my boss gives me “constructive feedback” multiple times every day

A reader writes:

My very well-intentioned manager loves to give what he calls “in-the-moment constructive feedback.” Multiple times a day he tells me how I could have done something a bit better or how he would have handled a situation differently if he were in my shoes. To me this feels like nitpicking, and it is exhausting. These aren’t situations where my actions have had significant negative consequences or where he has had to step in to fix a problem, they’re just times when I didn’t act 100% perfectly from his point of view.

He has also told me that I’m the highest performer on our team and my performance reviews have been great, so I don’t think it’s just that I’m terrible at my job.

With such frequent feedback, inevitably some of it feels contradictory — sometimes it’s “you should have called that person on the phone instead of sending an email” and sometimes it’s “an email would have been better than a phone call.” Or sometimes it’s “you should have prioritized project X over project Y” and sometimes it’s “why are you working on project X when project Y isn’t done yet?” I’ve asked how I should be deciding on email vs. phone call or deciding which project to prioritize, and he hasn’t been able to help me understand how I should be making these decisions in the future — he only explains why the decision I made was wrong in a particular case.

This constant criticism makes me feel like I can’t do anything right. I’ve started asking for his input before I take action, but he tells me that I need to act independently instead of asking him what to do. We’ve talked about this constant feedback and he says that as my manager, he needs to be able to give me feedback, and that if he were in my shoes, he would be grateful for the feedback so he could keep improving. I get it, and I also want to keep improving, but this isn’t helping me improve — it’s just making me constantly second-guess myself and agonize over everything I do. It’s a miserable way to work.

Do you have any suggestions for how I can help him improve his methods of giving feedback and how I can steer him towards more effective ways of managing? Or is this appropriate behavior for a manager and I just need to learn to take the feedback?

Your manager really sucks. I’m sorry!

If he wasn’t telling you that you’re the highest performer on the team and if your performance reviews weren’t glowing, I’d be worried that you were getting this level of scrutiny and correction because of problems with your work and judgment. I’d still take issue with how your boss is handling it, because if someone truly requires this level of oversight, then their manager needs to address the pattern, not just each individual instance, and figure out a plan for handling it (whether that’s more training, more time if they’re in a new and unusually hard-to-learn role, or concluding the person isn’t right for the job).

But your manager is telling you that your work is great! So this is about him, not you.

He’s a micromanager who doesn’t trust that even his highest performer will do anything right — and to him, “right” looks like “exactly how I would do it myself, down to the smallest detail.”

Not only is it incredibly frustrating and demoralizing to work for someone like this, but the irony is that he’s forfeiting most of the benefit of hiring good people in the first place — which is that they’re force multipliers. Hiring good people, training them well, and then giving them space to do their jobs with a reasonable amount of independent judgment means you’ll get exponentially more done than you will if you insist on controlling every aspect of how someone approaches their job. Giving good people space to manage their work — and to do things differently than you might do yourself as long as their outcomes are good — generally means you get better results, because people who feel ownership over their work and are trusted to experiment and try new approaches tend to come up with new ideas (often better ones than you would have thought of yourself, because that’s the benefit of multiple perspectives), work harder to get the right outcomes, and generally perform at higher levels. They also tend to stick around longer, whereas people who work for managers like your boss tend to get fed up and leave.

Unfortunately, it’s very hard to change this type of manager from below … not impossible, but hard. I suspect yours might be a particularly difficult case because you’ve already tried talking to him about it and he’s told you to be grateful for what he’s doing. So, he’s not exactly open to self-reflection, even when his best employee tells him things aren’t working.

That said, you can try. Often with extreme micromanagers, their behavior stems from a fear that if they back off, they won’t have any way to spot problems or course-correct when it’s really needed. Because of that, if you can propose a system that gives them those things, you can sometimes convince them to try a new approach, like a weekly report that shows them how work is progressing plus regular check-ins so they have a specific time when they know they’ll be able to ask questions and give feedback. (Often they’re more likely to try this if you frame it as a time-limited experiment — “can we try it this way for a month and see how it goes?” — rather than asking them to commit to a permanent change.) Here are a few posts that talk about how to do that:

my boss is a micromanager

can my micromanaging boss be rehabilitated? she makes me take all calls on speaker phone…

help — I work for a micromanager!

However, I’m skeptical it’s going to work with this guy. His corrections are so constant and so micro-level that I’m doubtful he’ll have it in him to back off in the way he should. Typically getting a manager like him to change requires pretty intensive coaching (by a manager above him or by an outside coach). It’s not something you’re likely to have a lot of luck changing from below.

That doesn’t mean you need to just accept it though — this sounds miserable and it rises to the level of things worth changing jobs over.

{ 198 comments… read them below }

  1. Marie*

    I took a job last year where the CEO was like this (small 50ish person consulting firm) and it was EXHAUSTING and toxic AF. I left after six months because I could not deal with feeling like every choice I ever made was going to be wrong since I couldn’t read this dude’s mind!

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Had a somewhat similar experience. Didn’t get this level of “feedback,” but it felt like I was constantly doing little things wrong. So I’d be agonizing over tiny things, like whether I was allowed to send an e-mail or how to word something. It was miserable and kept me from getting stuff done.

      1. rayray*

        It can also affect you in future jobs. It’s still a work-in-progress at times to learn how I can work in an actual functional workplace after working for a micromanager that was absolutely insane. I have tried to find my comments on Friday open threads from when I worked there, the lady was CRAZY.

        It was weird when I started at my current job and I could just….email as I needed to and didn’t have to CC my boss – I actually have my OWN email with my name and not crazyladysatan’, I don’t have to print everything to go in a binder, I can use the size of paperclips I chose….

        I still will struggle at times and worry if something won’t be *exactly* what my boss wanted, but I don’t get yelled at here. I actually do have autonomy in how I do my job and it was hard to get used to even if it was a nice change.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          I feel that. I was only in that situation for like 3 months and have just had one month at a new job. And yeah, I still get very worried about overstepping, even though I haven’t had any negative feedback about it and my current boss has said what I’ve done is fine when I’ve asked her.

        2. Sunshine Gremlin*

          Oh my goodness, I’m working on getting out of a situation like this.

          The paperclip thing is what made me reply though, in my first month, I had to collect every small paperclip from a 10,000 square foot warehouse with four office suites and throw them away because only the jumbos were acceptable.

        3. Bowserkitty*

          I can use the size of paperclips I chose….

          Oh my gosh, memory unlocked. To this day I’ve been trained into my subconscious that there are bad and good paper clips.

        4. Reluctant Mezzo*

          I worked for that person! She kept losing reports and sadly, never quite realized why. But Because Reasons, she had to have *one* and she went through six people before finding someone who could read her mind.

          Then she retired. I guess she thought her work was done.

    2. Snow Globe*

      I suspect that even if the LW could read this guy’s mind, he’d still have something to criticize. It sounds to me like he believes it is *his* job to provide constructive criticism, so he will always suggest a different way of doing things, even if what the LW did was exactly how he would have done it.

      1. Ama*

        Yeah reading this letter reminded me of a VIP donor I used to have to deal with at a previous job (the foundation she ran funded the vast majority of our operating budget and the director did not do a great job maintaining boundaries between her and the staff), who I finally realized just needed to make SOME suggestion to any project you showed her, even if there wasn’t actually anything wrong. This epiphany happened when I showed her the org newsletter I was putting together and she looked at a photo taken underwater in the Mediterranean (which was the crowning jewel of that issue, we rarely had relevant photos that were that cool) and asked if I could make it “less blue.”

        From that point on if her suggestion was easy to implement or one she’d definitely notice if I didn’t, I’d do it, but most of the time I’d just say something like “I’ll see what I can do” or “I’ll keep that in mind for next time” and then do whatever my actual boss wanted. OP unfortunately doesn’t have that option since the problem is the actual boss but I suspect he might also just want you to act like you are taking his advice to heart more than he notices if you act upon it.

        1. Sally*

          Yeah I think this might be the key, to take it less personally, just nod and act appreciative of the input but also use your judgment on if it’s just him trying to get his oar in or if it’s something more substantive that you need to note for the future. It sounds like it makes him feel like he is being a good mentor to have constant input, and to him it’s more about the back and forth than anything actually substantive that he wants OP to do differently.

          1. Aldabra*

            As an animal trainer, I’d suggest “gray rock”ing this instead. I would definitely not reinforce unwanted behavior with a smile and a nod. At best, a stare and a neutral face. Preferably no eye contact, but then he’d probably accuse OP of ignoring him, which, yeah. And I would ignore him. If he questioned why I didn’t do A before B, I’d say “You told me to do B before A yesterday,” even if he didn’t – I guarantee this guy can’t remember his own “suggestions.”

            1. SweetLittleButtercup*

              Just adding my support for grayrocking.

              This manager sounds like my parents, so I’ve had a lifetime of dealing with folks like this. It’s not you; it’s how they perceive the nature of power and/or what their role entails, and it often comes from a deep insecurity that’s really not your problem to address.

              If it’s not the right time to leave for better pastures (or if, like me, it’s your actual family), just be polite. Nod, make mild affirmative noises if required, limit eye contact, and carry on with your day. Don’t give it your energy because it’s not really about you at all.

      2. S*

        Yes, this was my thought too. I made myself crazy many years ago, trying to figure out EXACTLY what my boss wanted (down to bullet styles) and even documenting all of it, so I’d get it right every single time, and every single frickin’ time she’d suggest a change. Eventually I realized that she thought that suggesting changes was her job. So I’d do an adequate job, hand it to her, implement her inevitable changes, and move on with my life!

        1. I Need Coffee*

          I worked for a manager like this. She insisted on reading everything I wrote and it always came back with at least one edit (for word choice not for meaning). My a-ha moment was when I used a letter she had written previously, changing only the recipient name, and she still made changes to wording. It was definitely her issue not mine, and that realization made the situation more tolerable for me.

          1. RG*

            I’m getting SUCH flashbacks to a previous manager of mine. Same sort of deal as with the OP and with I Need Coffee–my manager would tell me to use Word X instead of Word Y in a certain context. I would note this in my OneNote notebook of “things boss wants done a certain way.” The next communication I wrote, I’d make sure to use Word X. Then when my manager reviewed it (and they ALWAYS had to review it), it would come back with the note “You should use Word Y in this context.” The one time I wrote back and was like, “Hey, you previously said to use Word X here, am I missing something?” I got a very hand-wavey explanation that still ended with me being wrong.

            OP, I would make friends with your skip-level manager. Not in a going-over-your-manager’s-head way or a complainy way, but just make sure they’re looped in on the work you’re doing. With my manager, I ended up on a coaching plan that sounded legit on paper but that really boiled down to “RG doesn’t do everything exactly how I would do it.” My skip-level was fairly new to the team and didn’t have any context beyond what they heard from my manager. I ended up with a new manager not long after, and that manager was baffled as to why I was on a coaching plan in the first place.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I worked with an engineer who was supposed to confirm that no specs had changed since his team gave them to documentation…..and he would mark grammar ‘errors’ that were matching our in-house style guide. My manager suggested inserting extra spaces for him to mark instead, and I was kind of disgruntled that it worked.

      3. Butterfly Counter*

        Yes, exactly what I was thinking. It’s basically Monday morning quarterbacking in a work setting. He probably WOULD have done just exactly what OP did, but since there is a different avenue that isn’t necessarily wrong, he’ll suggest doing that instead next time just so he feels like a boss who is giving good advice to his employees.

        LW isn’t doing anything wrong that needs correction. The manager just doesn’t feel like he’s doing his job unless he’s correcting someone, so he throws out all of the “what if” scenarios after the fact.

        I’d suggest ignoring all of this feedback unless and until you start to see consistent patterns in the manager (he REALLY wants you to call vs. email, Project X is all hands on deck, etc.).

        1. Panhandlerann*

          It becomes like some strange version of the boy who cried wolf: if he on some occasion really does have useful feedback, one wouldn’t be able to discern when that was amid all the useless stuff.

        2. MassMatt*

          If LW emails, the boss says LW should have called. If she calls, the boss says LW should have emailed. It sounds nutty, and I can’t blame the LW for getting demoralized. The only way I could handle a boss like this is looking at it as a bizarre sociology experiment.

      4. Hannah Lee*

        Some people don’t understand there’s a difference between “continuous improvement”/”constructive feedback” and constantly nitpicking, expecting others to overthink, optimize every action and interaction … no matter whether or not it has a material impact on the quality, speed or quantity of work that gets done. The first is fine in reasonable amounts at the right time in place. The second is maddening, stressful, counterproductive and will likely cause employees to either nope out of there to better jobs or become deer in the headlight, waiting for manager’s okay to do anything workers.

        When I’ve run into, it’s been either down to know-it-all’s who can’t imagine their way isn’t the only way (not great to work for) or managers who can’t or don’t want to do the higher level functions of managing (strategy and planning and change management, personnel management, systematic monitoring of work results, identifying and clearing barriers, obtaining and allocating resources, improving high-level workflows, etc) Instead they hover in their comfort zone, hyper-managing minutia, low impact stuff.

        Neither one is fun to work for, and both can be a challenge to manage while you’re stuck with them and actually undermine your professional development.

      5. TrainerGirl*

        I had this boss. Every time a document was sent to him, he’d immediately reply with “It needs so much work”. When he published it, you’d need a microscope to find his changes.

      6. Totally Minnie*

        Yeah, I had a boss like this in a past job, and in her case I don’t think it was that she was a micromanager. She wanted to be seen as a problem solver, so she was constantly on the look out for problems she could be seen solving. With that mindset, it was really hard for her to give unqualified praise. There always had to be a problem, because how else could she solve it? It was completely demoralizing and I only lasted about a year and a half with her.

      7. goddessoftransitory*

        This exactly. I find this kind of “well intentioned” as opposed to actively malicious micromanager really thinks that it is their job to ALWAYS find corrections to make, and if they don’t, they’re the one messing up.

    3. YeppyYeps*

      I feel you, and when I worked for a version of this, he was also undermining me behind my back as well (and I feel like the micromanaging was also a way to undermined me as well, but who can prove it, eh?). Being the subject matter expert made it 100 times horrible.

      Anyway, I gained like 40 lbs working for that dude for about a year and a half and I no longer work for that company. OP, if you can feasibly do it, RUN.

    4. glitter writer*

      I am right now at a smallish firm (75 people, more or less) where the CEO is like this, and if I am very lucky I will not have to stay more than six months. It’s been less than two months and I’m absolutely worn out.

    5. The Starsong Princess*

      He wants you to walk on eggshells, constantly striving for his approval. Get out as soon as you can.

  2. Need More Sunshine*

    Ugh, how frustrating! OP, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. Your boss doesn’t seem to understand he’s getting the opposite impact that he’s looking for here. The only other thing you may be able to try when talking to him is again is laying out exactly the impact you’ve described here – that you understand the intent and are always open to feedback, but that the feedback he’s giving isn’t actionable because it’s contradictory and there’s no clear pattern that you can improve upon.

    1. Lana Kane*

      Agreed, and also that he is “feedbacking” OP on things that are ultimately choices that people make when they work independently (like he says he wants). If people are going to do that they will have their own style and preferences. So either she works independently, or she asks him -every time-, but it doesn’t work both ways.

    2. sookie st james*

      I agree with this, and unfortunately coaching on what appropriate feedback is needs to come from top-down – he’s just going to think the OP is being defensive otherwise.

      OP – Is there any chance you could talk to him about changing the format of the feedback rather than the content of it? Emphasize that you really value and appreciate feedback but your working styles are a bit different and you find it hard to absorb feedback in a constructive way when it’s coming through in little comments. Ask if instead he would be up for a weekly check-in, where you can update him on projects and he aggregates all his feedback from the week into one session?

      Now I know that sounds awful, like a standing date to be besieged by criticism, but I’m hoping it’ll either a) force HIM to take stock of the sheer volume of criticisms he’s directing at his supposed star-performer and re-evaluate, or b) that he’s not actually likely to remember (or feel as passionate about) every last thing he’d have done differently.

      And at least you’d be able to get some work done without the constant negative interactions plaguing every move you make, which you definitely don’t deserve

      1. ferrina*

        One thing that stuck out was that the manager was claiming this is “feedback”, but he’s missing the positive feedback. I give my team a constant stream of feedback, but a lot of it is “Awesome, this looks great!” “Really appreciate how much thought you put into this!” “Oh, this is a clever way to approach this!” These are all valuable feedback

        If I were coaching this guy, I’d suggest Stoplight feedback method.
        Green- Keep Going. What is the team member currently doing really well?
        Yellow- Change Course. What needs to be tweaked?
        Red- Stop. What needs to be stopped?
        There should only be one or two items under each category (and if you have 2 yellow and 2 red and 1 green, then you either giving feedback to your lowest performer or you haven’t balanced your feedback properly)

        Honestly, I doubt this guy will change. He either feels like “leadership” is the same as critiquing, or he makes himself feel superior by critiquing others and putting them down. Either way, nothing LW will be able to do.

      2. AngryOctopus*

        This could be key! If he’s saying in the moment “You need to prioritize X over Y!”, if you can get him to a weekly meeting where you show the progress you made on X and Y and how they’re both on track (including details like due dates, just so he can’t say “well remember that X is due first so you have to work on it more!!”) to be finished on or before time, this can deflate a lot of the little stuff. You can even say things like “followed up with Client A by email as requested”, so he can’t say “well you should call Client A!”. It’s worth a shot! And if you give it a little time and it doesn’t change, time to dust off the old resume.

  3. Zombeyonce*

    LW, are you able to push back on why he has so much information on the day-to-day drudgery of your job, like whether you sent an email or called or how you handled a particular issue? Is he requiring he be CCed on everything, or requiring a play-by-play of her day all the time? My own manager wouldn’t know most of this information in the first place to “correct” me on it, and we’re both happier that way. She doesn’t have the time to follow my work so closely.

    If he currently gets copied on all emails and sent some kind of status report (or has constant 1:1s), can you tell him that’s cutting into your ability to find time to get work done and ask to reduce that? Bring up that he himself has said you’re his top performer and ask if he can trust you to handle this basic stuff on your own without such close oversight. If that works, you could expand it to more of your work.

  4. Happy meal with extra happy*

    I’ve never been a formal manager, but I’ve been in positions where I’ve had to give directions to people, and they were there to support my work. I generally worked with awesome people, but sometimes they did something where my immediate thought was “oh geez, why the heck would you do it that way?” And then I had to tell myself that 1) they couldn’t read my mind for how exactly I wanted things done, 2) their work was perfect 95% of the time , and 3) they didn’t cause any issues with how they did it. And I so I just would let it go, and I’d be over it by the end of the day.

    1. peacock limit*

      Yeah, I think this was the hardest thing for me when I transitioned to being a supervisor. My way doesn’t have to be the right way. It wasn’t easy (especially because my employee was hired to carry on projects I had created), but I learned to let things go when someone achieved a similar quality result in a different way.

      1. Dinwar*

        The way I did it was twofold.

        First, I came to realize that I’m not getting all the data. I can’t–I have three teams running around today, with between one and twelve people on each, and it’s a light day for me. Plus I’m dealing with the fallout from last month’s work and trying to get together next month’s work. That’s too much information coming in for one person to handle. So I look at the information I need, or that I need to pass on, and focus on that. I’ll give advice if asked, and will step in if there’s something egregiously wrong (or tremendously right), but for the most part I needed to accept that I don’t get to know certain stuff.

        Second, the stuff I DO need to know, I made sure to make clear. We use a lot of forms and templates and the like, and we set up a training method for getting people to actually use them the way we need. That’s where I focus my feedback. As long as your methods are within the (fairly broad) range of acceptable options, that’s your choice; just get me the data I need, in the format I need it, when I need it.

  5. Madame X*

    I wonder if it would help to write down every single criticism he gives you over the course of a week. Then, have a meeting with him were you present this problem and show him instances where his criticism is contradicting. With this evidence, it might be easier to introduce the idea of him trying to step back a little bit from criticizing you every day and instead to only provide feedback if he notices a pattern of behavior where there needs to be an improvement. You can emphasize the fact that he has told you repeatedly that you are one of the best performers and that your work is well received.

    Of course, all of this will depend on whether or not you think he would be willing to listen to you on this, but I think it might be worth a try.

    1. Clefairy*

      Honestly, I am getting a strong vibe of “can dish it but cannot take it” from OP’s boss, and I would worry approaching it this way would immediately make their boss defensive and super offended- which, yes, is hypocritical, but I’d be worried about the repercussions for OP. The fact that they already had a convo and it got shut down hard makes me think it’s better to not put more energy into solving this problem and just finding a new job

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I agree and disagree at the same time. I suspect OP doesn’t much care at this point if they make their boss defensive so it might be worth one last-ditch effort to get boss to see how ridiculous he’s being. But at the same time, I agree that even if the conversation changes some of how boss acts, there will always be this underlying anxiety about when boss will revert back to his old ways and this feeling that boss doesn’t trust OP, and that’s why looking for a new job with a good boss is probably the best solution.

        1. Madame X*

          This is my line of thought as well. Trying this method would be a last ditch effort, because the only other piece of advice I would have for her would be to find a new position. The best way to change how your boss manages you is to change your boss.

      2. Seahorse*

        Yes, I had a boss years ago with similar tendencies. I wasn’t experienced enough to handle it well, and they had no business being in charge of anyone. They were particularly disorganized and liked to blame everyone else for that, especially when things didn’t go according to plan.

        Eventually, I got fed up enough to say, “Boss, when I email you, you don’t read it; when I tell you something in person, you forget; when I call, you don’t answer or check your voicemail; when I put something on your desk, it gets buried immediately. Then you accuse me of not completing projects or not getting the answers you asked for. How exactly am I supposed to communicate with you??”

        It did not go over well, and nothing changed.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      DUDE! Yes. Said the same thing. If my boss were giving me criticism that includes, do this not that and then do that, not this, I’d have to sit down and clarify.
      It might not change anything, but he opened this can of worms, he can clean it up.
      “you should know…”
      “I understand that, and I feel awkward asking, but I do not know how to determine when to call Bob and when to email. You clearly have guidelines in your mind, can you please list them for me?” and wait.

      1. rayray*

        I did something similar to my micromanager boss. She had an employee manual for me that was nearly 200 pages in Microsoft Word. In that manual, I was instructed that if someone called for the Grandboss to ask for the Caller’s name, number, info etc and to ask if I could take a message and then take that to her once the call had ended, rather than patch the call through to her. One day, an important phone call was coming into him for a board he served on. He was not in office, but he would be taking the call where he was. I was not informed of this, so I attempted to do as instructed. The caller refused to give me any information, rather just huffed in annoyance. I sent my boss an email to let her know someone called for Grandboss but refused to let me take a message. She then yelled at me that it was an important call and I should have gotten her immediately. I just said “The manual states to do x when someone calls, so that is what I did. If the manual is incorrect, would you like me to update it?”

        Turns out, there was a mixup on the caller’s end where they hadn’t been given the information to call Grandboss at the place where he was. Not my fault, and I genuinely had tried to get the caller to give me more info so I could help. If he had said “We had a phone call scheduled” I would have alerted my boss, but he was just acted like a jerk and wouldn’t tell me anything.

        1. Kammy6707*

          I see you worked for someone similar to an old CEO of mine! I worked at an animal shelter and our CEO had a firm rule that if his door was closed, you were not to disturb him. Ever.

          So one day a fancy-pants donor comes in with their child, who would like a tour of the facility. My boss (Fundraising Director) was out and the CEO’s door was closed, so I was the only one available to give a them a tour (Assistant to Fundraising Director). The CEO finally came out of his office like a hour after they left, found out what happened and reamed me out for not knowing that was a time to “be assertive” and knock on his door. (He was mad he missed a chance to brown-nose.)

          Create a culture of fear and reap what you sow, dude!

      2. irene adler*

        Weeeellll, I watched our CFO do this sort of thing with the order entry person. Every. Single. Time. the order entry person did anything, the CFO was right there with “you should have done it differently” criticism.

        In fact, the order entry person would write down Every. Single. Instruction. the CFO issued to her. Spoiler: after order entry person was fired, we found cabinets, drawers, etc., stuffed to the brim with dozens of paper tablets, every page filled with nothing but instructions uttered by CFO. She tried to show these tablets to the CFO to illustrate how her instructions were confusing. She was told the instructions weren’t that difficult to follow; try harder.

        But then the CFO COULD give you a reason for each of the differing instructions.
        If you should have emailed instead of telephoned:
        Well, Thursdays we don’t have shipping, so they need written notification of the order to work on for Friday.

        BUT! If Don is working on Thursday, he doesn’t check emails, so you have to telephone.

        However, Don may not be at his desk, so go find him when the orders from Customer X come in.

        But don’t bother him with orders from Customer Y (remember, this applies only on Thursdays!) because it is too late in the week to ship to Customer Y. Unless they request an overnight shipment. Then wait for Customer Y to approve the additional cost before letting Don know.

        If Don is not in on Thursday, email, like I said. But if there is a rush order, telephone. But if they don’t answer, go out to shipping and find someone. Only, don’t ask Tom to handle rush orders. Let Harry handle those.

        Include the special documentation for Customer Z. But don’t do this for Customers W and A because it would be too much work and they don’t make enough purchases to justify going to the trouble.

        Customer B also requires the extra special documentation- unless- they only order the llama dust. But if they order anything else, they need triple copies of the documentation. Unless they just order one item in addition to the llama dust. Then just give them one copy. But don’t print the one copy on the dot matrix printer or they will know there are additional copies available.

        On and on….

        Our order entry person was fired because she could not follow instructions. She said it was a relief. I’m sure it was.

        No one was hired to replace her.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          And CFO knew all this and thought it was OK.
          How about supporting your own team?
          What an ass.

        2. an infinite number of monkeys*

          It’s perfectly simple. If you’re not getting your hair cut, you don’t have to move your brother’s clothes down to the lower peg. You simply collect his note before lunch, after you’ve done your scripture prep, when you’ve written your letter home, before rest, move your own clothes onto the lower peg, greet the visitors, and report to Mr. Viney that you’ve had your chit signed.

    3. Littorally*

      Agreed, I think gathering data on exactly how often/in what way he’s doing this would be hugely useful. My guess is that he doesn’t really place a ton of weight on each piece of feedback — he’s not looking at the overall pattern at all, just in the moment discussions. So bringing the full picture to him could be really useful.

      If he isn’t particularly interested in listening, it might be more helpful to frame it as — “I’m trying to bring my work more in alignment with your expectations, but I’m having trouble following the logic. Here, you told me to call rather than email, and here, you told me to email rather than call — can we discuss how you would divide between these situations and make that distinction?”

      My money is on him doing it as a reactive thing — calling this person didn’t go well because they don’t like talking on the phone, and with the information that was gained only by making the call, it’s now clear that emailing would have worked better, so he gives the feedback to the OP that they should have emailed without considering that they had no way of knowing that until they did it. And he’s not thinking about it as policy or practice, only as “this situation would have been better via email.” That’s been my experience with this kind of feedback.

    4. JCarnall*

      I actually agree with Alison (shocker!) that the only way forward is to change jobs. Your micro-managing manager is never going to stop.

      But it might help you to get a notebook – a large one, but not so large you can’t take it with you everywhere – and every time he offers some kind of negative feedback, write it down.

      Put down the date and time and write down his exact words. Maybe even ask him to repeat them, just to be sure that you’ve got them down accurately. Nod, smile, thank him very much for the useful feedback, and move on.

      You probably don’t ever need to look at this book again. But if he asks you why you’re doing this, tell him his feedback is invariably useful and important and helpful and you want very much to have a written record to refer back to.

      Two things will certainly happen. One is, if he’s required to let you write down exactly what he says to you, it will slow him down. He can hardly complain that you’re taking note of all of his “feedback”, but it might mean he ends up giving you less of it.

      Second, you will have a contemporary written log of the fact that he spends so much time every day telling you that you are doing everything wrong and that’s why you left, should anyone at the company want to know why. (You probably can’t use these notes outside of your current employment, but you certainly could hand them to your manager’s manager when you leave.)

      And who knows – maybe the sight of you, whenever he starts one of his “just giving you some feedback” lectures, picking up your notebook, opening it, writing the day’s date and the time, and then writing down word for word just what he’s said to you, might put him off doing it when he realises how completely over-the-top he is being.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        “You don’t have to write this down! You should be able to remember it.”
        Well, until I do, I’d prefer to have a reference, tool.

  6. Richard Hershberger*

    Frankly, I would simply tune him out. What I wonder is if, when you email and he says you should have phoned, would have say you should have emailed if you had phoned? I suspect so. This is not constructive criticism. Is is barely even criticism, though it is couched that way. It is talking to hear himself talk.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I agree that if OP continues to work there, these are the types of approaches she should use. Like recommendations for overbearing parents, you can say, “thanks, I’ll think about that” or “okay, thanks for letting me know” and then let it roll off your back. It’s not for everybody but some people can still thrive.

    2. Clefairy*

      Yup, I agree with this approach. Just know that no matter what OP does, there’s going to be something to nitpick, so just cheerfully say thanks, and don’t actually worry about changing small things unless the overarching glowing feedback starts taking a hit

    3. Not that other person you didn't like*

      Yes. This. Since performance reviews are good, I’d just “thanks, I’ll consider that” and “OK, thanks for the feedback” and then just ignore him. Like completely ignore him. Don’t share your reasoning, don’t ask his permission, just rock on with your stellar performance.

      In fact, I have a grand-boss who sometimes does this and I realized that it doesn’t actually have anything to do with me so now it doesn’t bug me as much.

    4. rusty*

      Absolutely this. There’s no way to meet these shifting standards, so unless he starts giving the same feedback consistently about the same thing (in which case maybe it genuinely does need to change), just nod and smile and treat it as background noise. I bet he doesn’t even remember what feedback he’s given from one day to the next. He’s just saying stuff because he thinks that’s his job.

  7. The Eye of Argon*

    Argh, my mother was like this. Every decision I made got questioned or criticized and as a result I spent way too much of my life terrified of making a decision about anything. Go ahead, ask me and my siblings where we want to go for dinner. We’ll play the “I don’t know, where do you want to go?” game until the cows come home.

    For your own peace of mind, please try to find another job before this guy drives you straight up bananacrackers.

    1. MicroManagered*

      Ugh this letter poked my “mother wound” too! My partner and I also get stuck in “I don’t know, where do you want to go?” feedback loops sometimes, so we’ve learned to specifically say when we’re looking for the other person to decide.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Oh yeah, my dad would shoot down every suggestion for dinner, so to this day my mother and I refuse to pick a restaurant. Even amongst ourselves, it’s still a problem.

      I note that the last time I had to suggest a restaurant, it went like this:
      Mom’s boyfriend: “Where do you want to eat?”
      Me: “I want Chinese.” (Note: I actually asserted. I usually don’t.)
      Mom: “Whatever you want to do.”
      Mom’s boyfriend: “I’m not really liking any of the Chinese places in town right now.”
      We ended up with Thai.

      Seriously, life is just easier if you let someone else pick the food.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Keep fighting the good fight. You are getting there. (seriously, if he wanted Thai he should have said so. Ugh.)

        1. Aggretsuko*

          Nah, he said he just wasn’t happy with the quality of the Chinese food restaurants in town lately. Thai was the compromise suggestion.

          That said, next time I say “you pick,” again.

    3. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      Likewise! My mom is so good at this that I didn’t even realize that she did it (or that I had picked up the habit to a much lesser degree) until I got married (at 30) and my husband started complaining about helping her in the kitchen (or do anything else). He loves to cook and he’s skilled, but debating the size of the red pepper dice after the red pepper has already been diced does no one any good, and yet we’ll do it every visit, without fail.

  8. Sloanicota*

    I find this comes from bosses who view employees as “another set of hands.” This is definitely the mindset of my current boss. She wants people to work for her so she can have them do exactly what she would do if she had more time, but she doesn’t. It sounds harmless, but that’s actually already on the wrong track when you’re hiring anyone – you have to be open to what your employees can offer and let them share their strengths with you, not view them as a programmable robot that would make all the same choices you do.

    1. Lana Kane*

      That makes total sense, I’l remember that perpective because I think it’s very common, but hard to articulate.

    2. a*

      OMG that is exactly what I have right now. Boss wants me to do exactly what they would do if they had a clone and could be doing two things simultaneously, versus recognizing that I am a different person with different perspectives, strengths, and knowledge. Esp as you get more senior, it is hard to function when you’re expected to a mimic versus a professional.

    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I agree he sees the OP as an extension of himself rather than an independent adult human. He’s already indicated he thinks she should be grateful for all of his attention, so no amount of feedback to him will alleviate it. I think his goal is to keep her off balance…it’s a feature, not of a bug of his micromanaging.

      OP: “This undermines my self confidence!”
      Boss: “Perfect, I have you right where I need you to keep my own superiority secure! By the way, I would have used the word esteem, not confidence. You’re welcome.”

    4. Perhaps Relevant*

      Great insight. I think this absolutely was the case with the president of a very small company that I worked for years ago. Probably not coincidentally, the longest term employees — who included the vice president — were those who had joined as junior staff and worked their way up, having been trained to see things/do things as the president did. Churn was really high among mid-level, mid-career staff like me who came in from outside the firm.

      Like the OP’s boss, they also meant well and probably saw their micromanaging (which they never denied) as “making clear the high standards that we abide by” and ensuring consistency in company product. What actually happened is that I felt undermined and not trusted to make the decisions that I thought I’d been hired to make.

  9. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    I think the key to keeping your sanity until you find a new job is to throw it back on him.
    Yes, you will be wasting time in addition to the time he wastes telling you what he would have done, but it might have some benefit to clearly illustrate his ambiguous comments.’
    “You should have called Bob about the X.”
    make a note, call about X.
    “You should have emailed about X.”
    I noted on day, that you wanted me to call Bob about X. Should I not call Bob or not call about X.
    “You should be know what to do.”
    Yeah, guess that’s why I’m not in charge, you absolute grapefruit.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          No joke, I’ve called in “not purple” because it’s my favorite color and my boss said she hoped I’d be back to purple soon.
          But she’s pretty grape overall.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Thank you. The other day my friend texted me a particularly enraging link about a particularly enraging individual. I was beyond words so I was going to reply with a pic of Absolut and another of a fire hydrant. But the second image was a bottle of Absolut Grapefruit.
        I’ve used it a lot over the last few days.
        So enjoy!

  10. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    I’m cynical about stuff like this, so when I encounter it, I almost always think it’s because the person is playing mind games to try to flex power. The contradictions in particular flag as mind-game tactics. The fact that you’re exhausted by it means it’s working as intended.

    Start letting some of this stuff roll off your back. And don’t be afraid to push back by calling out the contradictions in the moment – “That’s interesting, since it’s in direct contradiction to what you told me last time. Can you clarify?” This is a signal that you know what’s up and won’t be as easy to manipulate as they might have assumed. Good luck. I hope you can get them to knock it off.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Yes, I don’t know how far along in her career OP is, but this is not a healthy, functional dynamic. It will affect you. Even if you let it roll of your back, your boss is the broken the stair. You will step around him to get where you are going, but it is still going to throw your spine out of whack.

    2. Zombeyonce*

      I generally assume good intent. This could easily be the manager thinking he really is making a difference in a good way by telling her what she should have done/what he would do, just being so dense that he doesn’t catch how the effect is the opposite of his intent.

      1. EPLawyer*

        That’s where I land. He read a book or took a course on management that said make sure you provide feedback to your employees so they always know where they stand with you. The POINT of that is to make sure no one is blindsided if they are suddenly let go for poor performance. Or they know what needs to be done if they want to be promoted.

        What THIS boss took from it is — ALWAYS HAVE FEEDBACK TO PROVIDE. So he is reduced to stupid stuff like I would have emailed rather called.

        But ultimately the WHY doesn’t matter. Unless OP thinks he is going to change if she lays out the pattern of behavior, getting out is the only solution.

        1. Littorally*

          Definitely agreed. His language around “I need to be able to give you feedback” is actually something that Alison has said pretty much verbatim, and really feels like an answer out of management training that’s not actually applicable in this situation.

        2. rusty*

          Yeah, this is my read. I had a manager who thought every meeting had to end with at least one action for everyone to take away and complete. So if nothing needed doing, he’d make up actions anyway. We just ignored the bananapants ones and he never checked back in to see if we did them.

    3. Happy meal with extra happy*

      I don’t think it’s such an intentional mind game for most people. I think managers just don’t realize/forget that their employees are people who are going to make their own informed decisions and choices about how to handle their work duties, and it’s impossible to train someone to do everything exactly like you do. There is definitely a lack of trust involved.

      It all makes me appreciate an old boss I had who would review stuff for substantive issues but would say that their may have been stylistic choices he would have done differently, but my choices were perfectly fine.

    4. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I tend to think this is one of those people who cannot put themselves in someone else’s shoes at all, and so doesn’t understand that his way might be A right way but it is not THE right way.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Do not attribute to malice what can be explained by self absorption. Truly. He thinks he’s helping. But even with the best of intent, it will still warp OP’s view about management, her judgment and functional offices.

    5. allathian*

      Yeah, I don’t think it’s necessarily intentional, but then I don’t usually assume malice when the behavior can be explained by a lack of self-awareness.

      This manager seems to be so stuck in the detail and in the overall idea that their job as a manager is to give (critical) feedback that they aren’t seeing the big picture, and certainly not from the LW’s point of view. And that they’re so unaware of themself that they don’t see the contradictions of being really positive in performance reviews (the LW’s doing a great job) and constantly criticizing their work multiple times a day, often with contradictory instructions.

  11. irene adler*

    OP, watch out that this treatment doesn’t erode your self-confidence (been there, done that).

    In fact, if the behavior cannot be altered, get an escape plan together.

    1. Molly Hooper*

      This. So much this. My current boss is like this, and his constant needling has destroyed a lot of the confidence I’d built up over my career. It’s so disheartening and I sympathize!

    2. rayray*


      OP is probably doing a fine job, but the constant criticism will wear anyone down.

      1. Welcome to the boat*

        This is me! My “learned helplessness” has become so strong I can no longer make what used to be routine decisions. I once ran the equivalent of 3 departments where I am now, and I don’t have the agency anymore to so much as say where a comma should go.

        It is debilitating and has played havoc with any skills I ever had. I’m probably unemployable after this.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          This is me too. I have two drafted emails to AAM about this topic that I haven’t sent and probably never will, but management literally nitpicks every single tiny thing I say and do, and after the last punishment meeting I’m pretty sure they’re just writing down on the side every tiny offense. They save them up and then vent them at me. They are so easily offended at EVERYTHING. My therapist says I’m the scapegoat. I don’t think anyone else I deal with is MORTALLY OFFENDED at the tiny infractions that I get written up for. But hoo boy, I cannot push back and my reputation is in the shitter anyway.

          1. Welcome to the boat*

            I am so sorry! No one deserves this.

            I got thrown under the bus so bad (in front of the Board of Directors!) last week and I think you’re right – people need a fall person to take all the hits. For some reason, we’re it. It’s neither fair nor right.

            1. Aggretsuko*

              I’m weird and quiet and easily picked on/bullied and there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s not like I can start yelling or punch someone in the nose (or bite) to get them to stop. It IS absolutely okay to treat me like that, especially since my reputation is so bad.

  12. rayray*

    I’d be looking for something else if it were me. I worked for a micromanager like this before, and it is exhausting. They’re not likely to change. In my first or second week, I was told I used the wrong size of paperclips and I knew it was insane, but I decided to give it more of a chance. Huge mistake.

    I wonder if managers like this would get more done if they just did the job their selves, with as much time as they spend monitoring people’s work and criticizing them, surely they could just do without that employee and do that job their self.

  13. Snarkus Aurelius*

    “How would calling this person instead of email affect the final outcome? Why is the phone the better choice?”

    I suspect he doesn’t have the answer to that.

    It also sounds like your boss doesn’t have enough to do.

    1. Checkert*

      LOL my first thought was I’d be biting my tongue not to ask whether the manager was bored and needed more to do. Obviously, that’d be dangerous coming from the subordinate, but any time I come across a Wild Micromanage my first assumption is boredom. I also have been known to maliciously comply, so in this case, I’d probably turn to doing nothing independently and consulting him before every email/phone call/action to ‘save his time from having to give feedback so often’.

    2. Hiring Mgr*

      The boss might have good points in some of these individual cases, but if all he’s saying is “do it my way” without explaining or discussing, then it’s pointless

    3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I think this piece is key. Overall, the boss seems to be focusing on process with these comments, not outcomes. The LW should have used email / a phone call to accomplish something, or should have worked on X before Y. From the overall performance assessment and the note that there have not been significant negative consequences on work stuff, it sounds like the LW generally accomplishes what needs to be done with high quality and on schedule. She just doesn’t do it using the process that the boss would have done. And his vision of the ideal process seems to be based on his gut, rather than any kind of framework that can be explained.

    4. Snarky McSnarkerson*

      I have told bosses in the past to “go to your room.” It’s usually met with laughter – after they get the stunned look off their face. I was thinking the same thing though – ask the boss how emailing would have been better than a phone call. Continue asking questions until they walk away. How would emailing have been better? Did you not get the answer you asked me to get? Is there something wrong with their email client or WiFi connection? Why did you tell me last week to email instead of calling? What was different about that situation? Then you have to start making up questions. Don’t give them a chance to respond.

      1. Dinwar*

        I tried the “Ask the boss questions until they go away” method, and was surprised that the answer they gave was useful. In one instance the boss told me to call instead of email. The reason was that the email chain was already gone back and forth a dozen times or more, and a phone call would usually resolve these issues in five minutes rather than hours of back-and-forth in text format. It’s useful enough that I still apply it–the third time I email on a topic I at least stop and ask “Should I set up a conference call instead?” About 75% of the time the answer is “Yes”. In another case the boss realized that he’d never sent me the tracking form for a project, so I was building one from scratch. Once he gave me the format he wanted the data in, all his micromanagy criticisms vanished. (I’ve also had bosses become furious with me and refuse to work with me anymore [a thing that happens due to how the company is structured], but I considered that a positive outcome anyway and told them as much.)

        That’s not to say that this method isn’t good. In fact, I’d argue that it’s a point in favor of this method. It can provide an opportunity to actually get some benefit out of these interactions.

    5. MicroManagered*

      I agree very much that the boss in this story sound like he’s nit-picking just for the hell of it, but there are 100% times when it makes sense to call instead of email.

      If you are going back and forth over email, where you’ve clearly spelled out what you need to say and can see the other side is either not reading carefully or not getting it, picking up the phone can help. If you need to say something that would possibly come across as rude in print, but hearing your human voice say it will change the tone, picking up the phone is the move. Occasionally, you might have a situation where you don’t want to put something in writing for all eternity, saying it over the phone could be a CYA, etc.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Totally agree with your main point. I kinda assumed that the LW was already thinking through which communication medium to use based on these types of considerations and somehow it was still wrong according to the boss.

  14. Mockingjay*

    “You should have called, not emailed.”
    “Good idea; I’ll try that. Thanks boss.” *note to self, continue emailing.

    Boss wants to be ‘heard.’ Sometimes you can get a little relief from continual comments with a quick acknowledgement, while making no changes in actual practice. He’s not looking for engagement, he wants to be reinforced as a manager. If you are up to it, feed his ego a little and see if that helps.

    1. rayray*

      Since the OP will need time to find a job, I actually do think this kind of script works best, in the most deadpan unbothered tone possible. Do as they say, do nothing different. Don’t get emotional. Keep notes for yourself to go back to, so when they tell you the complete opposite, you can say “Last time you wanted me to call so I made a note to do that. Would you now prefer I email?” Again, in a mostly deadpan tone.

      1. used to have toxic manager*

        I had a boss like OP’s, except mine was clearly doing it as a control tactic. I do not think mine was well-intentioned based on all other information regarding his overall behavior. Either way, I tried as you suggested. It worked for making it more tolerable, but because my boss was clearly doing it as a control tactic (he checked like every box for narcissism) doing this pissed him off more because he realized he couldn’t get to me easily. This just escalated his toxic behavior.

    2. Cyndi*

      The Mel Brooks strategy! When the studio makes dumb suggestions, just say yes and never do it.

    3. Ann Cognito*

      This is what I did one time when I had a micromanager. And I also got into the habit of asking for forgiveness as opposed to permission. She wanted everything to be run by her first, but had so many direct reports, she could never remember whether I had or not. So, I stopped doing it mostly, and would then say I thought I had emailed her about whatever it was before proceeding, if questioned.

      In the end though, I flat out told her at one of our 1:1s that I would absolutely quit if she did not stop micromanaging me. She pulled back hugely, so I ended-up being able to stay until I was ready to leave.

    4. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Reminds me a bit of reviewers for academic journals and things. People feel like they have to provide something rather than just being like “hey, this is great!” If there aren’t legitimate critiques, they’ll pull out some nonsense just so there’s something there.

  15. Jane Bingley*

    Just want to leave a note of encouragement that this is NOT normal or common! I worked under a boss like this for a long while and didn’t realize how strange it was until I switched jobs for other reasons and discovered the joy and freedom of working under a hands-off boss.

    If/when the times comes for you to move on, it’ll be helpful to regularly remind yourself that this wasn’t normal. My new boss was weirded out by how often I checked in with him and I had to navigate resetting my expectations for how much a good boss wants to know.

  16. JJJJ*

    I almost quit my current job because my (thankfully now former) boss was exactly like that–minus the comments about being the best performer. If I called her, I should have sent an email; if I called, I should have emailed. In my emails, I included too much information; or else I didn’t include enough. I was supposed to take ownership of my work/be proactive, yet also have every action/email/etc approved in advance. I was supposed to read her mind and know exactly how she wanted something to be done, but asking for her guidance was expecting her to do my job for me.

    Multiple subordinates quitting and others (including me) almost quitting weren’t enough to produce any lasting change. Took getting a new grandboss for my old boss to quickly be gone. Now I have the support and trust that my old boss never gave me and I’ve gotten so much accomplished, starting within the first 2 weeks and continuing over now almost 2 years.

    LW, do you have a grandboss that you feel would be supportive of you and someone who might be willing to coach this boss into trying a new way of operating? I hope that the suggestions of Alison and other commenters may help but I think that ultimately Alison will be right and that this boss will not/cannot change how he operates and LW will need to find a new job with a new boss to get out of this micromanagy situation.

  17. IrishTeaDrinker*

    My previous boss was like this and it very quickly led to burnout on my part. It was exhausting whereby she questioned every action I did on every project, she gaslit me multiple times a week, was condescending, patronizing and really just a horrible micromanager.

    It was only when I started my new job that I realise how awful she was. She had no right to be a manager. I’m three months into my new job and when my new (lovely and trusting) boss gives me a task to do, I’m still hesitant to do it without feedback and input. I have a lot of unlearning to do and need to re-learn how to be autonomous and to trust myself again but I’m so much happier in my new job with my new boss.

    1. Purple m&m*

      This is such a good reason for OP to job search immediately. The longer OP stays the more unlearning they’ll have to do in the next job.

  18. Khatul Madame*

    I don’t think this is worth the effort, since LW has already had conversations with her manager and they led nowhere.
    LW’s realistic options are, basically, stay miserable in the status quo, learn to ignore the constant nitpicks, or find a new job.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      The only thing that might work, maybe, is to make it clear to the boss how this is affecting the LW’s work and morale and to point out that there’s no apparent effect on outcomes whether she e-mails or calls.

      The LW has tried to bring it up and told to be grateful for all the critiques. But how clear was it in the conversation that this is hugely frustrating? If I had been trying that conversation to start, it would have been pretty gentle and framed as seeking to understand why there’s contradictions. Which I think is a sensible approach! Maybe there is some value to being clear that all the little critiques are leading you to constantly second-guess yourself about stuff that doesn’t seem to affect the outcome of anything, which is stressful and makes you less effective at your job.

  19. BellyButton*

    I would start offering him feedback “manager, this is contradictory to what you told me last time.” “telling me to do things differently and then when I ask for why or direction, you tell me to act independently.”
    “I am finding that the type of feedback you are giving is very contradictory and isn’t identifying areas to improve on. What you are giving me sounds like different options to handle something that went well/had good outcomes. When I decide on the approach to take I consider many different options, would you like to know WHY I decided to do this instead of that? Would thatbe helpful to you?”

  20. Harpy*

    I have a coworker like this. My officemate and I roll our eyes and talk about him when he’s not there.

    It is toxic.

  21. Bitsy*

    There are plenty of problems with working for someone like this. But one of the big ones is that you are denied any sort of real, useful, actionable feedback. When EVERYTHING you do is said to be wrong, you don’t have any way of knowing what you’re doing that actually could be improved! You tune out the badgering in order to survive, and now you have no source of feedback that can lead to growth.

    OP, this manager is going to warp your mind and stunt your growth, no matter how hard you work to protect yourself. Get out. Start looking for another job.

    1. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

      Hard agree with the last paragraph. Micromanagers are exhausting and wreck your confidence. Start looking for something else now.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      It’s impossible to improve when the boss can’t explain any kind of broader pattern or provide a framework, like e-mail is generally good, but under X, Y, and Z circumstances a call is better. Or prioritize projects based on when the deadline is, but with similar deadlines, focus on the bigger projects. The “feedback” is essentially that the LW chose wrong, but there’s no opportunity to figure out the framework for how the LW should make decisions about communication medium, prioritization, or anything else.

  22. Littorally*

    I wonder if explicitly calling out the pattern might at least get him to reconsider. I’m not sure the exact language you’ve used to bring this issue up with him, of course, but if he’s framing it as he needs to be able to give you feedback in order to help you improve, explicitly talking about it as an overall issue rather than individual pieces of feedback being problematic might get it through his skull.

    Something like — “I’m getting really mixed signals from you. You told me during our last review that I’m the strongest performer on the team, but you have given me negative feedback on 90% of the work I’ve done since then. From the feedback you’re giving me, I’m getting the impression that you’re pretty dissatisfied with my performance. If that’s the case, maybe we should talk about how I can transition into a different role; if not, can we have a big picture discussion about what your expectations are?” From there, you can get into the things you identified in this letter where the feedback you’re getting from him is contradictory and doesn’t lend itself to overall process improvement.

    Basically, the ego-stroking and alignment elements of the message are: you’re listening closely to his feedback and want to improve based on the information he’s giving you. Based on what you said about him saying he needs to be able to give you feedback, I don’t think he’ll listen if he thinks you’re trying to say anything that sounds like “give me less feedback.” So the way to keep his listening ears turned on is to verbally accept the notion that the feedback he’s giving is both genuine and useful.

    The actionable items are: you are hearing his feedback as dissatisfaction with your work, and you would like more big-picture information about how to come at your work in a way that will be more satisfactory for him and bring you up to a better positive/negative feedback ratio.

    If his answer to that is just that he’s always going to give you negative feedback no matter what… well, it can be valuable to get that said out loud. But hopefully, being told that he’s functionally telling his highest performer that they’re a terrible employee should be a bit of a wake-up call for him.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      This is an interesting approach and definitely worth considering. Might get him a little worried that yo might want to leave the role where you’re apparently excelling.

      The drawback is that he might not change all the nonsense critiques, but would just add patronizing BS to balance things out with positive comments.

    2. House On The Rock*

      I was coming here to suggest something similar. I worked for a guy who did what I termed “Corporate Negging”, essentially micromanage trivial things while telling me “don’t beat yourself up over this!”. Luckily I had enough confidence to 1) respond with “why would I beat myself up over that?” and 2) act faux concerned by his “feedback” by saying things like “well if I’m not a good fit…”. This shut him up most if the time. but, again, I was fully aware that everything he said was BS and I was a very high performer.

      For LW I’d definitely advise calling out the contradictions, especially when he says he needs you to be “independent”. Because he claims you are doing great overall, it feels like you could expend a little capital forcing him to explain himself.

  23. Certaintroublemaker*

    Not only is it ‘to him, “right” looks like “exactly how I would do it myself, down to the smallest detail”’ but it’s “now that I have 20/20 hindsight this is how I would have done it,” where he could have been perfect because he’s looking back. In other words, he has perfection and control issues he doesn’t realize and you won’t be able to fix him.

    Agree with others to give him a quick, “Okay, will do, Bob” in the moment and start job searching.

    1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

      100% this is 20/20 hindsight on the manager’s part. Especially since he couldn’t articulate any rule or guideline or pattern to decide whether LW should call or email a customer.

  24. old curmudgeon*

    Alison, your paragraph about how good employees can be “force multipliers” is revelatory – that does such a beautiful job of capturing WHY a micromanager is so counterproductive. Thank you for articulating it so perfectly!

    OP, there are many of us who have dealt with micromanagers who are sending you solidarity and support. I agree with Alison that your best bet may turn out to be finding a different employer (or a different team at your current employer, if that is an option). In my experience, micromanagers are so, so, SO terrified that someone somewhere might have an idea that they didn’t think of and approve first that it becomes essentially impossible for a high performer to work for them. Good luck, and I hope you’ll update us!

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        on the bill with Guacamole Bob and Cheap Ass Rolls.
        The 2023 Upgraded to First Class Tour.

  25. 2023, You are NOT Nice.*

    I’m assistant to a mgr somewhat like this. Very very picky, and I just can’t seem to make them happy. They are always adjusting and tweaking, even when it’s not “wrong”, it just suits them better this way. And, I’m told I need to take more initiative and think ahead BUT when I do, I’m told I should have waited because nope, those docs weren’t ready for me to work on after all. Very hard to think ahead and wait on their approval at the same time.

  26. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

    Probably not a good idea, but I would be tempted when the boss starts to say something to just ask “OK, what am I doing wrong now?” Maybe if you did that (or something like that) every time, he might get the message. The backfire potential is pretty high, though.

    1. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

      Another (probably bad) idea is to create a visible running list of advice with a date, “3/22 – call instead of email”, then further down “3/25 – email instead of calling”; “3/23 – X project is priority”, “3/26 – Y project is priority”. Put it on a white board on your wall.

      1. Dinwar*

        I’ve done that on report edits–saved every version, so that when Micromanaging Boss asked “Why would you write that? That’s totally moronic! What could possibly justify saying something that stupid?!” (Toned down because I doubt the real statement would be allowed on this site….) I could respond “You did. On this date. Here’s the copy of the report with your edits and comments telling me to do this.” Fortunately I didn’t have to work with that person much! Those who did tended to not last very long in the company.

  27. Michelle Smith*

    I wish you the best OP, I really do. I don’t have any advice, because what I would do in this situation is get a new job, print out the question + Alison’s response, and attach it to my resignation letter. I just want to wish you well and that I hope you find a way to a better situation (whether it’s here or elsewhere). Please update us in the future and let us know how it worked out for you!

  28. SJJ*

    I feel you OP. I had to just find a way out of that role I was in to a new one with a manager who didn’t do that.

    I assume this is how “they” feel they are helping you get “better” but the constant battery over every little thing will grind you down. Look for a new job.

    Good luck.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      And it sounds like “better” here just means “more able to anticipate my quirks.” The “best” outcome in his mind is that the LW becomes magically able to tap into the boss’ gut and do things exactly as he would have. This isn’t going to help at all for doing a similar role with a different boss with their own preferences about stuff.

  29. Jessica*

    Sometimes this happens (and I’m not defending it!) because the manager has an instinctive feeling for what would be the right move, but hasn’t thought about it enough to know why, or can’t articulate the reasons. I have definitely told an employee they should have called instead of emailing or vice versa, and I hope I’ve made sense of why, but I think if challenged, if they asked me “sometimes you tell me to call and sometimes you tell me to email and I don’t understand why,” I would be able to clarify, like “here are some of the factors, here’s how I weighed them in these specific situations,” and for any case where I couldn’t explain, I’d have to think of that as an unimportant personal preference. Sometimes, though, there ARE reasons; this manager just might be very bad at explaining them, so his feedback isn’t actually actionable for any employee who hasn’t been issued a time machine for workplace use.

      1. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

        There are certainly better ways to handle that. I mentor a few folks who will eventually take over those areas. Sometimes I brainstorm with them, but other times I simply ensure that they are witness to how I communicate and what my considerations are. That is a great way of learning, without need for corrections, and I can see from their work that they do learn that way.

        And of course I delegate what I can. If they do something differently from how I would handle it, I only say something if it’s something they really need to hear (which is seldom).

        I think this manager has anxiety as well as the inability to articulate the ins and outs.

    1. Avery*

      That definitely sounds like my former manager that sounds like the one OP’s dealing with. She has a lot of institutional knowledge built up by working with the organization and its various staff/volunteers/contacts for years and years, so she genuinely knows what’s best in each situation… but couldn’t really manage to pass along that information beyond negative, often contradictory, criticism of my actions after the fact.

  30. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

    I’m a manager and LW, from my perspective, your manager is an ass. Most of the time, it doesn’t matter whether it’s an email or a phone call. Occasionally I’ll think something will be better as a phone call (for identifiable reasons, like, there is a history of misunderstanding with this person, or it will likely require back and forth rather than a quick answer, or it’s delicate and let’s not put it in writing), and I may say that in advance. If I don’t and someone emails, what I say is … nothing. Because either the email will be successful, or it won’t and THEN you can have a phone call.

    Similarly, if your manager is setting deadlines and/or giving you a sense of priority of projects, then how you arrange them is not his business unless you are failing to meet the deadlines. This sounds like a guy who will insist that people should do all of their most demanding tasks in the morning because HE’S a morning person.

  31. Kathleen*

    I think OP already wrote the words she needs to say out loud to her manager: “I get it, and I also want to keep improving, but this isn’t helping me improve — it’s just making me constantly second-guess myself and agonize over everything I do.”

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      And the result of that is lower job satisfaction, more stress, and fewer things getting done because of time spent agonizing.

  32. Chelsea*

    I worked under someone like this. In their mind, they are the Best Manager Ever because they tell you how wonderful you are and what great work you do. They cannot comprehend that a nice comments do not balance the constant, demoralizing, critical feedback, and that micromanaging is never going to be enjoyable to the victim. I wasn’t able to get my manager to see the light and I quit over it. I’m so glad I’m out of there.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This is a great comment. You are adding value to the site. But you should avoid using series of adjectives and instead break them into individual sentences. For example, “The comments are demoralizing. They do not balance feedback.”
      OK, I’ll make a note of that.
      “Good. In this way you will create powerful, effective, memorable and influential comments.”
      Yeah, I’d roll my eyes at this dude so hard, I’d see my brain frying.

  33. Welcome to the boat*

    I can sympathize – I am in the same boat. I’ve tried to get to the ‘why’ if every critique in order to figure out how to replicate it in the future. I’ve specifically asked how I can better meet expectations next time. I’ve asked for explanations of how specifically I can improve or what specifically I’ve done wrong. I even asked for some remedial help/training. The answers are always, oh nothing, you’re great! I’ve been told, your call! Until I make a call which is not the call someone else would make and so I get told, no, do this. This is from everyone from the CEO down to my direct supervisor and in between. I have even heard things like ‘we don’t need core guidelines because that puts us in too much of a box.’

    Bottom line, they want you to read their mind and do exactly what they would do but cannot articulate.

    So now I don’t try to understand, just do the bare minimum at everything because I know it’ll get redone by 10 or 12 people along the way.

    1. Dinwar*

      That’s the problem with this sort of thing: Eventually the person either goes insane (filling cabinets with instructions, like someone described upthread, is not a sign of a well-adjusted individual!), or they simply stop trying because whatever they do is wrong anyway, so may as well take the easy way out. Why waste three hours if five minutes of work will get you the same “You should have done X, what’s wrong with you?” lecture? (I’ve seen the same thing in relationships, they’re never happy ones.)

      At that point the employee no longer takes ownership of their part of the project. There’s no buy-in by that employee. They make work less efficient for the company, and the work is less enjoyable and fulfilling for the individual. You’ll either experience high turnover or, perhaps worse, a lot of people who have been there a long time doing nothing in particular. Stagnation in an 8% inflation world means death for any company.

      1. Welcome to the boat*

        Exactly. And now, even if I had the freedom, my “learned helplessness” has become so strong I can no longer make what used to be routine decisions. I once ran the equivalent of 3 departments where I am now, but I am pretty sure I am so ruined as to be unemployable.

        1. rusty*

          Hey, you can get it back. “I am so ruined as to be unemployable” is absolutely the voice of learned helplessness, and it is not fact. It’s a lousy position to have been put in, but you can regain your decision-making skills. Therapy helps!

    2. Aggretsuko*

      I’m seriously considering trying to set up AI chat to rewrite my emails in the style of my supervisors because that may be the only way they find me acceptable.

      I get bitched out for taking the lead on anything and they don’t like how I do it, and also they complain if I don’t say anything and I don’t take the lead. However, if I stay quiet and only work on things I haven’t fucked up, I’m not handing them bullets for the gun, so…they make me a monster to some extent when they rip me so much over screwing up X that I leave X, Y, and Z to my coworkers to do and won’t even touch them.

  34. El l*

    Yeah, you’re going to have to leave – if not today then soon.

    Because you can learn basics from a micromanager, which in some circumstances is fine. But it’s no place to learn to become an independent operator. Developing your own judgment and voice is what you’ll need if you wish to become anything senior. A micromanager will rob you of the chance to make your own mistakes.

    Just remember that in the end it’s all about their own control issues. And that’s what we do to people whose control issues mess with our lives. We leave.

    1. Chelsea*

      Well said! With a micromanager, you never learn how to operate independently because you are constantly on the backfoot. According to them, you can’t get any of your duties right, so why would you think outside the box or fix things not strictly in your wheelhouse?

  35. MsVanS*

    This sounds so difficult! Long term, it sounds like you need to get out of there. Short term, you might find the book Thanks for the Feedback (Stone & Heen) helpful. My recollection is that they give good advice for shutting down unwelcome advice, as well as how to try to extract some meaning/ helpful information from poorly delivered feedback.

  36. just a thought*

    I don’t think the purpose of this feedback is to help you improve. It sounds more like it’s for your manager to feel superior or something. No matter what you do, he will have “feedback”.

    Until you leave, I would try to accept that everything you do will be “wrong” and just continue doing whatever you want.

    Don’t agonize over whether to email or call. Whichever you do, you will get feedback. Don’t worry about prioritizing differently if your work is getting done. Either way, you’ll get feedback. But also, job search and leave for a good manager.

  37. Avery*

    This sounds like my former boss.
    That’s a big part of the reason she’s my FORMER boss, too…

  38. JustMe*

    My partner had a manager like this at his old job, and I actually believe it’s because the manager was jealous of him. My partner is relatively young but phenomenal at what he does. He also did an accelerated MBA right after undergrad, so once he got more experience at their company he had the amazing combination of education and a track record of success. His manager Fergus was a decade older and had fallen into this corporate-type role because of the horrible sexist standards that men must always be bread winners, even though his previous experience had been in nonprofit work and that’s what he really liked to do and was good at. For a long time, he had been the only person in this particular role at the company, and honestly, I think he’d gotten used to coasting because he was irreplaceable by virtue of his role. When my partner got the same position and was suddenly a rock star (I think he was employee of the year like three years in a row) it made Fergus very uncomfortable. Company founder made Fergus a manager, I think, to appease him (since Fergus had been a loyal employee from the time the company was founded), and his feedback to my partner was just like what you describe above. Nitpicky, a lot of things about personal preference, and ultimately worthless because my partner was not only hitting but exceeding goals. My partner left about a year ago. The company is foundering, Fergus and his team are not performing, and the owner is strongly urging Fergus to accept a generous severance package before he sells the company.

  39. LizzieB*

    I mean, I absolutely understand that I’m saying this from the UK and therefore people need a reason to fire me unlike the US where it seems… whimsical? but why can’t you document his feedback for a week, ask for a meeting and then tell him nicely that while you absolutely want to improve and hear his feedback, his way of doing so is making you constantly second-guess yourself which isn’t great for the performance of the projects and team.

    Then go through anything contradictory and politely point out that they feel contradictory and then see if he’ll agree to giving you feedback where there is significant room for improvement – ie your chosen actions didn’t go well. Because if the outcome is the right one, and you didn’t hurt, offend or otherwise act terribly towards others to get there, then what exactly is there to improve?

    You can probably find a nice way to say that his feedback feels like personal preferences rather than actionable ways to amend future behaviour. Either he explains his reasoning behind the contradictions so you can understand why and therefore take that as the lesson, or you can say you feel like he’s previously encouraged you to take your own initiative so that’s what you’re going to do, in your own style.

    I’d also very politely then type up everything you discussed including your notes on his week of feedback and email it to him so that there’s a written record as what you are asking/saying isn’t unreasonable and his boss – or HR – may also see that (especially if you are a star performer and he’s as annoying as he sounds)!

  40. Bagpuss*

    This sounds exhausting.

    I agree with Alison advice to suggest an alternative -given how nit picky he is maybe suggest a weekly round up, rather than multiple comments in the day.
    Perhaps if he continues, rather than asking him how he would have decided maybe say something like ‘You’ve mentioned that that could have been a phone call – is there a specific reason why you feel an email is inappropriate, or is it more that you would have called, had it been your client / file / contact?’ – it pushes it back to him to explain what he is feeding back .

    If it contineus, maybe at your next review raise it as something that is demoralizing and undermines your confidence, also say – of coruse I’m happy for you to provide feedback but I find often when you do so ‘in the moment’ it isn’t very constructive, as you don’t explain your rationale, for example, you’ve told me that I should call instead of email on multiple occasions, but have also said I should have emailed instead of calling, on others, it would be really helpful if you could give some specific feedback about what criteria you want me to use to decide whether to make a call or an email, as haven’t been able to idenify a pattern when I consider the feedback you’ve given. Can you explain what your process for making that decision looks like? That way, you are explicitly asking for feedback but for feedback that’s actually contrcutive. (I appreciate you’ve alreasy been trying!)

    Do you have a grandboss you could speak to about this ?

  41. Caz*

    My grandboss at my old job was very much like this and was a big part of the reason I left that job after a year.

  42. H.Regalis*

    Had a coworker be like this at Old Job when we were closed to the public during the height of the pandemic. Normally contractors would drop off plans they needed approved. Coworker was in charge of processing these when they arrived. Monday it would be, “They can’t drop things off at the front door. They need to mail them.” Tuesday they would be fine with people dropping things off at the front door. I asked them how they wanted me to handle it, and they were like, “Well, the rule changes based on what I watched on the news last night and how I’m feeling that day,” which is a not a reasonable basis for a policy.

  43. But Not the Hippopotamus*

    Two thoughts come to mind… one where you hear these as if he said to get light blue paint and then he says he would have picked a slightly different shade. That is, he is looking for something to criticize where there isn’t and you roll your eyes internally.

    The other is to try asking, “Why would you have called in this case?” and follow up by asking “how big of an impact do you think the difference makes?”. The thought is to demonstrate that you are open to feedback while also giving him pause to spell out whether this is big potatoes or not. like if he says Bob always replies faster to email on Thursday because he’s away from his desk, but you only need to hear back from Bob by next week, presumably he’ll say something like “in this case it doesn’t make a lot of difference”. So he is verifying that his comments are not business pertinent. probably not going to work, but maybe?

  44. Janeric*

    My last job was a lot like this (high performer, constant microcorrections), and it lasted until I had a new manager and the old managers were busy enough to not have time to look over the work of someone outside their team.

    During my first month at this job, my supervisor said “I wouldn’t have done it like this” and my anxiety and defensiveness surged before he said “but they responded really well! Let’s make your way best practice going forward.”

  45. Teri_Anne*

    I had a friend who was an engineer on a Navy aircraft carrier. Every week the engine room was inspected, and the inspector saw it as his job to find something wrong. To keep him happy, the crew left a small pile of dust for him to find. After the inspection was over, they swept up the dust.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      This is very smart.

      Reminds me of how management has to rewrite all my emails so they can have their “stamp” on them and feel In Charge and In Control.

      1. old curmudgeon*

        There was a quote in a Heinlein book (I think it was Stranger in a Strange Land) similar to that. One character was preparing to submit a written piece for publication, and another character pointed out that it contained an error. The writer replied “you always leave something for the editor to change – after they pee in it, they like the flavor better, and they buy it.”

        I have issues with Heinlein’s writing on a number of levels, but that particular quote is one that I have recited silently to myself many, many times in my career.

    2. Ochre*

      Yes, I worked with someone in the arts who referred to this as the “lightning rod” concept: leave one small, obvious, but easy thing unfinished and the boss will fixate on that. Gave the artist more time to tinker with the actual art (with less interference), and then fix the small thing near the end. Mind you it mostly worked because the boss didn’t really know anything about the actual art itself and was widely regarded as a blowhard idiot. Which is probably not the best dynamic, but he signed our checks.

    3. A person*

      I used to do that at work with an unreasonable health and safety person that “needed” to find something you missed… so I would “miss” something pretty obvious (not obvious enough to make me look dumb, but obvious enough that I was sure he’d find it). If I didn’t do that he’d take me down some ridiculous rabbit hole where we broke the physics and blew up the whole world… with like a barrel of water (to be clear… while people can get injured where I work… we are not on the level of flatten a town or anything and I have many years of experience and take the safety of my colleagues very seriously… but this became a necessary game to play otherwise he wouldn’t approve things because he would come up with stuff that’s impossible to do for impossible made up scenarios).

      Happily we have a different H&S team now and they are much more grounded in reality and i enjoy having real and effective safety reviews with them.

  46. Helen J*

    If you said what is in your next to last paragraph verbatim to your boss, what do you think would happen? I had a similar situation with a manager years ago and I basically told them what was in that paragraph. They needed that clue by four to understand that their “constructive feedback” was coming across as nitpicky and plain criticism and not helpful at all.

  47. XF1013*

    I had a boss just like this, except that when I asked about the contradictions with his earlier instructions, he’d swear that he’d always said it the latter way and that I was misremembering. One particular day, he did it again, contradicting at 2pm what he’d just told me to do at 10am… but in that case, I had an audio recording of the 10am meeting that confirmed he’d changed his instructions.

    After that, I just decided that the constant nitpicking was 100% about him and not me. I started doing every task the way that I thought was best and let him say whatever he wanted because I was always “wrong” anyway. It dinged my performance evaluations a little bit because my abandonment of perfection came across as being less motivated or engaged, but it was so liberating not to waste energy on an endless, impossible guessing game!

    (To be clear, the recording was authorized and I didn’t make it to “catch” him. I was tempted to play it for him, but this would have damaged our relationship further; it should be no surprise that he did *not* respond well to being corrected.)

  48. HigherEdAnonymous*

    Sigh. Previously, I worked for someone who sounds a lot like this supervisor. Our sector is higher ed administrative work. The nitpicking and emotional abuse got so extreme that other colleagues (outside of my team) brought it to the attention of higher-ups at our institution. In the end, I transferred to a new job within the same institution after about a year and a half. My only teammate left just two months later. My former supervisor said he was “shocked” that I was leaving. Go figure.

    1. Dawn*

      You should get plenty of helpful results if you type “divorce lawyer” and your area into Google.

  49. Ashlee*

    Maybe pushing back on the “outcome” vs “how” something has been done would be useful.

    Asking your boss if your conversations be centered around whether or not a particular outcome was accomplished – or whether a negitive outcome occurred – rather than focusing on how he may have went about the same thing differently.

    If you try that approach, maybe he could start to see that the two of you often still arrive at the same outcome but that you may take different routes to get there.

    1. JM in England*

      Exactly this!

      4+7=11, which is exactly the same as 6+5 and both are equally valid…

  50. laser99*

    Off-topic a little but I suggest substituting “control freak” for “micro-manager”. It’s more accurate, no?

  51. Ellis Bell*

    I’d probably ask a clarifying question that is really thinly veiled feedback on how useless his micromanaging is: “Okay, is this advice something I should do every time, or do you mean just this one time?” or “That contradicts the other thing you told me, so you mean just on this occasion right?” Whenever he admits that it’s just a random one -off preference, I would say: “It’s hard for me to predict when you’re going to have a one off or occasional preference, so I’m just going to go with my best instinct or the general way of doing it unless it affects the outcome.” Then I’d throw in the occasional “I’d love to see how that method of contacting people affects outcomes. What’s the biggest impact of doing x would you say?” Another good one is: “I really appreciate you saying not to come to you as much and to develop my independence more, so I’m going to start managing x and y by myself and then just come to you with the outcomes for going over”. He might not go for it, but you can only try. One thing to remember (while you job hunt) that it’s unlikely you’re being viewed as incompetent, because he would be like this with anyone. So, just do whatever you want to do and make it sound like it’s either something you learned from him, or you’re okay with taking the feedback about the other way you could have done it (there’s always another way to do something!) and… I hope you get an interview soon.

  52. JM in England*

    The OP must feel like they’re undergoing the Kobyashi Maru test on a daily basis!

  53. SaffyTaffy*

    My previous boss was like this. It came down to things as small as tape hinges on the back of a poster- she wanted the hinges to go vertically, and I had done them horizontally. Or using the word “big” in an email, when she would have used the word “large.”
    Like you, I got excellent yearly reviews. Like you, I asked for specifics ahead of time and was told I needed to “act independently.”
    I hated it. I was ready to look for new jobs when she suddenly left. So all I can tell you is that: start looking. You’ll feel better.

  54. Lacey*

    Find another job! I’ve only had one micromanager – but it was hell and I left that job doubting my ability to do the work I’d been doing for 13 years.

  55. Dawn*

    If you’re willing/able to take the risk, you already know that you’re his best performer, and letting him – or maybe someone above him – know that if he keeps this up he risks losing you might back him off.

    I also wonder if, should you not happen to be a man yourself, gender dynamics are playing into this to some extent.

    That said it’s perfectly understandable if you can’t or aren’t willing to take that stand but some people need it spelled out very clearly to what extent they’re alienating someone who makes them look better/their job easier before they will back down.

  56. Raida*

    “… and that if he were in my shoes, he would be grateful for the feedback so he could keep improving.”

    “If you were me this would make you happy… Okay then, well as a manager do you no longer want feedback? Or is it only valid if it comes down, not up in the structure?”
    He can either articulate Yes, Only My Manager Can Criticise Me, or he can say Oh Of Course I Want To Improve!

    I’ll bet he won’t be able to help but go with the latter, and then I’d set up a meeting with bullet pointed concerns and suggestions on how he can improve *as a manager*. I would include in that what I want and need from a manager, what a ‘good manager’ looks like to me. I’d ask him what a ‘good manager’ looks like to him, and ask him for examples of things his managers in the past have done that were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and why.

    Part of that would be, from any training perspective, is that if I am not provided with the tools to do the job then I will not be held accountable for not being able to do it as I have not been sufficiently trained. That means a decision making matrix, an explanation on the decision tree for email vs phone call, defining priorities, etc.

    If he doesn’t want to provide those, well then I am (as a total bastard) simply going to stop him from leaving these critical convos until we’ve nailed down in this specific instance what the value of one choice over another is.

    He’ll get *tired* of me ‘trying my hardest to learn, conscientiously’. When I’m actually being deliberately pedantic to show how there’s more to feedback than just saying “I’d’ve called”

  57. Goldenrod*

    “Not only is it incredibly frustrating and demoralizing to work for someone like this, but the irony is that he’s forfeiting most of the benefit of hiring good people in the first place”

    Amen!! I’ll never understand why so many managers don’t get this.

    One of the reasons my current boss is so great is that he trusts and values his team – he doesn’t second guess us, and he is grateful that we don’t need constant oversight. It’s a win/win.

  58. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    Recently had a similar situation with a new manager. Not only was he a micromanager, but he was also insecure and indecisive. It was exhausting and demoralizing.

  59. A person*

    Oh man… this sounds like it could be written from one side of a situation I see where I work where a well-intentioned manager is trying to fix a poor performer. I see the manager doing the occasional in the moment correction and I’ve heard the manager say they were trying to give feedback in the moment because their employee had never received proper mentorship early in their career which they believe has led to their employee’s issues. I have heard the employee say that manager has said they are doing a great job and stuff too but also complain about being questioned so employee isn’t getting the message that there is indeed an issue with performance.

    I don’t know how LW should deal with their situation other than trying ask about correction vs great reviews. Manager at my place seems to view the “great review” portion as positive reinforcement of behaviors they’d like to see not as “a stellar performance review”, but employee is just getting mixed messages from frequent correcting feedback along with frequent positive feedback. And manager is trying to be present more because they are getting feedback from other people about continued poor performance but feel they can’t do anything about it unless they witness it themselves. Manager is actually trying to protect employee… but it’s mostly just ticking everyone else off that employee still works there and employee doesn’t get it. I hope LW is not in a similar situation… I can’t imagine it’s a good position to be in.

  60. Sue Wilson*

    the solution is to make giving criticism less satisfying in a way that he will find hard to stop.

    please understand that while I’ve done this successfully, I also physically look like butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth. I had a “discussion” with my boss where I defended Trayvon Martin and other black police related deaths, and she thought I was entirely sweet about it even when I was going hard on her assumptions. my co-worker, also black but who doesn’t look like that, had a more difficult time.

    So, my advice is to be very open to feedback. Oh, you think I should have used email! Great, walk me through that. Oh you doesn’t have time to go into it? Well, I want to be able to implement all the feedback you give me, so let’s set up a meeting! Oh you think I should be able to figure it out? Well boss, I’m so happy you’re invested in what I’m doing but I don’t see things like you do, because I think I would have gotten the documents in the same amount of time. Since your perspective is so different, boss, I’d like to be able to benefit from your expertise, so that I can make better decisions! etc, etc.

    Your boss is getting dopamine from criticism, so you need to nicely make it less dopamine friendly for him. Making him think about his criticism is usually useful ime.

  61. Chel M.*

    This came at such an interesting time for me, I have the exact same situation going on right now and I am thinking I need to go. I thought I was overreacting but she is alienating lots of other people as well. I don’t think it’s going to change and I’ve never experienced this before. Glad to know I’m not overreacting.

  62. cam*

    oh gosh, getting flashbacks to a micromanaging boss I had. I ended up with a serious drinking problem and PTSD.

  63. PrettyPenny*

    I’m sorry to say it but you are in a no-win situation because your boss isn’t giving you feedback based on objective measures that you can move forward with. what your boss is doing is telling you what he would have done in every situation. and the reason his advice is contradictory is because it’s situational. it’s the call that he would make for each specific situation and you can’t act on that because you can never have his brain. you can never anticipate exactly how he would handle every situation. it’s a recipe for failure for you.
    if you want to address it with him, although I don’t think it will change things, I think I would say exactly that to him. that you understand in any given situation he might have done things slightly differently than you, but it’s impossible for you to act exactly as he would all the time. and that you want to be judged on the outcome. was something successfully accomplished regardless of whether it was discussed via email or on the phone?
    I think you are stuck with a micromanager so I’m not sure you can change anything. I had one of these at one point and I did have that conversation about not being able to do everything exactly as he would have done it. he actually understood but I don’t think it really mattered because he still wanted somebody who did things a lot more like him. and I was never going to be that person.

  64. TiredDirector*

    I am the director of a small non-profit (it’s me and one other paid employee). Several board members have seen it as their job to micromanage almost everything about the organization, including email, proofreading, planning, and pretty much everything that they can find. It’s exhausting and terrible, and even worse because I can’t get help from anyone in my organization with it!

  65. Too Stunned to Speak*

    I swear this letter could have been written by my husband. His boss gave constant corrective feedback about the most minute things to the point that he couldn’t make any decisions confidently. When he tried addressing the issue with her, her view of his performance quickly tanked to the point that I was sure she was trying to manage him out of the role. Thankfully, she found another job before that happened, but I don’t have high hopes for OP under this person’s direction. My husband’s still rebuilding his confidence in himself several months later.

  66. used to have toxic manager*

    This won’t fix OP’s problem, but might make it more bearable in time being. I recommend checking our r/managedbynarcissists. I don’t really think OP’s boss is a narcissist, but I used to work for someone who was very micromanagy and toxic similar to OP’s boss, and mine also checked all the boxes for narcissism behavior. I didn’t discover the reddit group until after I left that job, but I’ve found it to be positive support from others in similar situations trying to recover from toxic managers like that. OP might find some comfort in knowing he/she isn’t alone in this situation by joining that group. Even if not exact situation, most of the narc bosses exhibit the micromanaging toxic behaviors like OP, so still relatable even if OP’s boss doesn’t exhibit the rest of the traits that most of the toxic narc bosses have in common.

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