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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How to Manage a Micromanaging Boss

boss and employee

Every morning when I arrived at my office, I used to find a to-do list printed out and neatly laid on my keyboard, courtesy of my boss. But this wasn’t a typical bulleted list—it was a long (upwards of three pages), drawn-out document, where each bullet point was accompanied by paragraphs of elaboration, laying out to the very smallest of details exactly how I should accomplish the task.

And as I stared at this book (er, document), wondering if it would somehow look less menacing after my morning coffee, I couldn’t help but think, Wouldn’t it have taken her less time to just complete the things on the list?

And my micromanaging boss didn’t stop there—she constantly asked for updates on my progress, added to and modified the list, and ultimately refused to let me do my job on my terms.

For a while, I thought it was impossible to change my boss’ overbearing ways without completely offending her (and risking my job!). But over time, I did. And luckily, there are several ways you can show your manager that you’re in control—and loosen her grip a little bit, too.

1. Eliminate Any Possibility That She Needs to Micromanage

Once I’d experienced my boss’ micromanaging for a few weeks, I assumed there wasn’t anything I could do but succumb to it. Since I knew she was going to remind me about my deadlines and check on my progress multiple times a day, I figured there was no reason for me to duplicate her efforts. And while my work was still getting done on time, I couldn’t really ignore all those emails titled “Urgent,” I was probably sending her the message that I couldn’t manage my workload without her so-called “help.”

So, first things first: Take a hard look at your recent attitude, productivity, and track record to make sure that you aren’t doing anything to solicit such nitpicking. Are you unintentionally (or intentionally) letting your work slip through the cracks? Do you show up late? Miss deadlines? In this case, of course she’s going to try to manage every detail—because she’s worried that you can’t.

(Need help getting organized? Click here for all the tips.)

2. Anticipate What She Wants—and Act

A lot of the tasks my boss assigned me (and constantly reminded me about) were tasks I knew I was supposed to do—she just wanted to make extra sure that I had them on my radar. It was incredibly frustrating when she’d walk into my office to say, “Hey, I just wanted to remind you that we need to get the weekly schedule emailed out today,” when I was already well aware of the assignment. (Seriously, I did it every week.)

So, a great start to halting micromanagement in its tracks is to anticipate the tasks that your manager expects and get them done well ahead of time. If you reply, “I actually already left a draft of the schedule on your desk for your review,” enough times, you’ll minimize the need for her reminders. She’ll realize that you have your responsibilities on track—and that she doesn’t need to watch your every move.

3. Provide Updates Proactively

Micromanagers want to be in control—that’s why they frequently ask for updates, tell you how to complete tasks, and check in incessantly to make sure that things are going according to schedule. Since they can’t actually complete every project themselves (that’s why they hired you, after all), micromanaging helps them stay as involved as possible.

To head this off, try proactively sending your manager regular updates, before she has a chance to ask for them. Every morning, pull together an email outlining what you accomplished the day before, what you plan on accomplishing that day, and if you have any questions or need any input. (This is part of managing up, it’s key when you’re dealing with a bad boss.)

This will serve multiple purposes: First, your boss will know exactly where your current workload stands, staving off her constant questioning. Second, with a quick glance, she’ll be able to address your questions, provide input, or suggest ideas in one direct reply—which will help her feel involved, yet prevent her multiple mid-day check-ins.

And third, she’ll eventually realize that you’re organized and detail-oriented and that you can manage your responsibilities without her constant intervention—so she’ll feel comfortable pulling back and giving up the reigns.

4. Use Your Words

When it comes to bosses and their management styles, confrontation doesn’t usually seem like a viable option. But in my case, I was working for a friend at a small startup. She always encouraged her employees to bring up issues they were experiencing—even if they concerned the way she ran the business.

So, during one of our one-on-one conversations, I carefully explained that I felt like she didn’t trust me with my work. She admitted that she had a hard time delegating and was used to doing everything herself. In short, she couldn’t “let go.” But she realized the effect it was having on my productivity and happiness, and she promised to make a better effort to step back and let me accomplish my work the way I wanted to.

Obviously, this won’t work in every situation. At my current (and much more corporate) job, I wouldn’t feel nearly as comfortable confronting my boss about such an issue. However, there are small—and respectful—ways you can express your opinion. For example, ask your boss for the opportunity to complete a small project on your own from start to finish, with the understanding that afterward, you’ll discuss what you did well and what you can improve upon next time.

Pose it this way: It’ll be a great learning opportunity and a chance for your manager to evaluate your work methods. And if you knock it out of the park, you’ll instantly convey that you can work independently of your manager’s constant input.

And as you notice differences in behavior, let her know how much you appreciate the hands-off approach: “Thank you for trusting me with this project—having to create the plan and find the right resources on my own really helped me polish my project management skills!”

Shifting your micromanaging boss’ management style won’t be easy, and it certainly won’t be immediate. But if you can show her that you’re trustworthy, thorough, and ultimately, on top of your work, you’ll be able to inspire that change over time.