Being micromanaged by your boss can make you feel like you aren’t trusted or respected. Those feelings are amplified when the person hovering over your shoulder is technically under you on the org chart.
This week, psychologist Art Markman helps a reader who has been promoted above her former micromanaging boss, yet the undermining behavior has continued.
I have what may be a unique problem. I’m being micromanaged by someone below me. I had previously held the lower position under this micromanager. I’ve been promoted and now I’m above her, but she is still micromanaging me.
I’m a diligent, reliable, creative, and consultative worker, but this person appears unable to relinquish her status and control. She even shouts contradictory advice from another room when I’m dealing with the public. Of course this makes me feel undermined and defensive (not to mention stressed out), but I don’t know how to deal with it.
That is an interesting problem. It is no surprise that you are stressed by what is happening.
There are two elements to this case. First, the person micromanaging you used to be your supervisor. Second, this individual continues to micromanage now that you are in the position of authority.
Micromanaging is often a way for people to control anxiety about work. By telling others what to do, micromanagers minimize how much they have to improvise, because they are constraining the way other people do their jobs. In addition, they insulate themselves from failure, because if the process fails, they can point to any deviation you made from their instructions as the source of failure.
In this case, there is an additional source of anxiety for the micromanager, because she used to be your supervisor, and now your roles are reversed. This switch can be difficult, particularly for people who feel as though their career has stalled.
While it is helpful to have some understanding of why this person is micromanaging you, the solution to your problem is the same, regardless of exactly why you are being micromanaged. You are the supervisor here, and you have someone working in your group who is being disruptive to the smooth functioning of your group. This individual is undermining your authority and is making it hard for you to do your job.
You need to document the incidents in which you have been micromanaged. If you have other witnesses, that is also useful. Then, you need to sit down with your micromanaging employee and tell her that it has to stop. Discuss the issue as specifically as possible. Give her a timeline to change her behavior. If it does not stop, then continue to document what happens. At that point, this individual needs to be removed from your group and/or released from the company. You might want to consult with people from your human resources department to find out any procedures that you should follow if you are trying to document a problem with an employee.
However, even after you deal with this specific issue, you need to think a bit about why you have allowed it to go on for so long. One possibility is that you have a difficult dynamic with this particular person. That would be understandable, because you worked for her previously, and it can be hard to change your relationship with a person.
A second possibility, though, is that you need to work on your ability to have difficult conversations with others. The people who work for you will not always do what they are supposed to, or put in the level of effort that they should. In those situations, you need to be able to give them feedback that is direct. You want to be kind and compassionate, but you also need to address problems quickly and directly.
Your inability to confront your former supervisor suggests you may have trouble with this kind of direct approach to difficult conversations. If so, I recommend finding a mentor in your company who has experience as a leader and who is a good communicator. Work with this person to develop strategies to have conversations with colleagues about difficult topics. While you may never find these kinds of conversations easy, your role as a supervisor will be much less stressful if you are able to address problems quickly, rather than waiting until they create untenable situations.
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