How To Deal With A Micromanaging Boss
In this post, I am going to share with you two of my experiences with micromanaging bosses, in short: How to tell your boss to STOP micromanaging is what you’ll get from reading this.
I’m not saying there is a right or a wrong way to handle these situations, they can be full of emotion (as you’ll see when you read my stories) and they will be different with each person.
I’ve had two experiences working under micromanaging bosses and I’d love to share how to deal with a micromanaging boss, and more specifically how I dealt with it in each circumstance.
However you’ll notice as you read this that each situation and each boss is very different.
They are two different people.
The first I would say has a higher Emotional Maturity level (EQ) even though he is several years younger than the second micromanaging boss I talk about.
Keys to keep in mind are:
Know that you can’t always change someone if it’s in their nature to micromanage
If they believe micromanaging is necessary, it will be very difficult to convince them otherwise
If they aren’t open or willing to accept feedback, they probably won’t stop being a micromanaging boss
Story Of Micromanaging Boss Number 1
He wants to know everything that I’m doing: every detail, all of the time. “I want to know EVERYTHING.“ Those were his exact words. He wants to know how and why and exactly whenever ANYTHING will be done, and he will check in every hour. If he could tell you how to wipe your butt, he would tell you that you’re doing it wrong, or that you missed a spot.
I dreaded meetings with him because I knew he was going to tell me that I had done something wrong again, or say something like, “You’d better make sure of (insert blank) before it’s too late.”
a) I told him about the task in the first place and
b) I had been doing the job for 3+ years… and he didn’t have a clue!
You would think he’d know by now that I know what I’m doing. But he’s a new boss, so he doesn’t know how I work yet. He doesn’t know that I’m actually really good at what I do, and that I definitely don’t require the level of “supervision” that he’s giving me. So I give it a chance – it’s only been 3 weeks. Maybe once he starts to see that I’ve got things under control, he will ease up a bit.
I decided to speak to him about it directly. Once, he asked me a silly question. I was coordinating an office build out, and I mentioned to him that there would be shelves in the server closet.
He asked, “Well, are you certain that the shelves they are putting in will fit in the closet?”
I said, “Do you not trust me to get shelves that fit?”
“Hmm, we’ll see…” he said, in a halfway playful tone.
I said, “Do you trust Jeremy?” (Jeremy was a staff member who reported to him for several years, and I knew Jeremy to be very good at his job.)
He replied, “As far as I can throw him…” again in the playful-ish tone. It felt like he didn’t want to say it, but he did not trust me, or Jeremy, or anyone…
So I said to him, “Okay, so do you trust anyone to do anything?”
He laughed. Then he continued on with the meeting, blowing past a real answer to the question I had just asked.
I thought, Okay, I’ll leave it there for now… we will see if any of this sinks in or if he gets it, and I’ll continue on from there.
It got worse.
I tried to not speak too much in our meetings. I didn’t want to accidentally mention a subject that he would feel the need to talk and speculate on (maybe we should sell the old phone system, but it depends on how much we can get for it, and it also depends on 100+ other things).
Basically, he won’t be able to make a decision for a year, or at least another 30+ minutes of talking about it.
It didn’t matter anyway, because I was going to ask our counterpart in our other office what they did with their old phone system and until we got that response, the conversation was really pointless.
It didn’t matter, because he would pull it out of me.
He kept everything written down, and if I had mentioned it before, he would follow up on it. Even if there was no further action, or if I was still waiting for other information to proceed, or I was working on it, it didn’t matter: he wanted to dive deep into the things that DID. NOT. MATTER.
This may work for some people, and they may not mind at all. But for me, it was getting under my skin.
It was especially difficult going from a boss previously that just trusted me to get it done, who left me alone, but answered questions. I was used to figuring things out on my own.
In my review, he had written that I had always made the right calls in the past if he was not there. So I was getting fairly good at making calls without him.
Going from that to this was very challenging.
Finally, it was affecting my home life too much, and my husband was starting to get tired of hearing about it. He nicknamed my new boss “Mr. Micro,” and that’s how we referred to him when he was spoken about in the house.
I’d come home and he’d ask, “How was Mr. Micro today?”
Finally, I knew I needed to have a tough conversation with my boss. I went into his office and I said, “We need to talk.”
He said, “Okay. Sit down.”
I let it all out and I cried in the process. I didn’t expect to cry. I didn’t want to. I probably shouldn’t admit that I did.
Crying at work is not the best policy (I’ve been told), and keeping emotions in check is important, but I am an imperfect person. (I also probably wouldn’t give that as an answer to the weakness question..)
So what are your weaknesses, Ms. Fisher?
Well, I tend to cry and get emotional at work.
That wouldn’t be a good thing to say.
But it happened.
I had planned out carefully what I was going to say beforehand. And I did say it. I just wish that I had done so with more elegance and control over my tear ducts.
This is what I said: (How To Deal With a Micromanaging Boss, – or rather How I Dealt With MY Micromanaging Boss)
“Ever since I started reporting to you, I’ve felt unhappy and demotivated at work.
I feel you don’t trust me to do anything, and you think you can do everything better yourself.
I feel like you are micromanaging my every move.
I’ve been doing this for 3+ years and I feel that it doesn’t matter to you.
You still think you know best, even though you haven’t been involved at all in any of it, and you actually have no information other than what I tell you I’m doing.”
He responded amicably.
First, he handed me a box of tissues, and said that it was okay to cry, and that he had no idea he’d made me feel this way.
Then he said, “Can you give me some examples of ways I’ve made you feel this way?”
I said, “Yes, I have lots of examples!“
➢ First Example:
I said, “The shelving, for example: you thought I would order shelving that didn’t fit? Why would you ask me that if you trusted me to do my job?”
➢ Second Example:
“The conversation where I asked you if you trusted me, and you could not say yes. You don’t even trust Jeremy, and Jeremy is great, so how will you ever trust me? You basically said you didn’t trust anyone to do anything, so I question why aren’t you doing everything yourself?”
Then HE started crying. But you know… in a subtle, manly sort of way. It was barely noticeable. I picked up on it and nudged the tissue box across the table to him. He took a tissue and dabbed his right eye.
Then he spoke his piece:
He said, “I had no idea. I can see now how I may have come across as micromanaging to you, and I can assure you that’s not what I mean to do. I only want to support you. I wanted to give you the support you needed. I don’t think I can do your job better than you can. You are doing a great job, and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you that sooner. I was about to come up to you this morning and tell you how great of a job you had done, and I wish I’d done it sooner (I think I probably would have blown your mind). I am glad you came to me and told me this. I’ve never had this feedback before. I don’t want to be the reason you’re unhappy at work, and I definitely don’t want to be the reason that you leave. You are an integral part of the company, and you bring immense value here. I only want to support you. So please tell me, how can I do that better?”
Wow. I didn’t expect that. I couldn’t have asked for a better response.
I said, “Thank you for listening. I know what I said must have not been easy to hear. For me, I would love your support. When I need it, I will ask you for it. There will be times when I have a question, and I’m not sure how to handle something. At that point, I would love to hear your thoughts, and I will ask for them.”
Things were 100% better since that chat.
He let things go, and he didn’t babble on for 30 minutes. He was still slightly annoying when he wanted to “review” things. But I reminded him of our earlier conversations, and he again stepped back.
This is not the case with all micromanaging bosses. I’ve had a couple.
2. Story Of Micromanaging Boss Number 2
I tried having this conversation with another micromanaging boss.
It was a very similar situation, and I said some of the very same things to her. Her response was completely different. She was completely justified in what she felt she was doing.
She said, “I’m not micromanaging you, I’m helping you. Why can’t you see that?”
But the thing is, she wasn’t helping me.
She wasn’t letting me fail, she wasn’t letting me do anything on my own, she was a super control freak, but she had masked into “I’m helping.”
She believed she was actually helping.
With this experience, I thought I didn’t have a very good chance of Mr. Micro seeing how his management style wasn’t necessary.
But I was wrong. He actually understood.
I used to say, “Micromanagers always have a good reason for why they micromanage.” They have reasons that they tell themselves.
Maybe it’s because they feel they are helping.
This other boss micro-managed my ordering a step ladder for the office.
It should be as simple as “Please order a step ladder for the office. It’s for reaching the cupboards in the kitchen.”
Okay, cool. I can do that.
With her it was, “Order a step ladder, but I need to see which one you are ordering first before you order it, so make sure you check with me first.”
“Why?” I said.
“Because I need to make sure that:
a) it’s within budget and you are getting the best possible deal for what we get
b) you’ve shopped around at all the places to get the best deal
c) it meets WCB safe requirements
d) it complies with the weight limit of the heaviest person in our office..”
And on and on… there were a few other requirements which I can’t recall now.
P.S. how would I even know who the heaviest person in the office was? I’m pretty sure it would have been an HR violation to ask.
Keep in mind, this was not a step ladder for a hazmat vulnerable construction site that had to be weather resistant. It was for a paper pushing office, where it might be used once or twice a week (if that)!
And the sad part was, back then when this happened, I talked myself into thinking that this seemed legitimate.
I thought to myself, Omg, what if I killed someone because I ordered the wrong step ladder that didn’t hold enough weight?
I was naive and I told myself, “Wow, she really IS trying to help me.”
But the truth is, they don’t sell step step ladders that are going to kill people, unless maybe you buy them on craigslist from a shady creeper in a dark alley and pay in cash (which would never happen because I needed to provide a legitimate receipt for accounting anyway).
In hindsight, when you’re ordering a step ladder, a chair, or whatever, from a qualified vendor, the likelihood is you’re going to be okay with whatever you pick, and if there was an issue like you got the wrong one or whatever, you can return it.
Also, if for some reason it wasn’t okay, and someone got hurt from using the ladder, it would not even be my fault. It would be the fault of the company that sold it, for selling an unsafe item.
What’s even funnier is how much time was wasted on this decision – comparing how much we get paid on a salaried basis, to how long was spent having a serious meeting discussing step ladder requirements.
Anyway, this is a whole lot of overthinking, which cost us a lot of time, cost me a lot of silly stress, and taught me a vital lesson on micromanaging bosses.
Micromanaging Boss Characteristics: Does Your Boss Do Any Of The Following Things?
If yes, you may have a micromanaging boss on your hands.
Micromanaging boss characteristics #1
They are always checking in on you, more than you feel is necessary.
They are always checking in on you, every few minutes, or every few hours, basically they are checking in and asking for updates or information without any good reason for them needing it? For example if a client or a higher executive needs an update or there is a deadline that you both know is important then it’s understandable that they’d ask for updates frequently, however if they are just bugging you for updates then it is likely they aren’t trusting you and you can probably feel that.
Micromanaging boss characteristics #2
They ask a lot of questions that are not relevant, or very small details.
They are constantly asking you questions in a tone of “Are you sure you’ve done that?” Or “Make sure you do xyz” and constantly giving you a condescending tone or giving you potential consequences of what could happen if you are not doing certain things in a certain way (The way that THEY want things done)
Micromanaging boss characteristics #3
They want you to check with them before you take ANY actions.
This is a fine line, and it depends how comfortable you are with your own job and role, if you know what you’re doing and you feel confident in your decisions then you shouldn’t need to be checking in with your boss before every decision. If you aren’t as comfortable, then you might want to check in with them first and if they dont’ mind then there is nothing wrong with that.
Micromanaging boss characteristics #4
They always have something to add – even if it doesn’t really matter to the end result.
This makes them feel significant like they are contributing, even when you’re perfectly capable of doing the task yourself.
Micromanaging boss characteristics #5
They are very attached to HOW the task is done.
So even if for example you’re asked to order a ladder and you want to order it from costco but they want you to order it from Walmart, this may not be a big deal, but they should not really care where the ladder comes from. If they feel so strongly about this and they insist you order it from Walmart because that’s what they want (for whatever insignificant reason) then that’s a sign they have control issues.
It’s like if they ask you to order a birthday cake for Alex in accounting.
That should be enough instruction. They can tell you what kind of cake he likes (Chocolate or vanilla etc.) but if they are attached to the cake being square and having ganache icing instead of milk chocolate or whatever and there is no good reason for these specific requests, then that’s a control issue.
You can order a cake, you can make small decisions or gather information around ordering this cake, and you can do this on your own.
If you don’t mind (or even like being given super specific instructions) then it’s not micromanaging, it is just you working well with your boss. Normally we like to be able to make some sort of decisions ourselves as we start to get more advanced in our roles and we start to learn and grow more and more. That’s how you’re able to take initiative, for example: maybe you want to add something fun to the cake and get a photo of Alex’s car put on the cake, that should be ok, you shouldn’t need to show your boss the photo you want to put on the cake before he says it’s ok to do it, you should be able to just make a decision and do it. Unless you and your boss have a super fun relationship and you want to share that with him, then that’s different 😀
So… How To Tell Your Boss To STOP Micromanaging Recap.
Step 1: Decide to have the conversation.
If you don’t and you just continue to work under a micromanaging boss, it will destroy your confidence, demotivate you like crazy and will ultimately continue to make you miserable at work. So the first step is to DECIDE to do something about it and to it as fast as possible.
Whether that is in your next one on one meeting or if it’s scheduling a time to talk when your micromanaging boss is next available.
Step 2: Have a strong & genuine opener for the conversation ready
This will depend on your communication style. I tend to be direct. Which is why I first asked Mr. Micro if he trusted me. So you could do that if that felt right to you.
Ask them if they trust you to do your job.
Some other options to open with that may be a bit softer and more appropriate:
Hey so I wanted to talk to you about how I have been feeling lately at work, is it ok if I share candidly with you?
Hey so I’ve been feeling a bit unmotivated lately and I wanted to discuss with you how we could improve our working relationship, are you open to discussing this with me?
Step 3: Decide to have a solution focused attitude
This is going to be a difficult conversation to have, and many people would go into it complaining, and ready to vent. When you approach it with the openers suggested above that will set the tone for a good conversation. Continue that on with saying things like:
Here are some scripts you can use:
“I really want to grow here and I feel like this behaviour is not allowing me to grow.”
“I need to be able to fail, or I won’t learn.”
“I understand you’re trying to help me and protect me and that you probably have my best interest at heart”
“I am hoping that we can work on a way where I can feel like I have some autonomy to do my job and become a trusted employee here.”
These statements must come from a genuine place of wanting to improve the situation.
Step 4: Have talking points to discuss with examples ready
This is going to be key, because as I explained in my story about micromanaging boss #1, the first thing he did was ask for examples of way I felt he was “micromanaging” me.
It is always a lot more powerful, and drives your points home when you have specific examples or situations to refer to. It makes you a more credible person, and it shows that you really want to solve this, and not just complain about the general state of how things are, but you want to actually dig into it and solve it, if at all possible.
Step 5: Decide what to do next
Depending on how you feel your conversation went, and whether you think things are going to improve or not. Give it a chance and see how it sits.
That being said, sometimes the situation won’t be fixable. If the micromanaging boss is not open to feedback, and they truly believe that they need to micromanage you and you don’t see that changing any time soon, then you have two choices.
Talk to an HR person and have a confidential discussion with them around what they suggest you do in your situation. This will give you an idea of what your options are, how supportive the culture is with professional development of their leaders.
They may say there isn’t much you can do, or they may look into sending this manager to training where they may have some breakthroughs. This will depend on how important it is to the organization to keep their employees, and recognize when problems are arising. Be careful of personal relationships, if your boss is good friends with the HR person then it might not work out like you’d hoped.
Start taking steps to exercise your power of choice, and start to make plans to move on. If you know yourself and you know you won’t be happy in the current situation, then start making plans to move on. A good start would be networking and meeting with people in your industry. Just start having conversations. This will make you feel better by just taking some steps and getting your feet wet.
If you can’t get across to them that they are keeping your wings clipped, they’re not letting you fly, do your job, fail, learn, make mistakes, or make any decisions… then you need to get outta there.
Working under someone like this for too long will affect your identity and your confidence. It will affect whether you see yourself as more competent every day or less competent every day. It will affect how much money you make, it will affect what jobs you apply for in the future.
Spending a lot of time with this person will make you go backwards not forwards. They will unintentionally brainwash you into thinking that you’re not capable, not trusted and ultimately a child who needs to be checked in on every few minutes, and can’t make decisions on your own.
Over time this will wither away at you like water splashing against a rock over and over again, and it will change who you are.
I stayed working under a micromanaging boss for too long. From my personal experience it took me a long time to build my confidence back up and start to realize the value that I really could bring.
If you’re lucky enough to have a boss like Mr. Micro (who was open, a good listener, and understood that he was actually wrong), then it’s different. Things can change for the better and it doesn’t have to stay like that.
Not everyone is like that though… I believe that it is quite rare. I was surprised.
Have you ever worked under a micromanaging boss? Have you ever tried to communicate it to them? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this… Can micromanagers change? Or will they always be micromanagers and disguise it as “helping” or whatever…?