Reality Check: My boss has started micromanaging me. He constantly asks me for updates. One morning by 10 o'clock I had already received ten e-mail messages from him and it took me an hour and a half just to reply to him requests for updates! This management style has started to affect my sleeping and eating habits and even my self-esteem. Any suggestions on how I can gently bring this up to him?
I asked around my office to see if someone had written this about me! Now that I know we’re talking about someone else I’ll be happy to offer advice.
Micromanaging is almost always a crucial conversation someone is acting out rather than talking out. A leader is feeling nervous or vulnerable and acts it out through incessant hovering and controlling. The result is that the direct report often feels hurt and resentful and acts it out through withdrawal or other displaced hostility. The solution is to talk it out. Unless and until you can have a conversation about trust and autonomy, this game will get worse and worse.
So, here are three pieces of advice I hope will help you and others step up to this kind of crucial conversation.
Tip #1: First, hold the right conversation. Don’t let this get sidetracked into a discussion of how a project is going or other diversions from the real issue. The topics you need to explore thoroughly with your boss are:
- How much confidence do you have in me in my key areas of responsibility?
- What level of communication is both efficient and sufficient between us given your level of trust in me?
If in exploring his confidence you discover there are serious concerns, you can then turn the topic to ways you can create evidence for him that more trust is warranted. If you find he has great confidence but just requires much more communication, move on to the next two tips.
Tip #2: Second, make it safe for your boss (and you). When you open the conversation, head off any misunderstanding he may have of your motives by declaring them candidly. If you fail to do this, he’ll hear you as being critical of him, or worse, wanting to have country club freedom and no accountability. Help him know you just want to be as productive as possible, to feel proud of your work, and to gain his confidence by performing up to expectation. For example, you could use the Contrasting skill as follows:
“Could we talk for a few minutes about how we work together? I’ve noticed a couple of things that are keeping me from being as productive as I can. It’s a bit sensitive, and I worry about sounding like I’m not supportive of you, or that I know better than you how things should be done. I don’t feel that way at all. And yet I think it’s worth talking about because it could help me do a better job for you and create a climate where I can feel good about my work. Would that be okay?”
Tip #3: Finally, Make It Motivating. You can help your boss want to deal with this by sharing concrete examples of how his behavior has created problems he would care about. When you hold a crucial confrontation (confronting gaps between what you expect and what you observe--for example in your boss’s management style) with someone you think won’t care about your concerns, you need to work hard to see how the issue you’re raising is creating problems for him. One of the reasons we’re so ineffective during crucial confrontations is that we’re so absorbed in thinking about how the problem affects ‘us’ that we give no thought to how it’s affecting the other person. Those who are most skilled at crucial confrontations are able to influence others to address their concerns by helping them see consequences they already experience that they can change by changing their behavior. For example:
“I know one thing that’s important to you is that I meet your deadlines. That’s important to me, too. The level of reporting you sometimes ask of me makes that somewhat harder. For example, one morning I had ten requests for updates from you by 10 a.m. I know that’s an extreme example, but it illustrates the point that the hour and a half I spent answering those was time taken from getting the job done.”
“You ask me at times how I like my work. And you know, I really do. But there are times I spend a whole evening in a funk because I think you don’t have confidence in me and I’m not sure how to earn it.”
If you help your boss see how his behavior is creating consequences he doesn’t want, he’ll not only feel safe with you, but he’ll also be more motivated to make changes.
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