How to Deal With Micromanagers: 15 Ways That Don’t Involve Quitting
There are many different types of bad bosses. There are the bullies who attempt to push their team to work harder and harder, the over-friendly ones who are more interested in going for a drink than leading, and then there are the micromanagers who are always hovering over your shoulder no matter what you do.
What is a Micromanager?
First up, how do you know if your boss is a micromanager? Here’s what to look out for:
- They have a hard time delegating and try to do every little task themselves.
- When they delegate, they don’t allow you to get on with the task alone and always offer their opinions or how they’d do things differently.
- They’re constantly “just checking in” to see how your work is going.
- They nitpick tiny mistakes in your work or suggest lots of small changes that aren’t necessarily needed, just because they’d do things differently.
Now you know how to spot a micromanager, read on to find out how to deal with one.
Why Do People Micromanage?
There are a few root causes of why people behave this way.
Your boss may micromanage because:
- They are under pressure to perform themselves.
- This is their first leadership position and they’re not used to delegating.
- Trust has been broken — either by you or someone else — and now they feel like they have to check in regularly to make sure no one’s slacking or making mistakes.
- They feel superior and like they could do a better job than others.
- They’re perfectionists and can’t let small mistakes slide.
How to Deal with Micromanagers
Don’t let micromanagers ruin your work life. Here’s what to do when your boss hangs around a bit too much.
1. Build Trust
Sometimes, you need to show your boss you’re trustworthy for them to leave you alone to work on a project by yourself.
Perhaps you’ve missed deadlines in the past or made mistakes in client calls, and your boss won’t let this go. Or perhaps you’ve never actually given your boss a reason not to trust you, and they’re just untrusting in nature or they’ve been burned by someone else on your team.
Whatever the reason, strive to build trust between you and your boss. Hit all your deadlines, be open and honest when you’ve made a mistake, and don’t slack off when you’re working from home.
2. Watch How Your Boss Acts with Colleagues
Take note of how your boss acts with colleagues. Do they delegate to others, but not to you? Do they request regular progress reports from everyone on the team? Are they hovering over junior team members’ desks only?
Figuring out if it’s just you or if it’s your entire team will help you know how to deal with the situation.
If your boss micromanages everyone, it’s probably their personality and leadership style.
If it’s just you, however, examine your past actions and current work style to see what you could do to change things, get them to trust you, and ease up on their micromanagement.
3. Speak to Your Boss About it
It sounds awkward and uncomfortable, but sometimes an honest conversation can fix the problem.
Set up a meeting with your boss, ideally in person. Focus on the problem itself, rather than them as a person.
Share how it makes you feel and how you feel like you can’t do your best work. Agree on some next steps for how you’ll do things differently going forward.
- “I know I’ve missed deadlines in the past, but I’ve since learned from those mistakes and set up a new time management system that helps me manage all my projects. I’m sure you mean well when you check in, but it makes me feel like you don’t trust me to get the work done anymore. I’d appreciate it if you could give me the chance to prove to you how I’ve improved my time management.”
- “I’ve noticed you’re managing three client accounts and only delegating admin to me. I’d love the chance to take on more responsibility and perhaps lead one of these accounts myself.”
4. Keep Your Boss in the Loop
You might prefer to get assigned a piece of work and disappear for two weeks while you get it done. But that’s often impossible to do when you’re working for someone else.
Even if you feel like you shouldn’t have to, it can be useful to keep your boss in the loop with where you are in your work.
For example, try sending them a progress report each week, cc’ing them on important emails, or spending the last five minutes of a meeting talking through your current tasks and how they’re going.
Even a simple Slack message might be enough to keep your micromanaging boss happy and out of your business for a while.
5. Ask for Specific Feedback if Your Boss Nitpicks
There are many different types of micromanagers. While some refuse to delegate, others will happily hand over the reins, only to change everything you do on a task.
If this is the case for you, consider asking them to give you specific feedback. They may be able to articulate why they make changes to your work, and this could be something you can incorporate into your role going forward.
It may also be the case they don’t realize how many changes they make, and you bringing it up may snap them out of it.
- “I’ve noticed you change a lot of things in reports after I submit them. Would you mind walking me through these changes, so I can incorporate them into my first drafts next time?”
- “Thanks for your feedback on my presentation. You mentioned quite a lot of small things I could have done differently. Could you outline one or two main points you think I should work on in particular?”
6. Speak to a Trusted Friend
If you feel like your boss is a micromanager, they probably are. But sometimes, we’re so attached to our work that whenever someone gives us feedback it feels like they’re nitpicking. Or perhaps we have a very independent work style and struggle when progress reports or collaborative work is needed.
This is when it’s worth talking to a trusted friend. Ideally, you’d speak to a friend who doesn’t work at the same company to avoid engaging in any kind of office gossip.
Your friend should be able to tell you if your boss’s behavior is micromanaging, or if you should focus on your own work style.
7. Ignore Some of Your Boss’s Behavior
You shouldn’t have to live with a micromanaging boss if they’re affecting your workplace happiness. But sometimes, small micromanagement behaviors can be ignored.
If your boss insists on attending every client meeting or sends you overly detailed instructions on a task — and you’ve tried building trust and speaking to them about it — you may be better off leaving them to it rather than fighting it.
Focus on your own role, doing the best work you can do, and vowing to not be a micromanager yourself if the opportunity comes around.
8. Set Up Boundaries and Stick to Them
At the end of a long work day, the last thing you want is a call from your boss checking in on how your client call went today or a Saturday-night email asking for a progress report from the week.
Start by resisting the temptation to reply to your boss outside of work hours. Reply when you’re back in the office or online the next day, and don’t feel the need to apologize for the delay.
If weekend or after-work emails or calls start becoming a problem, politely and professionally remind your boss of your working hours.
9. Meet Your Boss Halfway
If you can’t shake off a micromanager completely, try meeting them halfway.
For example, depending on the type of micromanager they are, you could:
- Suggest sending them a once-a-week progress email, rather than them calling to check in at the end of every work day.
- Offer to run final drafts of designs by them, but only once you’ve reached the final draft stage, no sooner.
- Ask for one actionable thing you can improve on after giving a presentation, in the hope this stops them from giving you a long list of tiny things you could have done differently.
10. Use Software
There are plenty of online tools out there that can help soothe an anxious micromanager.
Look for tools that help with project management, team communication, or time management — whatever you think your boss struggles with — and suggest giving them a try.
For example, a shared Trello board can show them the team’s progress on a project, so they don’t need to constantly ask about it.
11. Build Your Skills and Deliver Great Work
While you work on dealing with your micromanager, don’t forget to focus on your work. Take time to hone your skills and deliver great work, time and time again.
The better you get at your job, the more results you’ll have to show your boss when it comes to having a conversation about letting you work more independently.
When you’re assigned a task, tell your boss when you’ll check in with them about it and when you’ll get it finished by.
If a problem comes up, highlight it straight away and outline the steps you’re already taking to fix it.
You may feel like you shouldn’t have to tell your boss all of these things, but some simple over-communication can help to keep them from hovering over you or asking what you’re doing all the time.
13. Over-Deliver When Your Boss Doesn’t Micromanage
Reinforce good behavior by doing an even better job than usual when your boss doesn’t micromanage you.
Did they finally let you run a client meeting alone? Work extra hard to smash it out of the park and be sure to collect feedback from your colleagues or client to share with your boss.
Did they not check in on a report as you were writing it? Deliver it ahead of schedule and mention how you managed to get into the zone and get it done faster and to a higher standard by not having any distracting calls or emails.
Having a micromanager for a boss can feel like you’re back at school or living with your parents, but there are ways you can address their behavior. Build trust, keep them in the loop, and have an honest conversation about how their management style is affecting your work.
Want more tips on how to build a happier work life? We’ve covered how to deal with a coworker trying to make you look bad, what to do after making a mistake at work, and hugging etiquette at work.