How To Handle A Micromanaging Boss

How To Handle A Micromanaging Boss

Every morning when I arrived at my office, I used to find a to-do list printed out and neatly laid on my keyboard, courtesy of my boss. But this wasn’t a typical bulleted list — it was a long (upwards of three pages), drawn-out document, where each bullet point was accompanied by paragraphs of elaboration, laying out to the very smallest of details exactly how I should accomplish the task.

Photo by Andreyuu (Shutterstock).

And as I stared at this book (er, document), wondering if it would somehow look less menacing after my morning coffee, I couldn’t help but think: Wouldn’t it have taken her less time to just complete the things on the list? And the micromanaging didn’t stop there — she constantly asked for updates on my progress, added to and modified the list, and ultimately refused to let me do my job on my terms.

For a while, I thought it was impossible to change my boss’s overbearing ways without completely offending her (and risking my job!). But over time, I did. And luckily, there are several ways you can show your boss that you’re in control — and loosen her grip a little bit, too.

Eliminate Any Possibility That She Needs To Micromanage

Once I’d experienced my boss’ micromanaging for a few weeks, I assumed there wasn’t anything I could do but succumb to it. Since I knew she was going to remind me about my deadlines and check on my progress multiple times a day, I figured there was no reason for me to duplicate her efforts. And while my work was still getting done on time (I couldn’t really ignore all those emails titled “Urgent!”), I was probably sending her the message that I couldn’t manage my workload without her so-called “help.”

So, first things first: Take a hard look at your recent attitude, productivity and track record to make sure that you aren’t doing anything to solicit such nitpicking. Are you unintentionally (or intentionally) letting your work slip through the cracks? Do you show up late? Miss deadlines? In this case, of course she’s going to try to manage every detail — because she’s worried that you can’t.

Anticipate What She Wants — And Act

A lot of the tasks my boss assigned me (and constantly reminded me about) were tasks I knew I was supposed to do — she just wanted to make extra sure that I had them on my radar. It was incredibly frustrating when she’d walk into my office to say “Hey, I just wanted to remind you that we need to get the weekly schedule emailed out today” when I was already well aware of the assignment. (Seriously, I did it every week.)

So, a great start to halting micromanagement in its tracks is to anticipate the tasks that your manager expects and get them done well ahead of time. If you reply “I actually already left a draft of the schedule on your desk for your review” enough times, you’ll minimise the need for her reminders. She’ll realise that you have your responsibilities on track — and that she doesn’t need to watch your every move.

Provide Updates Proactively

Micromanagers want to be in control — that’s why they frequently ask for updates, tell you how to complete tasks, and check in incessantly to make sure that things are going according to schedule. Since they can’t actually complete every project themselves (that’s why they hired you, after all), micromanaging helps them stay as involved as possible. To head this off, try proactively sending your manager regular updates, before she has a chance to ask for them.

Every morning, pull together an email outlining what you accomplished the day before, what you plan on accomplishing that day, and if you have any questions or need any input. This will serve multiple purposes: First, your boss will know exactly where your current workload stands, staving off her constant questioning. Second, with a quick glance, she’ll be able to address your questions, provide input, or suggest ideas in one direct reply — which will help her feel involved, yet prevent her multiple mid-day check-ins. And third, she’ll eventually realise that you’re organised and detail-oriented and that you can manage your responsibilities without her constant intervention — so she’ll feel comfortable pulling back and giving up the reigns.

Use Your Words

When it comes to bosses and their management styles, confrontation doesn’t usually seem like a viable option. But in my case, I was working for a friend at a small start-up. She always encouraged her employees to bring up issues they were experiencing — even if they concerned the way she ran the business. So during one of our one-on-one conversations, I carefully explained that I felt like she didn’t trust me with my work. She admitted that she had a hard time delegating and was used to doing everything herself. Once she realised the effect it was having on my productivity and happiness, she promised to make a better effort to step back and let me accomplish my work the way I wanted to.

Obviously, this won’t work in every situation. At my current (and much more corporate) job, I wouldn’t feel nearly as comfortable confronting my boss about such an issue. However, there are small — and respectful — ways you can express your opinion. For example, ask your boss for the opportunity to complete a small project on your own from start to finish, with the understanding that afterward, you’ll discuss what you did well and what you can improve upon next time. Pose it this way: It’ll be a great learning opportunity and a chance for your boss to evaluate your work methods. And if you knock it out of the park, you’ll instantly convey that you can work independently of your manager’s constant input.

And as you notice differences in your manager’s behaviour, let her know how much you appreciate the hands-off approach: “Thank you for trusting me with this project — having to create the plan and find the right resources on my own really helped me polish my project management skills. I’d love the opportunity to take on something even bigger!”

Shifting your boss’s management style won’t be easy, and it certainly won’t be immediate. But if you can show her that you’re trustworthy, thorough, and ultimately, on top of your work, you’ll be able to inspire that change over time.

How to Manage a Micromanaging Boss [The Daily Muse]

Katie Douthwaite writes for The Daily Muse coming from a variety of management gigs, from small town music venue to big city cupcake bakery. Most recently, she’s leapt into the corporate world in sunny Florida, where she constantly challenges her team of support techs to provide over-the-top customer service. Outside her cubicle, you can find her perfecting her homemade bagel recipe, writing silly poems, and dressing in scarves and boots despite the lack of fall weather. Say hi to Katie on Twitter @kdouth.


  • No job is worth putting up with that kind of behaviour. Too much stress, and too little trust. If my boss doesn’t trust me to get the job done, then I don’t want the job.

    • The shittiest jobs in the world are worth putting up with if you need the cash and you’d rather not resort to illegal activity to bridge the gap.

      You don’t get centrelink support for quitting a job – especially if it’s just because your boss was very nitpicky.

    • That’s been my experience, @memeweaver. Some are just having a hard time with delegation, some are just not realizing how much of a productivity drain they are to you.

      But others just want to give someone a hard time, and by bad luck or other personal attributes unrelated to the quality of the work (unless the manager thought it was too good and wants to put you into a situation where you can’t produce at the level you’re known for), you ended up the target of someone’s neurotic tendencies and insecurities.

      Imagine a work queue of approximately 180 discrete tasks, each of which could change status at any time in the task tracking system when someone updated it, and there was no way to get notifications of changes as they occurred. Some tasks took 20 minutes to complete, some could take a day. It took 10 minutes, per task, to look at it and determine if it was a 20 minute task, a day long task, or somewhere in between. Now imagine the manager popping in several times a day to ask you about task rand()%180, and raising the roof when you either (1) let her know that looking that up would pull you out of the update you were doing to another issue in the same system, since the system only let you have one issue open at a time, and let her know you can update her in 15 minutes when you’re done getting the last few sentences into this issue before you forget them, or (2) go navigate through the system to find out (since even if you made a 180 line chart that morning of today’s open issues, it’s going to be out of date by 1:30pm), because you can’t answer off the top of your head. And god forbid it was a new task in your queue that a kindly coworker under a better manager had just reassigned to you because he was going off on holiday and he didn’t want to leave it sitting in his queue for another 3 weeks… because then you knew nothing about it when the manager queried you (let alone the fact that it had been untouched by Coworker A for three weeks).

      I never did figure out how I was supposed to “just know” whenever an issue assigned to me was updated by someone else, without looking in the system, and when I asked her how, she said that I ought know, because it was my job to know, and not her job to tell me. At the time I left the job, I’d gotten as far as figuring out that I could do it if I pretended my job was just watching statuses, and I sat at my desk all day choosing the Refresh option, but the problem with that was that it wouldn’t have gotten any work done. The 180 tasks would have become 200, 250, 400, etc. And that wouldn’t have pleased her, either.

      Lest you think I was slacking, my average weekly work hours at that job were 72 and I’d received more than a handful of performance bonuses and commendations prior to The Micro Manager taking over. At least those were my work hours under 3 prior managers, and at least for the first 6 months I reported to her. Then it got to the point that I understood no Herculean amount of effort or changes to my work style (sacrificing productivity for recordkeeping, for example) would ever please her and get me more than a piss-poor non-performer evaluation. Just doing a couple extra hours a day so that I could stop once every 15 minutes and update a manually-kept list of task statuses, isn’t too possible when you’ve already got all the workload you can handle in the 72 hours pw you committed to this employer because of the vital nature of the project.

      Obviously, I no longer work there. And people who do work there now are still complaining that she’s hopelessly lacking in managerial skills, years later.

  • Hunting for another job might have been a more efficient strategy. Anyone as obsessed with control as the first woman you discuss (assuming she is actually real and not made up for effect) will almost certainly have other issues, as the ‘weaver suggests

  • I had a boss start doing that to me. I told them that always interrupting me and asking for updates actually made things take longer. I made sure I would put in my “official task breakdowns” things like: 10 mins updating supervisor, 15 mins explaining current schedule, 10 minutes filling out task breakdown etc. I basically made them look bad and they stopped bothering me. And guess what, the productivity went up.

    • I *tried* to highlight in my weekly status report the time it took to respond to queries, and I was told, “Don’t you dare try to justify your lack of productivity by inflating the time it takes you to handle Simple Requests that you Should be able to answer immediately!!!!”. LOL. I tried to explain the concept of flow numerous times, and the woman just cocked her head sideways like the dumb blond she was and said something like, “Huh. Well that doesn’t make any sense. You just go right back to what you were doing. Why can’t you do that?”.

      • Sorry I should’ve mentioned that the task breakdowns went to a number of people above my supervisor as well. Yeah dealing with only one person could be a problem.

        • My manager sanctioned me every time I surfaced her stupid behavior to her managers, berating me and saying that “she had WAYS” to retaliate (although she knew enough not to use that word) if I didn’t stop doing it.

  • Eliminate Any Possibility That She Needs To Micromanage

    Hahaha.. So what’s her name and how’d she piss you off? Hopefully not your boss at lifehacker lol!

  • µmanagers tend to have compulsive behavior and have very limited self awareness. These are not behavior traits that change easily or quickly as inferred in the article. Prepare for very slow progress with occasional bouts of reversion to square one.

  • The section on providing updates pro actively seems to me that you would only be shifting the source of the frustration from your manager to yourself. It’s a sad day when you hate your job because of something you yourself have chosen to do.

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