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How Do Administrative Assistants Handle a Micromanager? – Ask an Admin

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Welcome to the part of our blog known as Ask an Admin, where any administrative assistant or executive assistant can submit any question they have and their peers (your peers) can weigh in on the conversation. We know that there is always multiple ways you can approach a situation and we would love to hear your input on how you would handle the problem or situation that is presented.

This week Sheri presents the question:

How would you handle a boss that micromanages? How would you handle a boss that is nasty when critiquing a typed document that needs to be reviewed?

Wow, this is a tough question but a very good one! Micromanaging always seems to have a negative impact on the office so what do you do about it? What happens when your boss is the one micromanaging you? Very tough question to answer. So, administrative and executive assistants around the world… let us hear your answer!

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13 thoughts on “How Do Administrative Assistants Handle a Micromanager? – Ask an Admin”

  1. Thank you for all these replies. I am in this situation myself and it’s causing me some serious anxiety and self worth problems. I have worked for a lot of different types of managers, but it’s the first time I work for a micromanager and perfectionist boss and I really don’t like it. Trying to find ways of living through this without burning completely my self esteem.

  2. Kelly’s earlier response is spot-on. I would add that working for a micro-manager can be a game-changer in your career if you are able to adjust your perspective. I worked for a micro-manager for the first time a few jobs ago and it completely took me by surprise. As the admin to an executive, the responsibility to get the job done satisfactorily falls on the admin, whether it’s fair or not. What I learned and has greatly benefited me since is to constantly be over-prepared whether its preparing a presentation or a meeting. Get ahead of the criticism and nitpicking. Years later, my ability to be proactive is one of my strongest skills and I don’t think this would be the case if I hadn’t had this experience. FYI, we went on to work together successfully for eight years; by year two, he was no longer standing over my should editing my mails; by year three, he was delegating projects left and right without micromanaging.

    On a separate note, if the work environment is highly toxic, move on. Life’s too short to stay in a job that is unfulfilling and making you miserable.

  3. Kelly’s earlier response is spot-on. I would add that working for a micro-manager can be a game-changer in your career if you are able to adjust your perspective. I worked for a micro-manager for the first time a few jobs ago and it completely took me by surprise. As the admin to an executive, the responsibility to get the job done satisfactorily falls on the admin, whether it’s fair or not. What I learned and has greatly benefited me since is to constantly be over-prepared whether its preparing a presentation or a meeting. Get ahead of the criticism and nitpicking. Years later, my ability to be proactive is one of my strongest skills and I don’t think this would be the case if I hadn’t had this experience. FYI, we went on to work together successfully for eight years; by year two, he was no longer standing over my should editing my mails; by year three, he was delegating projects left and right without micromanaging.

    On a separate note, if the work environment is highly toxic, move on. Life’s too short to stay in a job that is unfulfilling and making you miserable.

  4. Hi Everyone,
    My Manager does not ask me to do anything most of the time. When he does it is usually not anything great. I find that makes me feel unproductive sometimes. He does everything himself and this results in him sending out reports late working late etc. and these are things I can help with. He went on a business trip recently and I did one of his report for him. I look at what he usually submits and get the data and complete the report. I sent it to him and said for your records and he replied …Many thanks! I have been doing it since.

    The other challenge is he does not share information. Meetings etc. I am only told after he left or when he is leaving for a meeting. I sent him a request to share his calendar with me and he ignored it.

    How do I develop a better relationship with my manager. Most times when I go to him he is always on the phone or meeting with someone so I really do not have 1 on 1 with him, for as soon as I go there comes someone and that’s the end of our meeting… open door policy.

    What can I do to improve this situation.

  5. I have a micro manager who is always negative towards me. There is a definite personality clash which I felt on meeting her for the first time several years ago as a peer. Since she has been promoted she is always negative and no matter what I do, it is always wrong. I reported her behaviour to her manager and she calmed down for a few weeks but is back to her old self. She is not a perfectionist, there are lots of mistakes in her work. She is a bully and the only way to tackle bullies is to fight back.

  6. Anonymous from Las Vegas

    I don’t think anyone likes working for a micro-manager, especially one that is nasty about critiques. As Alice mentioned, it may be that they don’t even recognize the behavior. I have recently become a manager of an entry level receptionist/admin, and I’m beginning to think I might be a micro manager. (Insert sad face here). Through self-recognition and reflection, I’ve discovered that it most likely stems from my perfectionist nature. I hold myself to very high standards, and as a result I hold others to high standards as well. Though I don’t hold them to the level of standards I hold myself too. That said, with my new receptionist/admin being the epitome of entry-level, there’s a lot she doesn’t know how to do yet, and a “quality” consistency that still needs to be learned. Without giving that “micro-manager” feedback, there is no way I can expect her to learn and improve. So I try to critique in a friendly manner, so that she can learn the skills and why the quality is important. I also try to end with some form of positive feedback.

    Having said that, I agree with Alice that you should sit down with your manager. If critiques are nasty, they will not be effective. It will wear a person down, eventually eating away at their confidence. And when confidence is low, mistakes tend to increase. Explain this to your manager, and ask for the critiques to be about the mistake, not the performance. Also let your manager know, that you welcome the negative feedback because you’d like to know the areas in which you can improve, but only negative feedback is detrimental. (Note confidence decreasing and potential performance decreasing as a result.) Ask that they also occasionally provide positive feed back as well, what are you doing right or well? I had to have this conversation with a previous manager. He wasn’t a micro manager, but the only feedback being negative became too much for me. After explaining the above, he made a conscious effort to also provide positive feedback. Your manager might not do the same, but you don’t have anything to lose by trying.

    1. Las Vegas you sound exactly like me (same personality)! When I was a supervisor I also tried to handle employees in a positive manner when correcting and offering “well done” when possible. My current boss is a HUGE micro-manager which has been very tough, it;s been an adjustment. He is also very moody. I am highly experienced and skilled, but he cannot let go of his calendar or make a set decision. He second and third guesses himself on paperwork before he will allow me to send it. He does not like for me to hand him ANY paperwork, so I tired making him an in-box… that stayed unchecked for months 🙁

      I am his 3rd Exec Assistant in 2 yrs. I try to be patient with him… I otherwise LOVE my job and what I do, so I do my best to be positive and patient, as an example to him on how to respond to stressful situations. I think it helps, he does provide me positive feedback from time to time, which helps me feel productive and appreciated.

  7. Alicia and Katherine make great points.

    I have found a few things work really well when dealing with micromanagers (although they are not 100% “foolproof” but things rarely tend to be with micromanagers):

    – Over-communicate – sometimes micromanagers feel as though they can’t trust that things will be done. The more you communicate with them along the way, the more they may come to realize that you will do what you say you’ll do.

    – Ask clarifying questions – even if you have to stretch for them, make sure you understand completely what it is they want. You may need to ask “when you say you need this today, do you mean immediately or by the end of the day” or let them know your priorities and how you plan to work their request in.

    – Reporting – you may have luck in providing regular reporting to them. This goes along with over-communicating but developing a regular method of delivering status updates, details, etc. may also help alleviate concern.

    – Pause before responding – when you are given feedback that is potentially inflammatory, take a moment to pause before responding. Micromanagers don’t tend to take discussion of their feedback well (as a general rule based only on my personal experiences) so your initial reaction may be less than helpful. It’s always a good idea to pause before responding in conversation, but especially so with micromanagers.

    – Remember it’s not personal (or it shouldn’t be) – if it feels personal then you have other issues, but often micromanagers are perfectionists and sometimes don’t understand mistakes, even when they make them. Take a deep breath, remind yourself it’s not personal, and move on.

  8. If his criticism is due to a typo–then he has a right to ask for a correction (but not to be nasty).
    …. I would mention during a private sit-down (1on1) that it “I feel xxxx when ….” and also that you have his back and always mean to make him look good (etc), and appreciate when he brings things to your attention that need improvement. …. My husband is a micro-manager, and I’ve learned in our 40 years of marriage, to say things like, “Thanks for your ideas, I’ve got this.” I also have said, “Oh. Did you want to do this?” Humor is a GREAT diffuser!! …. I have a new prinicpal this year who’s never had an EA before; when we had our first sit-down, I shared that since I’d been doing a lot of the administrative/principal duties and my own during the previous year, I might at times be doing his work, and, if so, I asked that he tell me to back off. Likewise, since he wasn’t used to having an EA, he might hear from me “that’s my work to do.” There’ve been a few times during this school year, where I’ve seen him doing definite “admin” work, and have gently reminded him, “Dude, let me do that, please.” (But he’s not a micro-manager.) …. I will say, from experience with my husband, that you have to hang in there and be patient. The nasty part is more concerning, in my estimation. I have found when dealing with others, that my honesty in private, sit-down meetings, heart-to-heart sometimes, that xyz-behavior is bothersome and reflects poorly back onto me, etc….has had very positive effects on the organization. God’s blessings–hope this works out for you, Sheri!

  9. Working with a micromanager is difficult for some and not-so-difficult for others. I think in these situations you have to know your personality and what you are willing to deal with daily. I’ve learned that people cannot be changed without first recognizing and acknowledging that their behavior is an issue. Although I do believe you should first sit down with them and express your concerns, there is no guarantee they will agree with you or change. In that type of situation, I would decide what my boundaries are. Sometimes that means that you need to make the decision to move on from that role onto another where personalities are more compatible.

    1. Alicia:
      Thank you for pointing out that the micro-manager may not be willing or able to see what they’re doing or be able to change. I was recently given a written reprimand when I pointed out a mistake my perfectionist boss made. I have yet to find out a technique that helps alleviate the stress from working in that type of environment myself. I’ve tried talking honestly with my boss and even going to HR, but these have only succeeded in hard feelings and retaliation. I’ve gotten to the point where I try to fly under the radar and become invisible-not asking questions, keeping quiet when I find discrepancies, and doing exactly what I’m told to do and nothing more. This is a struggle for me most days because I’m taking classes where I’m required to be a productive thinker, and I’ve realized sometimes it’s best for your own peace of mind to move on and hope for a better situation.

  10. Try not to take the criticisms personally. I have learned that micromanagers are perfectionists with insecurities that they are projecting onto others and their work. Its really not a criticism of you, it’s a criticism of themselves.

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