Ask The Experts: How Can I Tell My Micromanaging Boss To Back Off?

A boss who hovers will drive most people crazy, but before you confront your overbearing manager, make sure you aren't part of the problem.

You're an adult. You don't need a babysitter. But telling your micromanaging boss to leave you alone and let you get your work done is never going to be an easy conversation.


Hi,

I have kind of the opposite problem as one of your recent questions. My boss is a total micromanager.

When he double-checked everything I did and constantly asked me the status of everything the first month it was annoying, but I thought maybe I just had to prove myself. But now I’ve been in this job for almost a year and he’s still doing it—he changes tiny nitpicky things all the time. On the occasions that I do make a mistake he acts like I’m totally incompetent, but he almost never praises my work when I do something right.

I have several years of experience and feel like I’m adding a lot of value to the company and I generally like what I do and don’t want to have to look for a new job, but I don’t know how to tell him to just back off.

Help!

Best,

Micromanaged in Minnesota


Dear Micromanaged,

A boss who is a micromanager is extremely frustrating, but the issues behind micromanagement can be complicated.

There are two reasons why bosses micromanage:

  1. You have given them a reason not to trust you.
  2. It’s just their personality type.

Let's make sure it’s not you first.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you missed deadlines?
  • Have you promised something and not delivered?
  • Have you delivered, but not what they wanted?
  • Have you been distracted by your personal life?
  • Have you been flustered by the tasks at hand?

If you answer yes to some of the questions, that may give you some insight into why you’re being micromanaged. The boss is responsible for getting the work done, and their work is a reflection of yours.

If you see that you need to improve, take the action to change right away and let your boss know that you are taking your job seriously and you are looking to improve.

But if your self-check comes up clean—if you are confident that your work is up to par, then it’s time to have that talk with your boss. Here's how:

Make a List of Specific Examples: Make a list of circumstances where your work could have been more productive with no one standing over your shoulder. Let your boss know that your goal is to increase productivity and save time for both of you. Describe the issue as one of refining processes.

Ask What You Can Do: Ask if there is anything you can do to develop your professional skill set. Allow your boss to give you some suggestions. Making improvements benefits you both.

Give Updates and Build Trust: Commit to keep your boss informed at their preferred level throughout the process so they remain in the loop without constantly checking in. Tell your boss that you wish to show them that you can be trusted to deliver the work on your own.

Customize Your Approach to Match Their Style: Study what motivates your boss. Know what worries them and try to address their concerns.

Learn your boss’s preferred style for workflow and outcomes, and match them. Adapting to what they like, even if it’s not what you’d normally prefer, increases their confidence in you and may help decrease micromanagement.

Start With Smaller Tasks: If your boss is resistant, ask for a small trial assignment that you can complete on your own to see how it goes. If they agree, make sure you do the following:

Send a confirmation email stating your understanding of what is expected of you, and ask them to reply with confirmation or any changes.

Create and share your to-do list of what needs to happen for the project to proceed, with action items and responsibilities outlined.

Do everything you can to gain the micromanager’s trust along the way. Make sure to keep them informed, request feedback at key points, and keep them in the loop at all times.

Small steps toward trust will take you a long way toward autonomy.

Once you are successful and there is less micromanaging, make sure to show your appreciation and recognition. Offer to share any tools and processes you’ve developed with others to help workflow throughout your organization.

On the other hand, if you have put in the effort and been tough with yourself and been honest with your boss and nothing changes, you are facing a stubborn behavioral issue that’s going to be hard to get rid of.

In that case, changing jobs might be the best solution.

Wising you much success,

Lolly


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4 Comments

  • sai_bhupalam

    Great article Lolly - I specifically like and have also suggested your second tip "Ask What You Can Do" to my clients. I have done it myself when I had a control freak manager and that is how I figured that one out. I just told her "I will call you and seek your help when I need it and you may call me if I mess something up and certainly take me to task but can I please have some autonomy since I am a top performer?" It worked to a great extent. She laid off.

    It would be nice if bosses asked their reports as to what management style they prefer - preferably in the interview. As an alternative, a boss could do this once the new hire has proven herself.

  • Tal Wolgroch

    A great, practical and easy-to-apply solution to micromanaging bosses. I'm surprised to hear, Lolly, that as a seasoned Leadership Development and CEO coach, you didn't suggest thinking about reaching out to an external consultant. In the case of a stubborn behavioral issue by the CEO/manager, it will be harder for Mr Micromanaged to understand and tackle the problem at its core, but there are plenty of solutions from a third-party consultant.