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How to get a micromanaging boss to back off (without losing your job)

February 18, 2022 - 20 min read

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What are the traits of a micromanager?

7 signs your boss is micromanaging

What causes bosses to micromanage?

Micromanaging and remote work

How to deal with a micromanaging boss

How to stop micromanaging

As an employee, having the freedom to decide how to get your work done is great. But a micromanaging boss can be a real obstacle to autonomy in your work.

It’s frustrating to have your manager constantly look over your shoulder and check your work. Even in a virtual world, a manager who doesn't trust you can make their presence felt. 

But how can you tell your boss to give you some space without being rude or risking your relationship?

Here’s how to spot a micromanaging boss and have a conversation that wins some room to grow without getting into their micromanagement tendencies.

What are the traits of a micromanager?

A micromanaging boss is someone who closely observes and controls the work of their direct reports. In this management style, managers excessively supervise their employees. 

A micromanager tells you how to do your tasks (and probably shows you, too) rather than just telling you what output is expected. That type of management is great for a new employee who needs training, but it wears think quickly. Plus, the employees being micromanaged will never get the opportunity to grow into, and beyond, their jobs.

Managers and supervisors who constantly look over their employees' shoulders don’t build confidence in the workplace. Instead of empowering their team through effective feedback, these bosses like to keep their fingers in every piece of the workplace pie.

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Another damaging leadership trait of micromanagers is difficulty entrusting work to other team members. They don't trust you to do the task right. This is not conducive to building trust in the workplace or making employees feel valued as members of the team.

If your boss overly and unfairly criticizes your work style, this is a sign that you’re being micromanaged, although they may see it differently. Often it isn't clear — micromanagers can have good intent. Many micromanagers truly think they have your best interests, and the company's best interests, at heart.

But they don't trust you, for whatever reason.

Micromanagers are unwilling or unable to release control and let you own your work.  They might hold unreasonably high standards. Or, you might unknowingly be giving them reasons to doubt your abilities.

Bringing up your micromanaging concerns may involve starting a difficult conversation. But addressing this common leadership challenge will create a more sustainable company culture.

7 signs your boss is micromanaging

Let’s look at each of these tell-tale signs in more detail.

1. They have to know everything

A micromanager is often obsessed with knowing every detail of everyone else’s work. They might request detailed time sheets or access to your calendar so that they know how every minute of your workday is spent.

Naturally, this can become discouraging and frustrating for employees. This is especially true if managers often check in asking for the same information that was already provided.

2. They don’t delegate

A micromanaging boss will often hesitate to delegate tasks to their employees. Whether it's an unwillingness to entrust others with tasks or an inability to delegate authority effectively, you're likely dealing with a micromanager. 

Instead of focusing on their own high-level tasks, micromanagers can become stressed and overwhelmed with low-priority activities. The result is subpar productivity and a chaotic, unorganized work environment. It can also lead to burnout if the manager is dealing with too many tasks.

3. They ask for frequent updates

You're already dealing with the stress of a deadline. Then, your boss sends hourly emails and reminders asking for constant updates. This is a clear sign of micromanagement. Managers like this have little to no trust and patience with their employees and become overly involved in every project.

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4. They discourage independent decision-making 

Some of the best parts of working life are the opportunities to brainstorm with your team, make decisions, and get creative to solve problems. A micromanaging boss doesn't give their employees the space and freedom to undertake independent decision-making.

5. They dictate how tasks should be done 

The most collaborative outcomes happen when employees are encouraged to be creative and add their unique input to projects. You might be dealing with a micromanager if your boss doesn't allow for collaboration at work but instead wants things done their way.

6. They re-do the work after it’s already been done by another employee 

A harmful practice of micromanagers is not trusting the output of employees. They may deem your work to be below the required standard and then re-do the work once it has already been completed. This is an ineffective way to manage the time and energy of the team. 

7. They don’t show trust in their team

Because micromanagement is often a trust issue, a lack of trust is a clear sign your boss or leader is micromanaging. 

Maybe they don’t trust you to do the work correctly. Or maybe they don’t trust that you are going to get your work done at all. Either way, trust is essential to cultivate a productive working environment.

What causes bosses to micromanage?

Micromanaging bosses often have good intentions. They want what is best for the team. But their methods don’t cultivate trust, confidence, and teamwork

Micromanagers may believe they can do the work more effectively than anyone else and that no one will work as hard as they do. They struggle to let go of control and need to feel involved in every task.

manager-explaining-to-colleague-micromanaging-boss

If you have a micromanaging boss, practice empathy by trying to see their point of view. Do not overly criticize your boss if it seems as though they are micromanaging. Instead, try to find common ground by explaining your concerns clearly. 

If need be, have a discussion about your roles and responsibilities. This can clear up any confusion your manager may have had around your duties. It should give them the confidence to trust you to perform your role efficiently.

Another reason managers micromanage is that they are unsure of themselves as leaders. If they are experiencing imposter syndrome, they may feel that they need to micromanage to make up for their perceived lack of leadership qualities.

Micromanaging and remote work

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced employees worldwide to work from home, away from the physical attention of their bosses. A hybrid work culture with less frequent in-person check-ins can amplify micromanaging.

Research shows that many managers are struggling with the effective management of people working from home. About 40% of 215 surveyed supervisors and managers expressed low self-confidence in their ability to manage employees remotely. This translates into employees feeling untrusted and micromanaged by their bosses.

To prevent remote work micromanaging, managers need to shift their mindset and leadership style. 

For example, managers can use technology to their advantage. Project management tools designed for remote teams allow employees to log their progress. This lessens the need for regular check-ups. 

Agile methodology is ideal for the remote workplace, as it focuses on transparency and flexibility. If everyone has a clear overview of how tasks are progressing and who is involved, the potential for micromanagement is reduced.

How to deal with a micromanaging boss

When left unaddressed, micromanagement can lead to low morale and team conflict. It can also create an uncomfortable workplace atmosphere.

Before you push back on your manager, it's worth spending some time reflecting on your work. It doesn't mean that your boss is right, but you should consider whether you have been missing deadlines, doing subpar work, or not communicating. This self-awareness, and taking ownership of your mistakes, will make for a more productive conversation. 

Here’s how to deal with a micromanaging boss without jeopardizing your professional relationship

1. Make them aware

The first step is making them aware of their micromanaging tendencies. Use honest and respectful communication. Some bosses who micromanage may not know that they are overbearing. 

First of all, don't accuse them of "micromanaging." Use more concrete terms and examples. No one, not even a micromanager, wants to be called a micromanager!

Let your boss know in a non-confrontational way that their micromanagement is unnecessary. Explain that you are trying to develop new skills and that when they check in so frequently, it makes you feel like you are doing something wrong or they don't trust you. Acknowledge that they are probably trying to help but that you are finding it difficult to own your work and get better at it. 2. Give specific examples

Before starting a courageous conversation with your boss, have a specific example written down of when they micromanaged you. Overgeneralizing their behavior might lead them to feel as though you’re being confrontational and rude for no reason. 

Giving specific examples will give your micromanaging boss the chance to reflect on their behavior. Approaching them this way will also help you to show when their management style led to unproductive results. Highlight how these results would improve if more collaboration was allowed in those instances.

3. Provide alternatives

Diplomacy is a good tactic when dealing with a boss who is reluctant to change. Asking for complete free reign over your work right off the bat probably won’t work. Instead, use the examples of micromanaging you’ve provided and suggest practical alternatives. 

For example, instead of having a daily check-in, ask for a weekly stand-up. Explain how your suggestions can increase productivity. But because actions speak louder than words, you’re going to have to show them too.

4. Show that you don’t need to be micromanaged

Sometimes the best way to change your boss's management style is to show them that you are capable of managing yourself. Make sure that when you are given more flexibility, you use it well. Ensure that you get your work done at the right level of quality and on time.

smiling-colleagues-collaborating-at-their-desk-micromanaging-boss

In the end, what micromanagers want is to be in control. Sometimes this is because they feel like the situation, the environment, or the company is out of control. You can mitigate their management style by doing what you can to show that the situation is in control without the need for them to seek it. 

This is known as managing up. That means adjusting to the style and preferences of your boss. Do it well, and you may discover the micromanaging decreases. It isn't enough to do your tasks — you need to make sure that the people who are counting on you (your manager) know that you can be counted on to deliver what they need. 

Give them updates before they ask for them. Send them regular emails letting them know what you plan on getting done in the next block of work. And at the end of the project, let them know everything that you completed.

How to stop micromanaging

If you feel that you are micromanaging your employees, now might be the time to re-evaluate your management style. Use the following tips to ensure you don’t micromanage:

1. Practice delegating

Delegation is one of the most important aspects of a productive workplace. Get to know your team and entrust them with tasks that suit their skills. Take a step back, have patience, and allow your team to work more efficiently. 

2. Don’t unfairly criticize others’ work 

Constructive criticism is part of a productive work environment. Choose your words and timing carefully, and give 360-degree feedback rather than criticize. Learn to let things go rather than bluntly point out how it could have been done better.

3. Promote creativity

Ask your employees to use creative thinking to make independent decisions. When you encourage creative input from the whole team, solutions are more collaborative and diverse.

Someone might have a fantastic idea for a project. But that idea might never come out if you don’t allow your employees to creatively contribute to important projects. 

4. Ask for feedback

As well as giving it, you should ask for feedback from your team. Show your employees that you are listening to their contributions and value their opinions.

This will build a sense of belonging and make your employees feel like valued members of the team. It will also prompt your team to speak up about their concerns. 

5. Set clear expectations

Making sure employees know what they need to do is a crucial part of people management

Outlining the objectives of a task or project gives employees the chance to prove their skills. When teams know what is expected of them, you’re setting them up for success. This will help you get a hold of your micromanagement tendencies.

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6. Don’t sweat the small stuff

If you’ve set clear expectations and you trust your employees’ competency, take a step back. Don’t hone your focus on tiny details that are inconsequential in the long run. 

Learn to look at the big picture and let things go that are unimportant. Accept that others know how to handle tasks.

7. Develop your confidence as a leader

This ties into one of the core reasons managers micromanage. That is, a feeling of insecurity and lack of confidence in your leadership abilities. 

To become a great leader, you need to work on yourself before working too much on your employees. If you’d like to take your management skills to the next level, consider pursuing Inner Work.

Improve your relationship with your micromanaging boss

Insecurity, a lack of trust, and fear are the most common driving factors behind micromanagement. None of these issues can be rectified overnight. But with clear, honest communication, they can be alleviated.

Be sure to stay positive and candid when communicating with your micromanaging boss. Be transparent, try to understand their perspective, and let them know your own.

Once you’ve communicated, set some boundaries, and moved forward, you can enjoy a better working relationship. A good manager instills confidence in their employees and is willing to learn from others in the workplace.

Whether you have a micromanaging boss or you are a micromanager yourself, we can help. Get in touch with BetterUp to create a workplace culture where everyone thrives.

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Published February 18, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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