How To Stop Micromanagement In Its Tracks

by Daniel Hannig

“Micromanagement is the motivational equivalent of buying on credit. Enjoy a better product now, but pay a hefty price for it later.” – Ron Friedman

In Part One of this two-part series, we outlined the signs that you might be working for a micromanager. We also explained how much damage a micromanager can inflict on a workplace. Today, we’ll offer solutions for how you can work productively under a micromanager, and, further below, what you can do if you suspect that you might be a micromanager yourself.

Find out how our product is being used to reduce micromanagement Read our case study

First, let’s recap some of what we covered in last week’s blog. Namely, the scope of the micromanagement epidemic. One study reports that as many as 79 percent of employees have served under a micromanaging boss. While we might resign ourselves to accepting the rules and customs set by a micromanager, it doesn’t have to be that way. Despite how powerless we might feel, micromanagement can be fought, can be avoided, and shouldn’t be ignored.

While it might not look like it, micromanagement is a symptom of weak leadership, rather than a show of strength. Domineering, nitpicking managers lean towards micromanagement as a way to compensate for their own lack of confidence and sense of authority. By controlling every aspect of their employees’ work, they’re wordlessly saying that they can’t, or don’t, trust their employees to do the work they were hired to do. If micromanagement is a response to a real concern over the quality of work, it is a manager’s responsibility to find out the root cause and investigate solutions.

The presence of a micromanager is a great predictor for employee resignations. According to the study mentioned earlier, 30% of employees that experienced a micromanager quit their job because of it. Employee turnover is expensive, morale-killing, and inefficient, so accepting overzealous management is bad for a company’s bottom line.

As unwise as micromanaging can be, it can be difficult to address the problem, as employees don’t want to be labeled as whiners or seem like they aren’t up to the task. Micromanagers can have a reputation (correctly, but misguidedly) as some of the hardest-working members in an organization. To top it off, the employees who stay often do so only because they feel trapped: If they leave on bad terms with an impossible-to-please direct supervisor, they might have a hard time getting a reference for a job elsewhere. That same micromanaging boss likely won’t pass on knowledge or opportunities that might allow them any upward mobility within their current company. All of the above leads to lowered productivity and engagement from your workforce.

So how can you stop a micromanager’s momentum? Here are some well-tested methods of asserting your independence and giving your supervisor confidence in your ability to do the job you were hired to do.

How to deal with a micromanager

  1. Put yourself in their shoes.

First and foremost, remember that micromanagement is based on insecurity. If you can stand it, it might be possible to play the long game. Follow their rules, continue to do outstanding work, and you might find that they eventually learn to trust you, allowing you the freedom to work independently. Build their trust organically.

Insist on spearheading projects that are either no-brainers, or that you feel certain are within your expertise. As you consistently deliver excellent work, regularly communicate your progress. By doing so, you start a dialogue that increases your level of interaction, builds a stronger relationship, and gives your boss confidence over time that you can take on similar projects. Overfeed them.

Micromanagers typically want constant updates, reports, and check-ins. Give a micromanager exactly what they want, and then some. Email every hour to let them know what you’re working on before they ask, and keep a log to track the projects that you have worked on. Odds are it’s not much more work than you’re already doing, and they might just get tired of hearing from you and stop bugging you altogether. Coach up.

Your boss’s insecurity might come from business-critical concerns that you might be unaware of. Do your research to find out what the “big picture” is they’re dealing with, and find ways to show that you understand your role in it. By seeing that you have some grasp of the high-stakes issues they’re dealing with, they’ll know they can have more confidence in your abilities. Establish expectations.

Micromanagement is, by definition, when a supervisor exerts too much control over the smallest details of their subordinates’ work. Circumvent this by scheduling a meeting with your boss to discuss what their expectations are of you and your role in the company. By forcing them to verbalize their expectations, you’ll have the chance to tell them, step-by-step, that you agree with and understand them. Once they’ve outlined in concrete terms what they expect from you, they’ll feel like they’ve put the ball in your court, and now it’s on you to deliver results. Which is the kind of responsibility you wanted all along. Talk it out.

Like most problems, micromanagement is exacerbated by a lack of communication. It can be intimidating, but talking to your boss could bring the quickest resolution. Begin with, “I’ve been tasked with completing this project, and I feel like you don’t trust me to do it.” If they confirm, or continue their micromanaging behavior, tell them, “this is the job I’ve been hired to do, and I deserve the chance to do it–my way–without interference. Once it’s completed, we can align and talk over any issues you might have with my performance, and of course I’ll carry that information forward into my next assignment.” Mirror your boss’s behaviour

Pay attention to your supervisor’s patterns and style of communication when they’re delivering criticism of your work. You should be looking for opportunities to earnestly, positively copy those patterns to communicate your progress back to them in the same way. People are reassured by behaviour that is familiar to their own. It’s an intricate psychological game, but they’ll be somewhat comforted by behavior that’s similar to their own. They’ll start to view your output like what they’d expect from themselves. Ask for forgiveness instead of permission.

Internalizing the criticism of an overbearing boss is a common side-effect of micromanagement. It’s normal to begin doubting your own ability to perform even minor duties when every detail is constantly being picked over by a supervisor. Eventually, it might seem easier to request permission before you undertake each successive action of a project. Consider breaking the cycle by taking control of a piece of work, completing it to the best of your abilities before turning it in, and then asking for feedback. Whatever your micromanaging boss has to say about your work, the final product will likely be just fine. Plus, it’s easier to tweak small details than to be interrupted constantly.

Do you think you might be a micromanager? Don’t worry, there are solutions for you, too. First and foremost, recognize that “my way or the highway” is no way to run a collaborative and cohesive team. Remembering that, here are some simple strategies for giving up control and learning to trust your employees.

How to stop yourself from micromanaging

  1. Don’t quit cold turkey.

You have trained your team to require your input on every step that they take. You’ve essentially put a pair of training wheels on your employees, so expecting them to suddenly ride alone is asking too much. Instead, start taking small steps toward giving up control. Chill out on the check-ins.

Bosses don’t need constant updates to feel secure in their employees’ ability to perform basic tasks. Begin by letting employees know they will no longer be required to check-in for specific reasons, and that they don’t need to update some of their least-beneficial, most time-consuming reports. Simplify.

Start editing your instructive emails. When you send out a project, go back over what you’ve written and remove the parts where you’re telling your employees–professionals themselves, remember–how to do minor details. Soon you’ll find yourself leaving them out naturally, and that’s a big step towards granting your employees their independence. Delegate.

Send out simple assignments with no detailed input included at all as a way to test your employees’ abilities. Increase the difficulty and variety of these tasks in order to determine their strengths and weaknesses while they assuage your fears about their limitations. Re-fill your schedule.

Free up some space in your schedule that you’ve been sorely missing. Whether it’s with work that’s gone unfinished or a yoga class, fill your calendar back up; for now, at least. Instead of sitting around feeling anxious, you’ll be busy and productive while work gets done around you. Ask for feedback.

Survey employees and find out what’s working and what isn’t. They’ll likely have some input that will help you continue to improve your progress. It will be good for you to hear about how your changes have improved your team’s work and home lives.

However you decide to manage your micromanaging boss, or get your own overbearing behavior under control, don’t lose hope. It is likely possible to change micromanaging behavior without someone quitting, going crazy, or getting angry. Whether it’s through one of the above suggestions or a combination of several methods, hopefully you feel confident that you can find a way to loosen up or to exert more control over your work and role.


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