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Dealing with a Difficult Boss: The Micromanager

Dealing with a Difficult Boss: The Micromanager

The term “managing up” gets used frequently in discussions of what it takes to be successful in the corporate world. One of the most important aspects of managing up is an ability to deal with less than perfect management. Learning how to navigate and improve these situations can alleviate a lot of stress and frustration. Today I am going to focus on strategies for dealing with a boss who is micromanaging.

Micromanaging is one of the most common complaints people have about managers. Why is it so prevalent? In my experience, it is because the behavior that is rewarded in junior roles (e.g. attention to detail) are often not as important once you reach a leadership role. For example, being detail oriented is critical to being a good analyst. As a manager with ten direct reports, however, this attention to details will cause a manager to miss the big picture and make decisions too slowly. Whether you are managing and you are afraid you might be falling into this trap, or you are an employee who is frustrated that your boss seems to be all over you, read on for strategies to overcome micromanagement.

1) Take the Emotions out of the Equation

I am not advocating that you ignore your (or your manager’s) emotions. In fact, I think that ignoring emotions at work is usually a recipe for disaster because they tend to boil over eventually. What I mean by taking emotions out of the equation is this: don’t assume you know why they are managing you this way, and don’t take it personally. Most people who feel they are being micromanaged think, “my boss must think I am really incompetent.” While this is an understandable reaction, it is based on an assumption. 

Interpreting your boss’s actions as a personal insult or judgment escalates an annoying behavior into a personal attack on competence and character. Most micromanagers don’t realize they are doing it and don’t know how to stop; it is rarely a direct result of something an employee is doing wrong. So, if you find yourself frustrated with your manager, take a step back from your emotions and assumptions and focus on how you can change the dynamic.

2) Schedule a Two-Way Feedback Session

This might sound scary, and your level of comfort with this will depend on your relationship with your boss and your company’s culture. That said, it pays to force yourself to do the difficult things, so focus on your goal and push yourself to take this step. If you request a feedback session with your boss to discuss your relationship, make sure that you make it clear you also want them to give you feedback. 

Creating an open conversation will take the pressure off and make your boss feel less attacked. In this conversation, be direct with your boss that you feel they are managing you very closely. Rather than exploring your feedback at length, focus on problem solving with them. For example, ask, “What can I do to give you comfort about how I’m approaching this project?” By shifting quickly into strategizing with them as your partner, you take the emphasis off the criticism and focus on improving your relationship in the future.

3) Be Proactive and Transparent

The most common reaction to being micromanaged is to retreat further and try to avoid contact with your manager at all costs. Although this is an understandable reaction given how frustrating it can be to be micromanaged, this behavior will only make your boss more likely to stay too close to what you are doing. Instead of waiting for them to request updates, be proactive about keeping them informed. This will help ease their anxiety about not knowing how you are handling something. 

This also allows you to direct their attention to the level of conversation you should be having with your boss. For example, rather than copying your boss on every email you send out, ask them to spend an hour strategizing with you about a difficult customer or project. Once you’ve given them transparency into how you are handling it, give them regular updates on how it is progressing. By keeping them informed you are alleviating their concerns and directing their attention to your overall approach, thereby keeping their focus off unimportant details.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.