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5 hidden opportunities of being micromanaged

When you're feeling micromanaged, Marlene Chism offers five strategies to improve communication and trust with your boss.

4 min read



(Nuthawut Somsuk/Getty Images)

No employee signs up for being monitored daily, needing constant approval or doing endless rework. At the same time, no boss wants to be viewed as a micromanager.  The paradox is that without getting employee feedback, micromanaging bosses are often unaware of the behaviors that lead to increased turnover, low morale, wasted time and lowered productivity. 

Most employees won’t willingly offer feedback to their boss unless the boss asks for feedback. Unless the feedback is anonymous, it’s probably not accurate. I’m making a bold suggestion: Employees, initiate a difficult conversation with your boss! As Dr. Phil says, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.” This article offers five hidden opportunities of being micromanaged and what to do to prepare yourself for a difficult conversation with your micromanaging boss. 

1. Define the problem

Stop using the word micromanager to describe your boss. What’s micromanaging to one person is just checking in to another. Most bosses dread hearing feedback that they micromanage. If there’s not a shared definition of what it means to micromanage, conflicts can be mismanaged.  

What to do: Get specific by answering the question: What are they doing that they should not be doing? Answering this question moves you from the general term of “micromanaging” to the specific behavior that needs to change. 

2. Change the interpretation

There are many ways to interpret executive behavior. You can interpret their involvement as “very engaged and excited,” or you can interpret their behavior as micromanaging. How you interpret the situation affects how you feel about your boss. If you have complicated feelings about your boss, you won’t be able to initiate a future conversation successfully. 

What to do: Listen to your narrative. What thoughts are circulating in your head about your boss? Pay attention to what you’re telling yourself. Play with some different ways to interpret the situation. You might find you need more empathy with your boss before you engage in a challenging conversation about changing behavior. 

3. Improve communication

Let’s face it, you aren’t going to gain favor by telling your boss you feel micromanaged. Don’t let your frustration become the undiscussed elephant in the room.  Relationships never improve by avoiding important issues, even when the other person has more perceived power than you. 

What to do: Instead of talking about what you don’t want and how they’re doing you wrong, talk about what you do want and how they can do you right. For example, instead of saying, “I don’t have any autonomy, and you’re not relying on my expertise,” say instead, “I’d like more autonomy in my work, and I want to find ways to support the team with my expertise.” This positive approach, which I call “speaking to the vision,” opens the door for a more productive conversation with your boss. 

4. Increase curiosity

There’s a reason bosses check in too often, need to approve every decision, want to have endless meetings with the team or step in to finish tasks. They may be new at leadership and don’t have experience. Perhaps they were blindsided in the past when they were too hands-off. They may be conflict-adverse or feel pressure from a board of directors or some other authority. Rather than assuming poor character, get curious about your boss’s reasons.

What to do: Stop taking your boss’s tendency to micromanage as a personal assault. Ask your boss about their demands and concerns. You can say, “I’ve noticed that you ask me for updates every week. What concerns do you have that I’m not on track?” In the conversation, you might agree to initiate a quick email update weekly, and they will stop asking. Problem solved. 

5. Build trust

Every problem you encounter with a micromanaging boss is an opportunity to elevate your skills and manage upward. You have the advantage of experiencing micromanagement from the worker-bee point of view.

What to do: Keep a journal to document your insights. Next, see things from your boss’s point of view. What would you look for in an employee that would make you trust them to do what they say, get projects done on time and update you when things go wrong?  Would you trust an employee who kept their complaints to themselves, or would you trust them more if they took the effort to share their experience?  Make it your intention to build trust so that your boss trusts your competence, character and confidence. Use this knowledge to create an authentic culture of accountability when you get promoted to boss.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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