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. A sweet little love letter of mistrust, carefully wrapped in doubt.
And as I stared at this letter (or was it hate mail?), 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?
For a while, I thought it was impossible to change my boss’s 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 boss that you’re in control—and loosen her grip a little bit, too.
You can’t change someone’s personality, but you can find ways to work better together by adapting to their working style.
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 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.
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 revenue report 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.
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 cant 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.
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.
Use Your Words
When it comes to bosses and their management styles, confrontation doesn’t sometimes seem like a viable option. But neither is taking frustration home to simmer every night.
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 boss 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 your manager’s 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. I’d love the opportunity to take on something even bigger!”
Shifting your boss’s management style isn’t 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.