Have you worked in a workplace where every move you make is constantly monitored? You can feel the discomfort, frustration, and tension in the air as you navigate an environment where your every move is being watched. As stress, anxiety, and even resentment rise within you, the pressure mounts. As each decision and task is scrutinized to the smallest detail, you begin to wonder if your manager believes in your abilities. You are trapped in a suffocating work environment where micromanagement limits your potential….
My own experience with micromanagement occurred decades ago when I was still a student. During my summer break, I worked as a part-time waiter at a restaurant. The manager there had a habit of criticizing employees for not performing tasks as well as he did, and every small decision—even the most basic customer requests—required his approval. This level of supervision hampered the team’s ability to work efficiently. As a result, some waitstaff simply stopped trying to serve customers.
We quickly realized that no matter how carefully we followed instructions or how quickly we provided updates, our efforts would never meet the manager’s high expectations. He seemed to prefer doing everything himself rather than allowing us to take charge. I simply quit working there as the summer break came to an end.
Unfortunately, my experience is not unique. According to a recent Trinity Solutions survey, 79% of employees have experienced micromanagement at some point in their careers, 69% of those surveyed considered changing jobs as a result of the negative impact of micromanagement, and 36% actually left.
The prevalence of micromanagement in the workplace emphasizes the need for both employees and managers to recognize the signs of this behavior and learn how to effectively address it.
In this article, we’ll look at the characteristics of a micromanager and offer practical strategies for dealing with them.
Table of Contents
- Signs of a Micromanager
- Why Do People Micromanage?
- How Micromanagement Affects Your Psyche
- How to Deal with a Micromanager Without Losing Your Job
- Can You Tell Your Manager to Stop Micromanaging?
- What If Your Manager Refuses to Change?
- Final Thoughts
Signs of a Micromanager
How can you tell if you’re being micromanaged? Keep an eye out for the following signs:
Reluctance to Delegate Tasks
Reluctance to delegate tasks to team members is a clear sign of a micromanager. They may prefer to handle important tasks themselves and may be resistant to delegating authority to others.
This behavior is often motivated by the belief that they are the only ones capable of performing the task correctly, resulting in a bottleneck effect in which the manager becomes overburdened and the team is underutilized.
Everything Requires Their Approval
They often demonstrate a need for control by requiring their approval for even minor decisions. This can range from making small purchases to writing email responses.
Excessive supervision can impair the team’s ability to work autonomously and make timely decisions, slowing down the workflow and decreasing efficiency.
Getting Bogged Down in Project Details
They are prone to obsessing over the details of a project rather than looking at the big picture. They may become preoccupied with minor details, such as formatting options in a document or presentation wording.
While attention to detail is important, micromanagers may lose sight of the project’s overall goals and objectives, potentially jeopardizing the project’s effectiveness.
The Need for Constant Updates
They always expect team members to provide frequent and detailed progress updates. This can include daily status reports, check-in meetings, or impromptu progress inquiries.
While regular communication is essential for effective teamwork, frequent updates can be disruptive and time-consuming, leaving employees feeling micromanaged and distrusted.
Getting Involved in Every Conversation
They have a habit of inserting themselves into every conversation, whether it’s an email, a meeting, or a casual conversation. They may insist on being copied on all email correspondence or on attending all meetings, even if they are not directly related to their area of expertise.
This behavior can undermine the team’s confidence and autonomy while also impeding open communication and collaboration
Why Do People Micromanage?
Understanding why a manager micromanages can help you deal with them more effectively. Here are some of the most common reasons:
Lack of Managerial Experience
Micromanagement may be a result of inexperience in a managerial role for some people. According to Harvard Business Review research, there are two main reasons why inexperienced managers tend to keep watch on their team members:
- They want to be more connected to lower-level employees.
- They are more at ease doing their old job than supervising employees who now do that job.
New managers may find it difficult to make the transition from peer to supervisor. They may seek to maintain a sense of connection and involvement with their team members by micromanaging.
Inexperienced managers may also find it difficult to relinquish previous responsibilities and delegate them to others. As a result, they may revert to doing tasks that were previously part of their old job rather than effectively managing their team.
Fear of Losing Control
Another typical driver of micromanagement is the fear of losing control. In order to avoid failure or receiving subpar results from others, managers who are motivated by this fear might think it is safer to complete tasks themselves. Fear of making mistakes or performing poorly may lead them to take on tasks themselves, believing that they will achieve better results this way.
Some executives may seek to be perceived as experts and authority figures. According to the online test “Are You Motivated By Power Or Achievement?” 41% of leaders have a strong desire for power, while 48% of bosses want to be seen as experts and authority figures. As these managers seek to assert their dominance and knowledge, their desire for authority and expertise can drive micromanagement behaviors.
Some managers may be concerned about their authority being called into question or undermined. Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha, an educator, life coach, and bestselling author, put it succinctly:
“Those who like to command and control others are always scared of their authority being challenged or criticized.”
To preserve their perceived status and authority, this fear may result in an overzealous level of control and supervision.
How Micromanagement Affects Your Psyche
Micromanagement can have a negative psychological impact on employees’ well-being, motivation, and overall job satisfaction.
Employees who are constantly scrutinized and monitored may experience increased stress and anxiety. The pressure to meet the manager’s exacting standards, combined with the fear of making mistakes, can create a tense, overwhelming, and uncomfortable work environment.
Because micromanagement conveys a message of distrust, employees may believe that their employer does not trust or value them. The Culture Economy Report indicates that 21% of workers blame micromanagement for fostering mistrust at work. Employees’ confidence and self-esteem may also suffer as a result of this lack of trust, leading to feelings of inadequacy and frustration.
Moreover, micromanagement can lead to a sense of entrapment in employees, limiting their ability to take initiative and make independent decisions. Employees who lack autonomy may feel trapped in their jobs, resulting in a loss of motivation and enthusiasm for their work. As author John Stoker explains in his book Overcoming Fake Talk: How to Hold REAL Conversations that Create Respect, Build Relationships, and Get Results,
“Authority—when abused through micromanagement, intimidation, or verbal or nonverbal threats—makes people shut down and productivity ceases.”
When employees feel disempowered and unmotivated, their ability to contribute effectively to the organization’s goals is undermined.
How to Deal with a Micromanager Without Losing Your Job
The goal is not to confront or challenge the micromanager, but to find common ground and foster a collaborative and respectful working relationship. You can navigate the challenges of micromanagement and contribute to a more positive work environment by taking a proactive and solution-oriented approach.
1. Reevaluate Their Actions
When confronted with a micromanager, it is critical to respond thoughtfully and constructively. Reacting emotionally or irritably may backfire and reinforce their perception that you are not doing your job effectively or value their involvement.
Take a step back and reassess the situation instead of allowing frustration to take over. Recognize that micromanagement is often the result of the manager’s own insecurities or anxieties, and it is not always a reflection of your performance. Approaching the situation calmly and composedly can result in more positive outcomes.
In order to bridge any gaps in expectations, ask questions to understand their intentions and concerns. For example, you could ask,
“What specific details do you want me to focus on in this project? What is the best way for me to address your concerns?”
If your manager constantly requests updates, take the initiative to develop a clear communication strategy. As an example, you could say,
“I understand the importance of completing this project on time. I can assure you that I am keeping this project on track. When and how would you like me to communicate updates and concerns to you? It will help me better organize my time and focus on achieving our common goals.”
By proposing a solution and demonstrating your commitment to the project, you demonstrate your professionalism and willingness to collaborate.
Furthermore, when communicating, use a positive tone and state your intent clearly. For instance, instead of saying, “I don’t need you constantly checking in on me,” try saying,
“I appreciate your attention to detail, and I’m committed to delivering high-quality work.” Let’s talk about how we can collaborate most effectively.”
You can encourage the manager to think and act differently by framing your response positively and emphasizing your shared goals.
2. Anticipate Curveballs And Overdeliver
The Leadership Refinery’s founder, Jill Hauwiller, aptly summarizes:
“Micromanagement usually stems from a lack of trust or confidence, either in oneself or in others. Learn what your manager values and wants, anticipate the curveballs, and overdeliver on your promises. Focus on building trust by consistently delivering results. Even if you can’t change their behavior, you will have great results to show for it, and no one can take that away from you.”
Failure to recognize the triggers that prompt micromanagement can result in a recurring cycle of distrust. For example, if your manager expects daily updates and you consistently fail to meet this expectation, trust may deteriorate over time. To avoid falling into the same trap, pay attention to your manager’s preferences and expectations.
Clarifying expectations is the first step in learning how to anticipate curveballs. Are you having trouble meeting your manager’s expectations, or are they unrealistic? Hold an open discussion to clarify what your manager wants and how they want it delivered. Discuss how frequently they wish to be informed, as well as any deal breakers that must be avoided.
Following that, consistently deliver results. Building trust with a micromanager requires consistently delivering high-quality results. You demonstrate your competence and dependability by meeting or exceeding expectations. If possible, strive to outperform your promises in order to strengthen the relationship.
Additionally, over communicate your project status, weekly progress, and meeting outcomes to keep your manager informed and reassured. You reduce the likelihood of them seeking information from you by taking the initiative to share updates.
3. Establish a Standard With Your Manager
Both you and your manager may struggle with vague or ambiguous expectations if you do not have clear goals and boundaries. As the manager seeks to regain control, this lack of clarity can lead to increased micromanagement.
Set specific, measurable, and achievable goals in collaboration with your manager. Define your responsibilities and set firm boundaries for decision-making and autonomy. Setting goals together ensures that both parties are on the same page in terms of desired outcomes and priorities. This collaborative approach also allows you to gain insight into your manager’s expectations while also offering your own perspective and expertise.
Uncertainty about communication is a common trigger for micromanagement. Establish clarity around expected communication time frames, methods, and channels to address this. Decide together:
- how regularly you should provide updates – daily or weekly?
- which methods of communication are preferred – text or verbal?
- which channels are appropriate – project management tools, emails, team meetings?
A clear communication strategy can reduce ambiguity and boost your manager’s trust in your work.
Sharing progress on a regular basis is also important for developing trust with a manager. Determine a method for making your progress visible, such as a shared project tracker or regular status reports. You demonstrate accountability and reduce the need for your manager to seek information by proactively providing updates on your accomplishments, challenges, and next steps.
At LifeHack, we use Basecamp to regularly share our progress with one another. With this, I can easily keep track of the progress of different projects and whether or not everyone is on schedule.
Can You Tell Your Manager to Stop Micromanaging?
Actions speak louder than words. Before approaching your manager about micromanagement, consider whether you’ve earned their trust through consistent performance and dependability. Have you put the previously mentioned strategies into action, such as establishing clear communication standards and keeping your promises?
If you believe you’ve gradually gained more trust, but the manager’s micromanagement style continues, think about starting a conversation.
- First, request a one-on-one meeting with your manager to discuss your working relationship. Approach the conversation with a collaborative and positive attitude, rather than a confrontational one.
- Begin the discussion by recognizing your manager’s level of involvement. Explain that you’ve noticed their attention to detail and value their dedication to producing high-quality results.
- Then, emphasize the advantages of having more trust and independence in your work. Tell them that if they have more faith in your abilities, you will be able to achieve even better results and contribute more effectively to the team’s goals.
- Next, make a plan together. Ask your manager how the two of you can cooperate to strengthen your trust and independence. For instance, does your manager require more frequent updates? Do you need to put your skills on display more effectively? Engage in an open and collaborative dialogue to develop a plan that addresses the concerns of both parties.
Remember that understanding your manager’s intentions can help you improve teamwork and avoid misunderstandings. Ask them politely about their viewpoint and worries, and then pay close attention to their responses.
According to Douglas Stone, co-author of Difficult Conversations,
“Intentions are invisible. We assume them from other people’s behavior. In other words, we make them up, we invent them. But our invented stories about other people’s intentions are accurate much less often than we think. Why? Because people’s intentions are complex. Sometimes people act with mixed intentions. Sometimes they act with no intention, or at least none related to us. And sometimes they act on good intentions that nonetheless hurt us.”
By approaching the conversation with empathy, respect, and a willingness to collaborate, you can effectively address the issue of micromanagement and build a stronger and more trusting working relationship with your manager.
What If Your Manager Refuses to Change?
If you’ve made genuine efforts to address the issue with your manager, implemented trust-building strategies, and attempted to improve communication, but your manager is still resistant to change, it may be time to consider other options.
As a last resort, you could seek assistance from the Human Resources department or higher-level superiors.
HR professionals are trained to deal with workplace conflicts and can provide advice on how to handle the situation. They may also arrange for a mediation session between you and your manager in order to resolve the issues at hand.
If you have a direct superior above your manager, you should talk to them about your concerns, especially if the micromanagement is interfering with your ability to do your job effectively.
More importantly, take the time to assess the impact of it on your physical and mental health. If the manager’s behavior is causing you significant stress, anxiety, or burnout, it’s essential that you prioritize your health and well-being.
Think about your long-term prospects for employment with the company:
Is this a one-time occurrence, or do you expect the it to continue indefinitely? Is there room for advancement and growth within the company that would lift you out of your current situation?
Consider the implications of remaining in your current environment for your career development and overall job satisfaction.
If it’s clear that your manager’s behavior will not change even after you’ve expressed your concerns and sought assistance from HR or superiors, consider whether you can handle it in the long run, or if it’s time to look for other opportunities.
Quitting a job is a big decision, and you should carefully weigh the pros and cons. If you decide that leaving is the best option for you, do so professionally and with a plan for your next steps in place.
While micromanagement can be a major impediment, it also provides an opportunity for personal and professional development. As I’ve previously stated, trust, open communication, and demonstrating your capabilities are fundamental in addressing the challenges of micromanagement.
By taking proactive steps to address the situation, you can turn a potentially negative experience into a valuable learning opportunity.
Don't have time for the full article? Read this.
Signs of a micromanager includes reluctance to delegate tasks, requiring their approval for everything, getting bogged down in project details while losing the big picture, the need for constant updates, and getting involved in every conversation.
Managers may micromanage due to a lack of managerial experience and the fear of losing control or authority.
Employees who are constantly scrutinized and monitored by a micromanager may experience increased stress and anxiety. They will also lose motivation and productivity.
1. Don’t let frustration take over when confronted with a micromanager. Ask questions to understand their intentions and concerns to bridge any gaps in expectations.
2. Anticipate curveballs by clarifying expectations and consistently deliver high-quality results.
3. Set goals and agree on a communication method together to keep both parties in sync.
If you believe you’ve gradually gained more trust but the manager’s micromanagement style continues, you can consider scheduling a one-on-one meeting with them and discuss it.
If you’ve made genuine efforts to address the issue of micromanagement with your manager but yet they still resist change, seeking assistance from the Human Resources department or higher-level superiors is the last resort.
Otherwise, you should also reflect about your long term career development and job satisfaction and decide whether quitting the job is the best option for you.
Featured photo credit: airfocus via unsplash.com
|||^||Trinity Solutions: My Way or the Highway The Micromanagement Survival Guide|
|||^||Harvard Business Review: Why People Micromanage|
|||^||LeadershipIQ: Are You Motivated by Power of Achievement|
|||^||breathe: The Culture Economy Report 2020|