How to stop your boss from micromanaging you

I recently started micromanaging a new team member. I knew I was doing it, but I couldn't seem to stop. I know the theory of trust and autonomy, and I coach leaders to ‘let go’ all the time.  But when it comes time to do it myself, sometimes I struggle to take my own advice! So I sat down and decoded my behaviours, with my coaching hat on, and here’s what I found...

I will micromanage you if you don't know how to manage up to me. That’s it. Simple… yet complicated. Let me explain. Micromanagement is fundamentally about trust. We give people more space and autonomy as our trust in them grows. With some people it’s easier to do this than with others. Why?

There are the obvious reasons like skill level, experience, confidence etc, but there is another part of the equation that has a huge impact on how likely I am as a manager to micromanage you – regardless of how skilled or experienced you actually might be – and that’s my assurance strategy. It’s what I need to hear, see or read in order to believe, for myself, that you can do the job. Without feeling assured that you can do the task, I’m not quite convinced it’s going to work out… so I keep checking in.

Case in point

I hired my team member Eloiza because she had great skills. I knew she had them because I tested for them. I gathered evidence before I hired her in order to be sure she really could do most of the things I needed her to do. Yet as her task list grew and she took on new responsibilities I hadn’t tested for (and realistically couldn’t) I did more ‘checking up’.  I found myself increasingly anxious with her short responses, as I was never sure she had done what I wanted. And given ours is a ‘virtual’ working relationship, and I couldn't see what she was doing or how she worked, there was a lot of ‘silence’ between when the task was initiated and when it was completed. With multiple projects and tasks on the go, the ‘silence’ of waiting on the output made me anxious as I began to wonder if she was keeping on top of it all.

What I needed was to be reassured about HOW she was going about her work, and not just THAT she was going about her work. Our communications at the start weren’t giving me enough certainty and in fact the responses I got made me more anxious. Our conversations would go like this:

Me: What’s happening with the resource pack for the conference session?

Her: I’m on to it. 

Me: Cool. What does that mean?

Her: It’s under control. No need to worry.

Me (worrying): Great. What exactly has been progressed so far and what’s still outstanding? Are we on track? What support do you need? I’d like some more information please (This is code for ‘my assurance strategy has not been met, and I don’t feel convinced that you’re on top of what’s happening. I’m not yet comfortable that you and I are on the same page with what’s important, so please give me more information to assuage my fears.’)

Turns out she didn't want to bog me down with unnecessary details and was trying to keep things off my plate (which she was asked to do) and I was trying to understand what was actually going on with the task, and how she was handling it, so I could feel comfortable to really let her run with it.

Her brief responses left me with more answers than questions. Was she snowed under and needed extra support? Was she on top of the tasks and needed more to do? Was she unsure of the process and trying to figure it out on her own?  It didn't matter what scenario was playing out, it only mattered that I had to guess, because guessing is a result of not knowing, and this uncertainty leads to a lack of confidence which results in... You guessed it – micromanagement!

The solution

What I wanted to hear was not just ‘that’ it was under control, but exactly ‘what’ was under control, and in what way. Our working relationship is new. We are still trying to figure each other out. I wanted to understand her thinking process and her activity steps because in order to get to know her capability, and trust her judgement, I need to know more than the fact that something is done. I want to know how it’s done.

So I wanted to hear something like this:

Me: What’s happening with the resource pack for the conference session?

Her: I’m on to it. J I’ve emailed the sponsors for their contributions; drafted the email campaign in Mail Chimp; put the final check in your diary, and I’m now just waiting for the new images from the admin team before I send you the final draft. The draft is on track to be ready for final revision on Tue, which gives us plenty of time for edits before final mail out the following Monday. All of this has been updated in the project blog, found here: xxxx

Me: Brilliant! Sounds like you’re on top of it. Let me know if you need anything.

What’s so great about this reply (remembering that we work together virtually so I don’t see what’s going on without her telling me) is that I get to understand how she’s thinking, how she’s organizing her work, what else she’s thinking about in order to successfully complete the task, and that she has all the details taken care of. And now I won’t ask her again until it’s done, because I’m convinced that she really is on track. She knows what to do; she knows what’s expected.

So we had a conversation about it. I shared this example with her so she could see what I needed in order to feel like she was on top of it, and not just be told that she was on top of it. And it’s beginning to work. We now have a new way of communicating that lets her get on with it, and lets me let her get on with it.

So next time your boss is micromanaging you, take a leaf out of Eloiza’s book and manage up more, so they can manage down less. Find out what your manager needs to hear. Why they need to hear it. How often they need to hear it, and in what medium they prefer to hear it. And if you’re the boss, teach your team member to do the same. Take stock of what information you feel you’re missing, and what you need to hear in order to feel comfortable that everything is on track. Give them the formula to earn your trust.

Until next time..

 

Warm regards, 

Anneli

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Anneli is an author, speaker and communication expert (a.k.a professional People Whisperer), who helps her clients improve their communication, influence and engagement.

She’s obsessed with decoding people dynamics for improved performance and specialises in interpersonal intelligence - the ability to understand and navigate the people dynamics in a given situation.