How To Deal With A Micromanager The Right Way
Technology enthusiast, passionate about building great teams and scaling organisations
Organisations spend a huge amount of time and resources to hire smart, talented and self-motivated individuals who show a strong passion and commitment towards their own growth and success of the organisation.
With the desire to contribute, these people want to challenge the status quo, devise creative solutions to problems and be a part of the success story of the organisation. They all start with a big dream.
Yet, only a few end up finding strength and satisfaction through the impact of their work. Some people thrive while others barely survive.
It’s not about the difference in their abilities, but rather how those capabilities are put to use. It’s striking the right balance between oversight and autonomy, demanding clarity while being accountable for decisions, gaining freedom with the maturity to handle risks and having the necessary tools and resources to establish competence in their role.
The relationship between the manager and the employee and the trust that they put in each other shapes up their future – how do they support each other during challenging times, work out their differences, align on outcomes and help each other be a little better every day.
We all face multiple conflicts at work, but it’s the conflict with the boss that can be our biggest source of stress and exhaustion at work.
What if this manager pushes your buttons, takes away your high hopes, crushes your desire to be innovative and refrains you from producing your best work? What if they are a micromanager?
Why do I think my boss is a micromanager?
Recognise these signs of a micromanager:
- They act as a bottleneck for decision making in the team. Every small thing requires their approval
- They have difficulty in letting go as they drill down to the minutest detail of every problem
- They do not trust people in the team to finish their work on time and try to manage that fear by constantly asking for updates on the project
- They are too scared of mistakes and do not leave any opportunity to point them out even before the mistake has been made. Their don’t-to-do list prevents team members from developing critical thinking skills
- They assume a superior role by believing that work won’t get done and everything will go haywire unless they prod people and are involved in the day-to-day execution
- They act as a perfectionist by being fixated on doing things in a certain way
- They raise their self-esteem by taking over issues and fixing it themselves instead of coaching the team and helping them build new skills
- They have fear of missing out and demand to be kept in the loop on all communication
- They exercise control by setting goals and then dictating on how to achieve those goals. Controlling “the what” without “the how” (strategy vs tactics) makes them nervous
- They use authority to define project timelines instead of influencing and helping their team members learn project planning skills
Evaluating these behaviours requires careful examination since every disagreement with your manager can feed your confirmation bias making you believe they are a micromanager even when what they are doing is really part of their job – asking for necessary updates on the progress of your work, calling out the need to be present in meetings on time, introducing processes for improving team’s efficiency or suggesting changes that are critical to the success of the project does not make them a micromanager.
It’s easy to act irresponsible and hide away from your own shortcomings by blaming it on your manager, refusing to cooperate because of your sense of self-righteousness and attributing your mediocre performance to your manager, but it takes courage to see things as they are.
So, if you are really convinced that your boss is indeed a micromanager, take control of your behaviour. You can either put it to effective use by opening lines of communication with your manager or destroy it and shut it down by adopting a passive-aggressive approach.
Take the first step to manage this relationship by changing your orientation and consciously shifting from problem to the outcome you desire. Instead of acting as a victim, take the role of a creator.
The children of blame are cynicism and hopelessness. When we succumb to believing that we are victims of our circumstances and yield to the plight of determinism, we lose hope, we lose drive, and we settle into resignation and stagnation. “I am a pawn, a puppet, a cog in the wheel and can do nothing about it. Just tell me what to do.” So many bright, talented people feel this and suffer the broad range of discouragement and depression that follows. The principle of growth and hope throughout history is the discovery that “I am the creative force of my life” – Stephen R. Covey
Why am I being micromanaged?
Micromanagement is the symptom of a larger cause. Without understanding the what – What’s causing them to behave this way, you cannot define “the how” – How can I stop being micromanaged.
Play a little bit of detective and show curiosity in trying to solve this puzzle by being open to asking yourself – Is it my manager or is it me?
Is it my manager?
Manage up and scratch below the surface to learn more about your manager and the source of their mindset:
- Is it your company’s culture that promotes their micromanagement behaviour?
- Are they new to management and still haven’t made a shift from their individual contributor responsibilities?
- Do they look too stressed out at all times?
- Are they having trouble trusting others?
- Do they act out of fear? – fear of failure, mistakes, not delivering on time
- Do they show up as a perfectionist?
- Is their behaviour a reflection of their need to be in control?
- Can they distinguish between a micromanager and an effective manager?
There’s a fine line between “being involved” and “being too involved”.
Douglas Stone rightly puts this in Difficult Conversations –
“Intentions are invisible. We assume them from other people’s behavior. In other words, we make them up, we invent them. But our invented stories about other people’s intentions are accurate much less often than we think. Why? Because people’s intentions are complex. Sometimes people act with mixed intentions. Sometimes they act with no intention, or at least none related to us. And sometimes they act on good intentions that nonetheless hurt us.”
Some managers have a hard time identifying when they cross the boundary from being responsible for developing their team members and contributing to business growth to acting like someone who only cares about business growth. They are unintentional and unaware of the impact of their action on others.
Then there are egocentric managers who are self-absorbed and don’t seem to care much about others and what they think of them. They take pride in getting work done at the cost of causing pain and angst to their team members. They are completely intentional in the way they act since they believe it’s the only way to manage people.
Is it me?
Do a little bit of self-reflection and try to understand if it’s your own behaviour that’s causing your manager to micromanage you. Think about these questions deeply and stay true to yourself:
- Have you missed deadlines on multiple previous occasions that are causing your manager to be more cautious and be more involved than usual
- Do you keep your manager in the loop on the progress of your project? Believe it or not, they are accountable for your team and every member in it and delivering work on time is also part of their responsibility. So, it’s absolutely necessary for them to be aware of how the project is progressing. If you make it too difficult for them to get these updates or simply show a don’t care attitude, you can be the one contributing to this behaviour
- Do you respect their role and try to find ways to be helpful? Or too busy doing what you plan to do that you don’t care about what your manager actually needs? Building a cool feature may be your priority, but that may not align with what the company needs right now. Your manager asking you to “do the right thing” is not micromanagement
- Do you come late to meetings, ignore your manager’s feedback instead of seeking alignment, speak up with the intention to insult them or try to establish superiority simply because you are one of the older members of the team or more experienced than your manager? How do you communicate with them?
While how you act doesn’t give them permission to act as a micromanager, it’s useful to acknowledge that you contribute to it. And I know that it is not easy to accept. Take time to observe how your manager works with others in meetings and otherwise. Are they different?
Collect some data and then decide – is it you or is it them?
How to work with a micromanager the right way
You can either be a wishful thinker and wait for your manager to change or employ your critical thinking skills and take charge of your own experience at work.
In The Magic of Thinking Big, David J. Schwartz advises –
“Look at things not as they are, but as they can be. Visualization adds value to everything. A big thinker always visualizes what can be done in the future. He isn’t stuck with the present.”
Working with a difficult boss shouldn’t drive you crazy or make you succumb to their way of doing things.
Shift from problem to problem-solving and trigger a solution mindset by employing these practices to bring about a positive change in your relationship with your boss:
1. Reappraise their behaviour
Whenever your manager tries to micromanage you, instead of getting irritated or trying to resist the behaviour, take a step back and reassess it. Ask them questions that will help you understand their intention better.
Asking good open-ended questions to your manager with an intent to collaborate can provide them with an opportunity to look beyond themselves to how others perceive their actions and even evaluate alternative ways of achieving the same outcomes.
If they are constantly asking for updates, engage with them by inquiring “I understand we need to deliver this project on time. I can assure you that I am on top of this project. When and how would you like me to share updates and concerns? It will help me organise my time better and focus on achieving our shared goals”
When they are involved in discussing minor details, humor them “I think it will be a waste of your time to discuss these minor details and I hope you can trust me to take care of them. I would like to make effective use of your time by discussing other large areas where you may have concerns. What questions do you have that will be worth discussing now?
By stating your intent clearly and using a positive tone, you can force them to think and act differently.
2. Establish standards
Reappraising the behaviour is more passive, in the moment approach that can help you shape desired behaviour whenever you notice your manager demonstrating micro managerial tendencies.
However, an active approach involves establishing standards to align on the most effective ways to collaborate with your manager. Take some time to work out details in each of these areas yourself and then set up some time with your manager to discuss them:
- Establish goals – what do you need to achieve
- Clarify expectations – what does success look like individually and as a team. If your manager is a perfectionist, defining quality parameters in the beginning will help you align on the expected end state and avoid frustration and rework later
- Set boundaries – decisions that you can own completely vs where your manager needs to be involved. Use a positive tone to remind them of the value of their time if they want to be involved in all decisions
- Share progress – what does your manager need to know and why. What are the best mechanisms to share progress, when and how? Discuss potential downsides to sharing progress too often and how you can utilise that time to make progress on your work. Throw in “trust” word multiple times during the discussion to remind them that you are capable of handling the task
- Seek help – Comfort them with the knowledge that you are going to reach out to them in case you are stuck on any task or need their help to make progress. Asking “who else can help” can also provide them with an opportunity to recommend other team members who might be well suited to unblock. Idea is to shift their focus from “I need to be involved” to “others who can add value”
Take this advice from Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People –
“Clarifying expectations sometimes takes a great deal of courage. It seems easier to act as though differences don’t exist and to hope things will work out than it is to face the differences and work together to arrive at a mutually agreeable set of expectations”.
An active discussion like this will help you gain a better understanding of your managers’ mindset and a peek into what causes them to micromanage you.
By having such discussions regularly and constantly reminding them of the best ways to operate together, you can realign their tendencies to micromanage and help shift to more effective management.
3. Create an illusion of control
If your boss comes across as a micromanager due to their need to be in control, you can make things worse by taking it away from them.
Rather, by creating an illusion of control you can get the much-needed space without making them feel powerless.
Make them part of the change by helping them believe that it’s their own idea and show them how it will add value to the team. The language that you use plays a very important role in enabling this change. Shift from simply asking questions to seeking advice on specific issues:
I know you would like me to utilise my time effectively. I work best when I do 3-4 hours of focussed work without any distractions which involve no emails, messages etc. Do you have any suggestions on how I can achieve that at work and be more productive?
I am trying to build my critical thinking skills by learning how to make effective decisions on my own. I know it takes time to build this skill, but I am ready to face the challenges and take complete responsibility for the outcomes. I want to learn from my mistakes to do better next time. With your trust and support, I am confident to grow in this area and help the team with future responsibilities. From your experience, how do you suggest I go about building this skill?
4. Reinforce positive behaviour
Think of it this way – your boss is a human being too who needs feedback just like everyone else to do better. Without this feedback coming from their own team members, they will have a hard time knowing when they are crossing the boundary from “helping their team” to “making them feel helpless.”
Reinforcing positive behaviour is a very smart tactic used by all good managers to help employees understand what specific behaviours are useful. You can employ it too for your manager.
It may be intimidating at first to think about “how do I tell my manager they are doing a good job in this specific area”, but you can with a little practice.
Whenever you see your boss do something that makes them an effective manager, call it out:
- I really appreciate the trust that you showed on [….]. It helps me do […]
- I was able to pull this project on time due to your support in […]
- I was able to spend my time productively as we agreed upon by doing more of […] and less of […]
5. Open new lines of communication
Without making an effort to show that you care about your manager, their priorities and a willingness to contribute in a manner that helps them be successful in their role, anything that you say about their behaviour can potentially backfire.
Your manager may say that they are open to feedback and encourage criticism, but honestly, just like other human beings, they will have a hard time connecting to reality without believing that you have their best interest at heart.
As Douglas Stone says in Difficult Conversations,
“People almost never change without first feeling understood.”
And that comes from building trust – take time out to understand your manager, what’s top of their mind, what makes them stress out and what do they really care about. It does not mean that you give in to their micromanager behaviour. It simply implies that you take an action only once you have spent sufficient time in learning about them better.
With time, you will know if they are open to criticism. Take that opportunity to talk to them about the specific behaviours, how they impact you and what changes can be done to work better together.
In some cases, discussing the specific issues with your manager’s boss may help as well. But, you should do this only after you have made an effort and given sufficient time for things to improve.
In the end, this whole thing may be a flop. Some managers are indeed too difficult to work with and despite all your efforts, nothing may change.
It’s best for you to decide if you should try to change your team or even consider an opportunity outside.
How to work with a micromanager the wrong way
Yes, no one likes to be micromanaged. But, your negative attitude to the problem cannot make it go away. Some of the wrong ways to work with a micromanager include:
You try to fight the situation by arguing with them, insulting them around others or even denying to do things that are important for your boss to do their job. You try to act tough but in a wrong harmful way. This will make your boss resent you and aggravate the problem further.
You do not have the courage to fight and instead resort to flight. You try to flee from the situation by ignoring their behaviour and trying to do your job to the best of your abilities. Though your boss’s behaviour continues to trouble you, you do nothing about it. It not only impacts your productivity but can also lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety at work.
Speaking behind their back
You take out your frustration by speaking to your colleagues about your boss and badmouthing them or go complaining to their manager behind their back.
In any case, it won’t be long before your manager finds out. And you know how that will turn out.
No one wants to act as a micromanager out of malice and no one wants to be micromanaged. Only through action, you can change the situation. Act now for a better tomorrow.
Also published here.
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