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127 | What to do if your boss is a micromanager
Episode 1277th June 2024 • HR Coffee Time • Fay Wallis
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Have you ever felt stifled by a micromanager? Whether you're currently dealing with one or want to help someone else navigate their micromanager boss, this episode of HR Coffee Time is packed with practical advice to improve the situation.


Key Points from This Episode


[00:00] Examples of micromanagement

[01:38] Welcome to HR Coffee Time

[03:00] Micromanagement defined

[03:16] Dealing with micromanagement can feel difficult

[04:24] Advice: start from a place of empathy rather than anger

[05:00] Seek first to understand, then to be understood

[05:14] An example of when Fay micromanaged

[05:51] Causes of micromanagement: lack of management training

[06:15] Causes of micromanagement: stress

[07:17] Causes of micromanagement: lack of trust

[07:45] Examples of calling out micromanaging behaviour

[09:08] Causes of micromanagement: lack of trust, clarity, or process

[09:31] Micromanagement negatively impacts both you and the manager

[10:02] Taking a coaching approach by asking questions can be powerful

[11:45] Pointing out the behaviour is negatively affecting the manager

[12:16] Brené Brown’s idea of ‘paint it done’ from her book, ‘Dare to Lead’

[14:16] Using the 5Ws and 1H questions to help your manager ‘paint it done’

[16:12] Examples of using ‘what’ questions

[17:56] Examples of using ‘where’ questions

[18:46] Examples of ‘how’ questions

[18:58] Examples of ‘why’ questions

[19:13] Examples of ‘who’ questions

[19:28] Examples of ‘when’ questions

[20:44] Other relevant HR Coffee Time episodes to listen to


 

Useful Links


 

Buy the Book Recommendation

(Disclosure: the book links are affiliate links which means that Fay will receive a small commission from Amazon if you make a purchase through them)

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts, by Brené Brown


 

Other Relevant HR Coffee Time Episodes


Looking For the Transcript?


You can find the transcript on this page of the Bright Sky Career Coaching website.



Rate and Review the Podcast


If you found this episode of HR Coffee Time helpful, please rate and review it on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. This video shows you how to rate and review the podcast on Apple Podcasts (because it isn’t very intuitive). If you're kind enough to leave a review, let Fay know so she can say thank you. You can always reach her at: fay@brightskycareercoaching.co.uk.

 


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Transcripts

Fay Wallis:

Speaker: What's the worst example of micromanagement you've experienced or seen in action? I've heard of all sorts throughout my career, whether that's a manager writing down the time when each of their team members goes to the bathroom on a notice board that everyone could see so they could monitor how long people were away from their desk, or a manager insisting on adding full stops to different places in a PowerPoint presentation right in the middle of when the person was trying to present it.

Fay Wallis:

Or a manager asking their team member to run every single email past them before they were allowed to send any of those emails out. Or a manager who completely rewrites every document they've asked their team to work on, so it feels like there wasn't really any point in them delegating the work in the first place.

Fay Wallis:

Micromanagement is something that's been around ever since the concept of management began and it will probably be around in some form or another for the rest of time. There is that famous quote from Marcus Buckingham which is, people leave managers, not companies. And you can absolutely see why when you think about how demoralizing it can be if you're working for a micromanager.

Fay Wallis:

But what if you don't want to leave your job? What if you want to try and get the micromanager to change their behavior and become a great manager instead? Whether you're working for a micromanager right now, or you want to help someone else handle their own micromanager boss. I hope the ideas in this episode are going to help.

Fay Wallis:

Welcome back to HR Coffee Time. I'm your host, Fay Wallis, a career and executive coach with a background in HR and I've created HR Coffee Time, especially for you to help you have a successful and fulfilling HR or people career. Because I know that working in HR can be tough. It's a busy and demanding role where you're the go to person for supporting

Fay Wallis:

everyone else. And you're expected to know what to do in a huge range of situations without ever necessarily having been shown how to handle them before. So this podcast is here to help you take a little bit of time for yourself and get practical tips and ideas that are easy to put into action straight away.

Fay Wallis:

There are three types of episodes on the show, guest episodes with HR and people professionals sharing their experience. And who knows, maybe you'll be a guest on the show one day, if you haven't been already. Interviews with experts in areas relevant to HR and professional development. And then finally, the third type of episode are solo episodes like this one, where I share ideas to help you tackle specific career challenges.

Fay Wallis:

So grab your coffee or favourite hot drink, relax and let's dive into today's episode, where we're focusing on what to do if your boss is a micromanager. I checked and the Cambridge Dictionary definition of a micromanager is a manager who wants to control every part of a situation, project, et cetera, in a way that may not be necessary or may not give enough responsibility to other employees.

Fay Wallis:

If you're being managed by a micromanager at the moment, it can feel hard to know what to do about it. The way to handle it will be personal to you. You know your situation at work better than I do. There are so many different things that can make dealing with behavior like this feel challenging. Maybe you don't like the idea of conflict, or you're worried about hurting their feelings, or you're worried about them losing their temper or that you might not

Fay Wallis:

articulate yourself well enough, or that you might get upset when you talk to them about it. Or it could just be that you're worried about the fact that there's a power imbalance because they are your boss, so theoretically they're in a position of higher power than you. There are endless things that could be contributing to this feeling like a difficult challenge for you, and it means that there isn't one simple easy solution that's going to work in all instances. Unfortunately, there never is, is there?

Fay Wallis:

But I am going to share some ideas with you that I hope you're going to find helpful. If they don't feel like quite the right solution for you, then hopefully they're going to at least help get you thinking about what the right solution could be. My first piece of advice is to start from a place of empathy rather than anger.

Fay Wallis:

And this can feel really counterintuitive, especially if the micromanager has been really irritating you or upsetting you. Just take a few deep breaths, try and take a step back, because it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your manager is just a terrible person, when that probably isn't the case at all.

Fay Wallis:

There's always a reason, or several reasons, sitting behind micromanaging behaviour. I love Stephen Covey's quote of, Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Trying to be curious about what is going on, and what the issues are, can really help you in coming up with an effective plan for addressing the behaviour.

Fay Wallis:

I'm ashamed to admit it, but looking back on when I first had management responsibilities, I know that I micromanaged certain aspects of my team members work. I absolutely cringe, and I nearly didn't put this in because it feels so embarrassing, but I cringe to think of the fact that I pulled them up on their punctuation when they were leaving notes in our customer management system, I was 21 years old, I'd just left university and I had absolutely no idea how to be a manager, what good management looked like or what the point of a manager really was. I'm sure I'm not the only person who will have been in that situation and finds themselves micromanaging because they've never been taught how to manage, whether that's self taught or through formal training, and they're sort of winging it and making all sorts of mistakes without realising.

Fay Wallis:

But other reasons your boss might be behaving in a controlling, micro managing way can be down to things like stress, whether that's fuelled by things happening in work or outside of work, and they're trying to alleviate that stress without realising what they're doing by taking charge of things that they think they can control, as opposed to things that might feel outside of their control.

Fay Wallis:

I'm sure that you'll know what it's like to feel stressed. We all react to it in different ways. And for some people, their default reaction is this controlling behavior. Gently checking in with them, or helping them find ways of getting their stress levels under control, and trying to find ways to support them, could end up being the most effective thing that you could do in a situation like that.

Fay Wallis:

Again, it might feel counterintuitive. They might be being incredibly difficult where they're under stress. But, actually, getting annoyed with them, or trying to be very challenging, and speaking to them directly about things, could potentially blow up because it's not the most effective way of handling it.

Fay Wallis:

So really look out for, is this something that could possibly be going on? Otherwise, it could be that the micromanaging behavior is showing up because your manager has issues trusting members in their team, because perhaps they felt let down by a team member before, or you're new to the team and they think you need extra support while you're settling in, or they haven't got to know you well yet.

Fay Wallis:

So they don't realize your full capabilities and they don't realize how experienced you are. Some behaviour is worth calling out. Having just said, if it's because of stress, that actually calling out directly might not be the best thing to do, in other instances, I do think that it's a good idea. I got called out on my ridiculous insistence that certain punctuation was being used in our customer notes.

Fay Wallis:

One of the people I'd been correcting turned around and said, Does this really matter, Fay? No one apart from us is going to see these. I think the important thing for us to focus on is the service the customer is getting, not the punctuation in the notes that we're writing for our own records. And I could see he looked a bit embarrassed, but also a bit cross, and I was a bit taken aback, but I was really pleased he said that.

Fay Wallis:

I realised I was focusing on something that wasn't important, and I never mentioned the punctuation again. I felt slightly mortified when I realised what I'd been doing. And I should probably point out if you're thinking customer service, didn't you work in HR Fay? That was a role that I did just very briefly for a few months before going into an HR role. The example I gave at the beginning of a manager writing down on a notice board - they got pulled up on their behaviour too.

Fay Wallis:

They were pulled up by a colleague who pointed out that it wasn't a good idea and it wasn't painting him in the best light with everyone in the organisation when he was behaving in that way. And that stopped the behaviour in its tracks, thank goodness.

Fay Wallis:

Other types of behaviour often seem to stem from one of three things, and those three things are a lack of trust, a lack of clarity, or a lack of process.

Fay Wallis:

So I mentioned the trust thing already when I said, oh well maybe something bad's happened in the past, or maybe it's that you're new in your role, but it can be all sorts of reasons that the trust just isn't quite there yet. But the micromanaging will be affecting The manager, negatively, as well as you.

Fay Wallis:

It's not just you who's being impacted by it, I promise you. Because if they're not confident or comfortable delegating work, then they're just going to end up being completely overloaded, which of course then goes into the point about being stressed. Let's go back to the example of the manager who wants to check every email before you can send any out.

Fay Wallis:

Let's go back to that idea of being curious about the lack of trust. And this is where I think taking a coaching approach, so essentially just asking some questions, can be really powerful and effective. So you could say something to them like, I know it's taking you a lot of time to check every email I'm sending, and I also know how much else you've got to do.

Fay Wallis:

What could help you feel you can trust me to write the emails in the best way possible, so you know you can trust me to send them without having to double check them, and you're going to be able to free up your time? If someone who wants an excessive amount of updates and communication about what you're working on, this could also be because of an issue with trust, or it may be that the process in place isn't effective enough.

Fay Wallis:

So again, taking that curious approach, asking questions, could be really helpful. And you could say something like this, I appreciate that you want to know what I'm working on and that this is an important project. Although I'm providing you with updates, I get the sense that these don't feel effective enough because you keep asking me for more.

Fay Wallis:

What can I be doing differently that is going to help you feel you can trust me to handle this project?

Fay Wallis:

So that's tackling the trust piece.

Fay Wallis:

Or what can I change about my communications with you that will help you feel they're as effective as possible?

Fay Wallis:

In both instances, you're trying to open up a conversation about the issue and find a solution in collaboration with your manager, rather than just telling them that they're micromanaging you and they need to stop, because that isn't likely going to work as well Coaching and curious approach is more confrontational and it's not genuinely solutions focused.

Fay Wallis:

You're also considering the challenge from their perspective and pointing out how the behavior is negatively affecting them. It's not just negatively affecting you.

Fay Wallis:

Right, let's move on to focus on a possible solution to addressing micromanaging behavior that is cropping up because there's a lack of clarity.

Fay Wallis:

And this is something that I see happen all the time. This might be something that is happening in particular if you have a manager who ends up completely redoing your work after you've completed it, which as we all know is incredibly demoralizing.

Fay Wallis:

I love a concept that Brené Brown describes in her brilliant book, Dare to Lead. I've talked about Dare to Lead on the show before, it's such a good read.

Fay Wallis:

If you haven't read it before, I'd highly recommend it. And the audio book version is fantastic. She has got a great reading voice. So, um, please do, if you love reading, go ahead and check that book out. In her book, she encourages us to ask our managers to 'Paint it done'. So she's using the idea of painting a picture; that often when we're given a task to do, if we imagine it's a picture, only part of it has been painted in.

Fay Wallis:

So we're just sort of guessing at how everything else should be done. And we're guessing on how the manager wants that painting finished.

Fay Wallis:

She identified that a lot of frustrations can arise because the manager hasn't briefed the person working for them thoroughly enough.

Fay Wallis:

They may not have even thought through the task that they're asking the person to do in quite enough detail yet, but they're not going to have realized any of that. They've got context in their head that they might not be sharing with you and they're just not realizing how important that context is and what a big difference it can make to the outcome because they're probably busy. We're all busy. So by asking them to paint it done, you're asking for your manager to provide a complete picture of what is going to be the perfect outcome for them.

Fay Wallis:

Because of course, if you give them the perfect outcome, and you've asked them what the perfect outcome looks like, it's going to be an awful lot harder for them to start fiddling around with it and completely changing it.

Fay Wallis:

And as they're articulating what Paint it done looks like, they may well realize as they're talking to you that there are important elements they haven't thought through yet, so they can then talk them through with you and that makes it incredibly helpful because it's going to be helpful for them as well as for you as making sure that any work is set up for success.

Fay Wallis:

I think that using the five W and one H questions can be a really good way of helping your manager to do what Brené is suggesting when she talks about asking them to paint it done. And in case you're thinking, what on earth are the 5W and 1H questions, they are what, why, when, where, who and how.

Fay Wallis:

One thing just to mention at this point though is that people can become defensive when they're asked why questions. It makes us feel like we're being questioned about something we might have done wrong and it can raise people's defenses. When we do our coach training we're actually taught to try not to use the word 'why' a lot of the time and we're encouraged to substitute that word with 'what'.

Fay Wallis:

I think the point of using that word why in this context is an important one because you are asking for context. You want to know the purpose behind the work that you're doing and you want to know about context that might be impacting its success.

Fay Wallis:

So I wouldn't start off with a 'why' question. I'd ask it a little later after you've worked your way through the other questions and established that you're not asking these things to be difficult or accusatory, you're asking them to be collaborative and helpful.

Fay Wallis:

To help bring this idea of paint it done and using the five W's and one H to life, let's imagine that you're asked to overhaul the induction process, but you're worried that whatever you come up with isn't going to be good enough in your manager's eyes because they always alter your work.

Fay Wallis:

The exact questions that you might ask them are going to change depending on who you are, what the situation is. There aren't absolute specific questions that you should always ask. Just use that what, who, why, where, how, when framework. Gosh, I'm just remembering it in the wrong order. Use that framework to just try and think of some good questions to ask that are going to be useful.

Fay Wallis:

So let's start with some 'what' questions. Some useful 'what' questions for this situation where you've been asked to improve the induction process could be things like, what do you want me to do? What will be helpful for me to know about this so I can complete it as well as possible? That's a question that should hopefully really get them thinking.

Fay Wallis:

What ideas do you already have about the induction process that you'd like me to consider? Now, I'd just like to pause at this point and I'd say I think this is one of the most useful questions you could ever ask. When I first tried using this framework myself, when I was asked to lead on a project, and I thought, Okay, I'm going to give this a try.

Fay Wallis:

I've heard that asking these questions, what ideas do you already have, can be a really good idea. But I'm not sure it's really going to work. I can still vividly picture me asking that question and being so shocked when the manager gave me a really clear step by step picture of what they had in mind and they looked a bit surprised as well when they came out with it.

Fay Wallis:

It's amazing how giving someone just a second to think can pull out that sort of clarity. And it made it so much easier for me to go ahead and do a project and deliver it that they were happy with. But moving on to the other 'what' questions You can also ask things like what do you think is working well at the moment? What do you think isn't working well at the moment? What does great look like to you? If it's three months time and I bring the new induction process to you, what will make you say to me, you did a great job with that?

Fay Wallis:

Can you see straight away just how powerful this can be?

Fay Wallis:

But let's move along to the 'where' questions.

Fay Wallis:

So some possible 'where' questions could be, where do you think is a good place to start? Or if there's a location aspect to the piece of work, the 'where' questions help identify that. So you might need to know if there's one site or location. that it's going to be piloted in first, or if it's going to apply across all sites, as an example.

Fay Wallis:

Another 'where' question is, where is all our former induction process work held? Are there documents or written processes or things we've used in the past saved somewhere for me to find? Again, an easy one to forget to ask, and then if you've got started on everything and you realise you've not asked that question, it can slow things down and maybe bring out that micromanager behaviour again, so another handy one to ask.

Fay Wallis:

Speaker: Thinking of 'how' questions, you can ask things like, how do you want me to approach this? How do you want me to update you? How do you want it presented? How can I ask you for support if I need it? For some why questions, um, again, don't start off with this, but very important question, why is this important to be focusing on? It would be great to have some context and understand how this fits into our priorities.

Fay Wallis:

For 'who' questions, again, so important and so easy to overlook. Who else should I speak to about this? Who else needs to be involved or have an input? Who are the key stakeholders? Who else is this change of process going to impact?

Fay Wallis:

And then finally, when? When do you want this completed by? And when should we be checking in to have progress updates?

Fay Wallis:

Hopefully, by hearing me talk you through the examples for the 5 W's and 1 H, it's got you thinking that it could be a helpful thing to try. Be prepared for the fact that everything may not go perfectly the first time you use it. You may still end up creating a piece of work that your manager ends up tinkering with, But you'll have built a solid foundation to go back to them on.

Fay Wallis:

Try and keep that curiosity in mind. I know it will be frustrating if they still end up making changes to your work, but you can then go back to them with that curious approach. I can see you're still not completely happy with what I've done because you felt the need to change it. I followed everything you'd briefed me with. What would have made a difference so that you wouldn't have felt the need to change anything at all, so I know what to do next time? You'll get them thinking and reflecting on their behaviour and hopefully manage to move towards a point when their micromanaging behaviour starts to fade away.

Fay Wallis:

Thank you for joining me for this episode of HR Coffee Time. I really hope you found the episode helpful. And that it's given you some good ideas to try out. There are some other HR Coffee Time episodes that you might find useful to listen to next, if you're trying to come up with ideas for working more effectively with your micromanager boss, and they are episode three, which is called building relationships with difficult people at work.

Fay Wallis:

And in that episode, I talk you through the DISC framework. So that looks at how all of us have got different behavioral preferences. So, different ways that we like to behave, different ways that we tend to operate under stress, different things that motivate us, different things that make communicating with us be as powerful and effective as possible.

Fay Wallis:

It's hopefully a helpful episode and one that could be really relevant for you, because it may be that you and your boss have just got very different profiles. And by listening to it, you'll get some ideas for working more effectively with them. Episode 41 is called Three Tips to Build a Better Relationship with a Difficult Person at Work.

Fay Wallis:

And episode 35 is called Helping Teams Thrive with Personal User Manuals. And the idea behind that is about encouraging open conversations across the whole team, where you all get to talk about the ways that you like to work, things like what your ambitions are. Things like what happens if you're feeling stress or things you find difficult or things you're really interested in working on.

Fay Wallis:

So it's just a great way of building trust and connection and psychological safety throughout a team. It may not be something you feel you can broach with your micromanager boss straight away, but perhaps you can. So definitely worth a try. And before I say goodbye, can I ask you for a small favor? If there's anyone you know who you think would find this episode helpful, please do share it with them and encourage them to listen to it because I'd love to help as many people as I possibly can with this free podcast and the ideas in it. Thank you so much. Take care and keep thriving in your HR career. I'm looking forward to being back again soon with the next episode for you.

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