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Dealing with a Micromanaging Peer

Each of our workplace experts has weighed in on the following question from a reader to give you four
points of view. For other editions of our 360 Answers series, please click here.
Heres the question, with our experts responses below:
Id like to get your input about how to deal with a coworker who micromanages laterally. I am a
manager, and one of my peers, another manager, often takes it upon herself to tell the other
managers how they should run their departments (even though we havent asked and its not
within her realm of responsibility). It doesnt happen all the time, but every few months or so
shell go on a tirade and drive all of the managers crazy. For example, shell get on a dress-code
policy kick and scrutinize every article of clothing staff wear, and then send repeated emails to
department managers saying that it needs to be dealt with. The most recent time this happened,
when I went to check on the offensive clothing, they fell completely within the code perhaps
she just didnt like what the person was wearing?
She tells us which staff members need disciplining (when they dont), tells us how to deal with
clients, recites well-known procedures to us over and over, and will even go so far as to
reorganize our service desks because she doesnt like how they look! And I dont mean just a
little Im talking moving computers to a completely different location, and leaving post-it notes
everywhere about why something isnt right or shouldnt be the way it is.
Usually I try to see where shes coming from and consider whether she has a valid point, but
often its just trivial things that dont matter or dont make sense. Ive tried ignoring her, giving in
to her, and being firm and telling her why my department chooses to do things a certain way and
that we wont be changing it. Nothing seems to help. I think she acts this way because she cares
about our organization and likes to see things run smoothly, but its too much at times, and
ultimately not her responsibility. Our organization functions well and overall our staff have good
morale. I am perfectly capable of handling my team and, if I do say so myself, do a darn good
job of it. How can I get her to back off when she gets like this?

Alison Green says:


Youve tried ignoring her and youve tried explaining to her why you do things your way, but you havent
tried being direct: explicitly telling her that she needs to stop what shes doing. That needs to be your
next step.
Sit down with her and say something like this: Jane, I need you to stop advising me on how to run my
department. Youve given me a great deal of input about how to manage my staff, how to enforce
policies, how to handle clients, and even how to arrange our desks. While I appreciate your desire to
ensure things are running smoothly, these things are mine to handle, and its disruptive to me and to my

team to have someone else giving direction. If you ever have a serious concern, please bring it to my
attention, but I need you to give me the space and the respect to run my department on my own.
From that point forward, if she continues to poke into things that arent her business, you need to
clearly set and enforce boundaries, with statements like, As we talked about, this is not your purview.
Im handling this myself. And if she engages in actions that arent hers to do, such as rearranging
desks or leaving instructional post-its for your staff, call her on it immediately; for instance, I need you
to put those desks back the way they were, and please dont move my teams things again.
And youll need to do this every time, because thats how youll train her to butt out. If you slip and let
some things go, youll only undermine the efforts youve already made.

Alexandra Levit says:


I think its time you had a formal sit down with the micromanaging peer. Ignoring her might be the path
of least resistance, but at this point it sounds like her behavior is negatively impacting the productivity of
your team and this is a problem thats yours to remedy.
Ask her to lunch. If it isnt completely out of the ordinary, go offsite so you wont risk being interrupted
or joined by another teammate. Tell her theres something important you need to talk to her about, and
preface the discussion with a comment along the lines of what you said in your e-mail to us: I admire
how much you care about our organization and I know that you want to see it run smoothly. This will
help to mitigate her natural response (i.e. defensiveness) to what youre about to say.
Next, tell her that while you appreciate her input on your teams discipline, dress, etc. you are capable
of managing these issues yourself and that youd prefer it if she would confine her improvements to her
own group. Use a this is whats best for the organization type of argument, such as Right now my
staff feels that its getting confusing cross-direction, and their work is suffering. Try to be assertive
rather than wishy-washy. You are a manager for a reason and your judgment should be trusted.
If this doesnt work and she continues to interfere and wreck havoc around the office, you should talk to
your boss on the down low. Just remember to be solution-oriented and bottom-line focused in your
comments, as the last thing you want to do is come across like you are whining or complaining. You
are not a tattletale and this is not a merepersonality conflict. Be clear that you are genuinely concerned
that because of this womans actions, the organization is not operating as optimally as it could be.

Eva Rykrsmith says:


It sounds like your coworker with perfectionistic tendencies truly wants to help. But it also sounds like
she is putting team morale at risk and opening up the doors for personal conflict. The irony here, of
course, is that she is not making things better (as she thinks), but instead creating a situation where
she puts organizational effectiveness at risk. Especially if this is negatively affecting your department,
you might need to give her direct, assertive negative feedback or constructive criticism. And I mean
really direct: take the focus off of what she has brought up and talk about her behavior of continuously
voicing unsolicited suggestions as a whole. If you do decide to have this conversation with her, make
sure to do it from a place of compassion rather than as a circumstance of annoyance.

As a follow-up and compromise, (or if you prefer a gentler approach) you and your peers could
brainstorm a way to give her a productive outlet for her constant need to improve. For example, you and
others in the office can start to come to her with real issues that need a solution. Alternatively, you can
host a quarterly managers meeting where you have an open discussion and give each other feedback
positive and negativeabout what you each can change to make the organization as a whole more
productive and successful. All ideas will get heard and the feasible ones will be implemented. Adding
this structure will put the focus back where it belongson the organization.

Anita Bruzzese says:


Im not sure why youve put up with this for so long, because she should have stopped the first time you
talked to her about it. Now its time to stop trying to understand her reasoning, explain your feelings,
etc. Her meddling is not only undermining your authority and possibly hurting your career, but its
confusing and counterproductive to your staff.
You should say something like, Mary, youve gone too far. Youve overstepped your authority and it
needs to stop. Now.
Make sure youre calm when you deliver the message, and work to eliminate any indication of anger or
annoyance. Dont talk about how it makes you feel or how she must be feeling, etc. You have to focus
totally on her actions and mention that its happened before and cannot happen again.
If she continues on her merry way and does it again, Id go straight to your manager. This is a situation
that, as I said before, hurts the productivity and morale of the office. Anything that has bottom-line
consequences like this will not be ignored by your boss and needs to be addressed.