7 Signs of a Controlling Manager (And How To Work With Them)

By Jennifer Herrity

Updated September 1, 2022 | Published March 15, 2021

Updated September 1, 2022

Published March 15, 2021

Jennifer Herrity is a seasoned career services professional with 12+ years of experience in career coaching, recruiting and leadership roles with the purpose of helping others to find their best-fit jobs. She helps people navigate the job search process through one-on-one career coaching, webinars, workshops, articles and career advice videos on Indeed's YouTube channel.

While most positions and companies offer comfortable work environments, you may encounter a manager who exerts power in a controlling manner. Knowing how to work in harmony with a controlling manager can help you perform your job successfully without negative implications.

In this article, we list the signs and effects of a controlling manager and provide tips for working with this type of manager.

Related: Types of Bad Bosses and How To Approach Them

Seven telltale signs of a controlling manager

While it may not always seem obvious, there are often signs that can help you identify a manager who exerts authority in a potentially negative manner. You may have a controlling manager if you feel like they often:

  • Use fear to achieve goals: A controlling manager may use fear to motivate you to achieve job goals. For example, managers typically can fire or discipline you. They might also require you to work extra hours or weekends. If you feel your manager uses these powers to influence or persuade you to perform a certain action, it may indicate that they're a controlling manager.

  • Think they know everything: Controlling managers often assume they know everything. Because of this, they typically never ask their employees’ opinions and rarely perform research before making a decision. If there is a question or conflict, they may seem to believe they are always right and may even take an aggressive stand to demonstrate their point of view.

  • Dominate meetings: During meetings, controlling managers might talk loudly, not let others speak and then issue orders to those in attendance. Instead of using effective meeting skills and drawing on the opinions or experiences of others, they use meetings as an arena to assert their power in the workplace.

  • Control your workload: Controlling managers may yield power over your workload, requiring you to ask permission before you act. For example, they may require that you check in frequently or micromanage each step in your project. This allows them to exert power over you rather than empowering you to grow in your position.

  • Not practicing active listening: You might feel like your manager often ignores ideas and suggestions from you and others. You feel that your manager isn’t hearing what you have to offer since they believe they already know everything.

  • Communicate poorly with staff: A controlling manager may not share information, preferring to keep details to themselves. For example, they may not clearly explain a new process, preventing you from performing at your best. This allows the controlling manager to step in, take control and demonstrate their power.

  • Make you feel inferior: A controlling manager may use sarcasm, intimidation or even silence to make you feel bad about yourself. If you feel inferior, it’s easier for them to manipulate you into doing what they say. They might also ignore your emails or calls especially when you need their input for a project.

Related: Signs of a Bad Manager: 14 Common Signs and Tips for Improving Your Situation

What are the effects of a controlling manager?

Controlling managers often have a negative effect on their staff and those around them. Recognizing these effects can motivate you to find ways to work with this type of manager. Here are some effects of a controlling manager and how they impact their team:

  • Low productivity: A controlling manager can make you feel like you can't do anything right. When this happens, you may not feel motivated to complete your work. If this continues, it could negatively affect your productivity in the workplace and cost your company lost revenue.

  • Increased stress: When you constantly feel criticized for your work, you may feel frustrated or stressed. Not only may you face burnout due to the heightened stress, but you may also see it negatively impact your overall work performance and ability to excel in your position.

  • Poor health: The combination of feeling controlled or micromanaged and stressed may negatively affect your health and overall well-being. This may lead to a variety of health issues and negative emotions. Your job performance may suffer due to absenteeism, health problems or poor performance due to emotional issues.

Related: 10 Tips for Maintaining a Positive Attitude

How to work with controlling managers

If you have a controlling manager, there are several things you can do several things to reduce the negative effects of this management style. Knowing how to work with controlling managers can help you stay motivated and keep you motivated. Use these tips to help you work successfully with controlling managers:

1. Work in peace

Look for ways to benefit from micromanagement. Keep in mind that even if you have a controlling manager, they likely still want the best for you and your professional development. Accept that they have things to teach you and learn as much from them as you can.

2. Learn how they work

Learning what drives your manager’s actions can help you better meet their expectations. Controlling management often stems from insecurity, distrust or inexperience. For example, they may be feeling pressured by their supervisors or it might be their first job in management. Understanding what causes them to act can help you predict their actions.

Related: 12 Tips To Help You Deal With Negative Coworkers

3. Try to compromise

Try to find some middle ground between your working styles. For example, if your boss wants frequent updates on your progress, ask if you can report on your progress at the end of your workday instead. Creating expectations for how often you provide them with updates can make you feel more comfortable while still allowing them to assert their dominance.

4. Communicate clearly

Aim to minimize confusion and problems through effective communication. Communicate clearly and often with your manager. Unlike other situations, it's important to go out of your way to stay in communication with a controlling manager. Even if you feel like you're telling them too much, it ensures they won't have any surprises since they already know what to expect. When they know what to expect, it can help to build more trust and hopefully eliminate or reduce their controlling ways.

Related: 4 Different Ways To Communicate Effectively in the Workplace

5. Anticipate their requests

Think of what your manager might ask of you ahead of time. When you anticipate their requests, they may not feel like they have to remind you to do something since you're already doing it. When you do this consistently, they may realize you have your responsibilities on track.

Related: What Can I Expect from My Manager at Work? Examples and Tips

6. Focus on your work

Instead of feeling like you have to act on their micromanaging or perform poorly in retaliation, stay focused on your tasks. Otherwise, you only put yourself further behind in your workload and build a case for your manager to be even more controlling. The goal is to stay on good working terms with leaders in the company. Doing this ensures you stay focused while producing quality work.

Related: How To Improve Focus in the Workplace: Strategies and Tips

7. Critique yourself

Even if you think you have a controlling manager, do some self-reflection and evaluate your behavior. For example, consider if you've been late to work often or distracted lately. Reconsider your work demeanor based on your self-critique to help restore your manager's confidence and trust in you and your abilities. If your manager isn’t micromanaging other employees, his actions may indicate you’re underperforming. Make sure to do this before addressing any problem with your manager.

8. Stay calm

If a situation turns tense, stay as calm as possible. If you raise your voice, it may feed the controlling person's need to raise their voice above yours. Speak slowly and clearly. Be gentle and patient. However, if your manager becomes offensive or physical, walk away and report the incident immediately to a supervisor or the human resources department.

9. Document your work

Document your performance each day. While a controlling manager may think they’re always right, that will not always be the case. A record of your work also helps if your boss says one thing but does another. For example, save details of each project that you complete on your computer and make a hard copy. If someone questions your work, show them proof that you did exactly as your manager asked. Documentation can also be referred to in the event of a dispute.

Related: How To Write a Resignation Letter Due to Job Dissatisfaction

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