is just an average control freak and they’re not detrimental to your wellbeing, what do you do?
One of our Ninjas has been rolling with her boss’s on-again, off-again ways for 18 years. She explained: “My boss is a micro-manager, except when he's not. It's frustrating as he's consistently inconsistent with it. I never know if the project I'm working on will be something I have to report on every 5 minutes, or something I can take to the end and just let him know it's done. Sometimes, he changes his ways mid-stream in the project. It can be EXTREMELY frustrating.”
If you have a good relationship with your boss, you may be able to call them on it, either informally or as part of a review.
If your boss is unpredictable, you could try to anticipate their micromanaging ways by asking questions like “How often will you want updates on this?” or “Am I OK to show you this when I’m done? I’ll ask if I need help, it should take an hour”. That way, you are setting expectations and creating a verbal contract that you can (hopefully) both adhere to.
It All Comes Down to Trust
Part of feeling valued and fulfilled in your work is having a sense that you’ve got control over your work and your day, rather than someone else running your life. As Jennifer M. said, “To me, it all comes down to trust.”
Sometimes, a change in perspective is all it takes to understand where your boss’s micromanaging tendencies really stem from. Are they being micromanaged themselves by their boss? Is it stress? Insecurity? A difficult home life?
If you gain insight into why they don’t trust others, you stand a chance at building trust back into your relationship - at the end of the day, you have more power than you realize to improve the situation.
It sounds like a lot of work, but if the job is worth keeping for other reasons, it may be worth putting in the effort to improve the relationship. While it’s not fair that this work should fall to you, it’s an opportunity to take the high road and learn a lot about people, management and interpersonal skills that will serve you well throughout your career.
Ninjas, do you have a control freak for a boss? How do you deal with it?