How to Take Control of a Micromanaging Boss

How to Take Control of a Micromanaging Boss
Vicky Leta

When you land a good job, you feel grown up and self-assured. When your boss turns out to be one of those, constantly checking on you and monitoring your work, you can easily feel like a child.

It’s frustrating and counterproductive to have to detail every moment of your day instead of being left alone to produce good work. Here’s how to handle a micro-managerial boss.

Calmly address the situation with your boss

If it seems like your boss is a kind — if neurotic — person who isn’t acting with hostile motives, you should start by trying to talk it out. Put a short time on their calendar for a one-on-one and make sure you’re being assertive, but gentle. Think back to the way you learned how to express your feelings in grade school: “I feel __________ when you __________ because I think it means __________.”

Putting it into action, it might look like this: “I feel dejected when you monitor me so closely because I think it means you don’t trust me to do my job well.”

In the ensuing chat, remind them that you’ll show them your results through your output, not minute-by-minute updates on what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and what you’ve accomplished that day. Ask your boss if it’s possible that for a week, they leave you to your own devices and examine your work only when it’s complete. Tell them you’d be happy to sit for periodic check-ins, but that having to report on every detail of your day is actually hampering your productivity.

Show, don’t tell

Roger Stephens, a sales representative in New York City, knows all about having a boss who is way too interested in every detail of what he’s doing. That boss is so interested, he said, that he declined to use his real name here. (The only thing worse than a poor work environment is no work environment, so let’s not get Stephens fired for trying to help you.)

His advice for anyone in a similar situation is simple: You have to show the boss, not tell them, that you can be left alone.

“I just shut them out and just do my job to the best of my ability and keep my head down. Literally, I just get through the day,” he said. “As far as advice, that’s it. Do your job. Get in and get out.”

Escalate the problem, if you must

If you’ve already met or exceeded your work goals and talked to the manager in question, but you’re still being hounded, it’s time to run it up the chain, as we say in corporate America. Your boss has a boss, and that bigger boss might be inclined to intervene if the lower boss is creating a terrible situation for employees.

Then again, your boss’ anxious style might be a reflection of pressure they get from above, so feel out the vibes as you proceed. If the bigger boss seems equally micro-managerial and intense, this might not work.

If they seem a little calmer, however, make sure you go into that meeting prepared. Keep examples of emails, Slacks, or in-person communications with your overbearing boss, as well as records of the work to which those communications referred. Again, show the higher boss that you’re productive on your own and don’t require extra needling or babysitting.

“If it gets to the point where you can’t take it anymore, then you speak to someone in a higher position and explain to them how you feel,” said Stephens. “You also need to write everything down. If they send you a task and you already completed it, write it down. If they give you an issue about it, write it down. When everyone finally sits down, you’ll have all the proof to show that you’re being picked on.”

Remember that this probably isn’t really about you

Unless you are actually bad at your job — and if that’s the case, shape up! — this has more to do with your boss than it does with you. They’re likely nervous they’re not an effective leader or can’t get results, so they’re projecting that insecurity.

Rest assured that if you’re meeting your goals and doing your tasks, you’re doing great. There’s more to you than your job title, anyway, so don’t let this nitpicking impact your self-image.

“A manager that micromanages is one that either doesn’t have faith in their team or is not really good at managing, so they go by the book,” said Stephens, who still empathized with what that must mean for the boss on a human level: “It’s understandable because everyone has to play their role.”

Regardless, he added, a micro-managerial boss has “no faith in themselves or the way they manage,” so it’s up to you to keep your spirits high, document everything, and escalate the problem until someone listens. If no one does listen, here are a few tips on how to hunt for a new job without your current boss finding out.

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