How to Survive a Micromanaging Boss
A common complaint I hear during my coaching and training sessions is, “My boss is a micromanager.” When I ask for the details, the person typically describes a story that sounds similar to this one: “He is always checking in on my work. He is always making corrections and scrutinizing my projects. He singles me out by questioning me about all my status updates. Frankly, he treats me like a child. He hovers like a gray storm cloud and asks questions that he should already have the answers to.”
My advice redirects the energy and focus from the boss back to the staffer. We often can’t change the behavior of others, but we can adjust our approach toward them to create a more positive work climate.
The good news is that your development, resilience and continuous learning will be shaped and cultivated by many bosses over your career. And I’ll let you in on a secret: None of them will be perfect. About half of them will be especially challenging, not to you personally, but to your ego.
There are two strategies an employee can use to bypass the ego and relieve the pain of a micromanaging boss: Edit your story, and stop judging, start helping.
1. Edit your story to focus on the facts.
Stress is almost always caused by something other than reality. Stress is often caused by the story we invented about our reality. Suffering begins when our ego takes over and furiously generates a story to protect its safe place as the victim, producing shortcuts and excuses to justify our situation. The best way to bypass the ego, eliminate the story and get to the facts is to use an “edit your story” technique. This tool works by asking you to reflect on and extract only the facts in your story. The details you know to be absolutely true.
In the above example, when I asked the staffer to edit her story, she uncovered a few benevolent facts:
- Her boss calls to find out a project status and sometimes asks follow-up questions.
- Her boss sometimes redirects her work.
- Her boss asks her questions that she believes he could easily find or should already know the answer to.
This process highlights that when we assign a negative motive to reality, we create a story and unhelpful emotions erupt. This staffer’s stress and belief didn’t come from who the boss was, it emerged from the story of who she created her boss to be. And this habit of thinking with the ego perpetuates itself through “co-creation” of our environment. Co-creation occurs when you think of him as a micromanager, then you’ll respond in an evasive way and withhold information as if to distance yourself from the scrutiny, which in turn gives him more reason to be highly directive in his leadership style.
2. Stop judging, start helping.
The truth is, at times your boss will be lacking in skill set, and the minute you choose to linger with a judgmental mindset, you won’t be helping your boss or yourself.
We are all human and have our flaws, and if you are willing to get honest with your daily efforts, you should be able to identify times at work when maybe you’ve also stepped in too much or too soon. First, find a neutral perspective in this situation and use the opportunity to figure out how you can help things run smoother in the office. Second, before you complain about your boss or manager, first make sure this situation isn’t due to your own lack of performance or accountability. Blaming others for your circumstances feels like a tempting path of least resistance, but it won’t lead you to your desired destination. Your highest potential arises in finding opportunities in the midst of your challenges. Your situation or circumstances might be out of your control, but your mindset and outlook isn’t.
Want to be noticed at work? Focus on how you can make a positive impact despite a less than perfect manager.
- State your goal. Express your desire to work more independently toward the purpose of your team or organization. Ask what you can provide your boss to achieve this.
- Ask great questions to gain clarity. “What could I do to provide you more clarity in my work to reduce the amount of daily phone calls? What details can I make more available so you have the information you need to make your job easier?”
Editing your story, eliminating judgment and focusing on how you can help in your work environment has positive consequences—peace and success. You might just learn that your boss, while human and imperfect, is a pretty decent person, and just like you, is trying to do his or her best work.