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Communication Skills:  How to Stop a Boss From Micro-Managing You

In the more than 10 years I’ve been blogging on communication issues, no one has ever asked about the important topic Rahul emailed about recently on LinkedIn:

“I have a team lead who has micro-managing habits. I have a meeting soon with him and I’m getting help from your videos. But how do I solve this problem?” 

Before you communicate one-on-one with a micro-managing boss, observe his or her habits in general. Here’s a checklist for your consideration:

  • Does the boss seem to micro-manage everyone or just you?  (If the micro-managing focuses on just you, you need to have a talk to find out why.)
  • Does the boss seem distrustful in general—of his or her own boss and peers in other functional areas? (If generally distrustful, the micro-managing habit may or may not be solvable.)
  • Is the boss confident of his or her own abilities?  (If the boss lacks confidence personally, then it stands to reason that insecurity will extend to a lack of faith in others’ ability to perform well without constant supervision.)

But if the above checklist suggests that your boss’s micro-managing is focused solely on you, then it’s time for a heart-to-heart discussion. Here are some key questions for that conversation:

  • Is there a past project I’ve handled that has made you feel uncomfortable about my current performance?
  • Is there a key skill that I need to improve or a work habit that’s causing you to feel that I might not be able to deliver on the XYZ project?
  • Would it make you feel more comfortable if we set up more frequent check-back points on this current project?  At what points in the project, would you like me to check back with you?
  • I understand that there are different levels of delegation. Which level do you feel most comfortable with between us?

––“Here’s what I’ve done. Let me know if that’s not okay.”

––“Here’s what I plan to do. If I don’t hear from you otherwise, I’ll go ahead with this action.”

––“I recommend we do X.  Do I have your approval to move ahead?”

––“Here’s what I’ve discovered. What action would you like me to take?”

You may feel as though you’re “caving in” to the micro-managing boss with even more frequent report-backs, status reports, approval requests, and so forth.  And you may be—for a period. But if your goal is to call attention to the issue and change the situation, this focus on the habit can bring about long-term change.

At best, such frank communication gives you solid feedback about performance and perception. At the least, such a discussion communicates to a boss the need to clarify expectations to improve the relationship.

9 thoughts on “Communication Skills: How to Stop a Boss From Micro-Managing You”

    1. Thanks, David. Micro-managers never recognize themselves. So the burden to improve the relationship always falls to the person being managed–and that’s quite a task to make the turnaround.

      1. Ms. Booher micro-managers do recognize themselves. Their entire focus is “me”. They are true Narcissists and no amount of another person placing the burden on “teaching” them will help. They need to be confronted and boundaries reinforced. They lack healthy communication skills and need more help then the work place allows!

  1. I disagree with you whole-heartedly. There is nothing worse than a micro-manager and whether they are micro-managing just you or a whole team there is no better way to reinforce that their behavior is correct, then to check in with them more often. By honoring what they require of you which is to inform them every step of the way in fact sends a signal to them that they really needed to do that so you can get the job done. Now every time there is a deadline they will apply more pressure which creates more stress on you especially if you are checking in with them more often then they are “requiring” you to do. There is no way to manage a micro-manager, but to leave them or report them if you have good resources because chances are the people who hired them are well aware of the behavior and encourage it.

    1. Lola, thanks for adding another point of view. While more frequent check-ins may calm some micro-managers, it might worsen the situation with others. I’m sure every situation is different

  2. I recall the lines of Kathy Sierra ‘The more you hold their reins, the less they would use their brains’, that is a powerful statement for every manager to think about their own behavior (willingly – of-course, no one would want to see themselves in such an unfavorable light). However, when Micro Managing does happens, it does happen with a very justified rationalization on part of the micro manager and the strategy offered by Dianna in terms of a heart-to-heart to talk can be a helpful way to uncover, what is specific concerns on part of the Micromanager and move way forward.

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