Whether your boss is micromanaging you, or you find that you’re the one lording over your team members, there are some common reasons that micromanaging happens. Today we’re going to delve into what those are, and why it’s so important to address them.

Micromanaging is one of the most common frustrations I hear about when talking with clients and potential clients. So today, we’ll look into why it happens and what you can do it about it.

Micromanaging is when a boss (whether that’s you or the person you report to) gets pulled into managing tasks at an unnecessary level of detail. Being on the receiving end of someone else’s micromanaging can be really irritating. It can seem like the other person doesn’t trust you, or believes you can’t handle what they’ve asked you to do. Practically, working for a micromanager can take a lot of time, as you respond to their detailed questions and requests for reporting.

If you’re the boss and you find yourself micromanaging, that can be uncomfortable, too. You end up feeling pulled into work that you shouldn’t have to be doing. It takes a ton of time, and takes your attention off of the strategic thinking you should be doing.

At its core, micromanaging is a sign of some kind of distrust or disconnect. Usually, a manager will feel pulled to micromanage when:

  • They don’t feel like they know what the other person is working on, or what their priorities are
  • They aren’t sure where the other person is coming from,
  • They have a different work style,
  • Expectations aren’t being met

Any one of these versions of “disconnect” can create ambiguity. As a species we’re hardwired to dislike ambiguity. When we’re facing a bunch of unknowns, we’re likely to begin filling in the gaps with worries and cautionary tales. We start to feel like we have to take control of the situation. That survival pattern saved our cave-dwelling ancestors from venturing out into the world too blithely. Unfortunately, it can also drive us – and our coworkers – crazy.

One of the biggest challenges in micromanaging is that when the boss gets too much into the details, one of the typical responses of the employee is to pull back and share less. The employee thinks that if they give the boss less detail, the boss won’t be able to interfere. The problem is that if the micromanaging is coming from not knowing what’s going on, this strategy completely backfires. It creates even more disconnect, which can actually make the micromanaging even worse.

Trust also plays a factor in micromanaging. According to Frances Frei and Anne Morriss in their book, Unleashed, trust comes from three sources: authenticity, logic and empathy. If a relationship is missing any one of these pieces, there is what Frei and Morriss call a “trust wobble.”

When it comes to micromanaging, any one of those “trust wobbles” could be at play. We may not quite trust the other person’s logic in doing their work. We may think they’re not taking the steps they should take. Or that they’re not thinking things through the way we would want them to. We may not trust their authenticity – for example, when they tell us that things are going “fine” or that they understand what we’re asking. We may not trust their empathy – that they know where we’re coming from, or what matters to us as it relates to the work. Any one of those can cause us to dive in and get more involved than we might need to.

Words like “disconnect” and “distrust” can make it sounds like there’s something terrible going on in the relationship. That’s not necessarily true. Sometimes these “trust wobbles” or disconnects are just the everyday static that shows up in relationships from time to time. Just like cell phone calls are sometimes clear and sometime static-y, the same thing can happen in a working relationship. Sometimes you’re hearing each other and understanding each other really well. Other times there’s “noise” — miscommunication, missed signals, dropped signals. In the case of working relationships, the noise could come from not knowing each other very well. Or from seeing the situation differently. Or from having different goals or needs from the situation. Or even from having different communication styles. Disconnects don’t have to mean that someone has done something wrong. They just mean that the working relationship needs a bit of a tune-up. To reduce the micromanaging, focus on rebuilding trust and connection. In other words, building partnership.

Working in partnership is one of the foundations to a successful career. When you know how to do that, you can create the conditions for success in nearly every working relationship. Without it, and you may struggle.

Want to learn more about how to build partnerships with the people you work with? Check out my free workshop. It covers the five key strategies that have helped my clients become great leaders and set themselves up for their next promotions. If you’ve watched it already and you’d like to have a conversation with me about how to take your leadership to the next level, feel free to schedule a call with me.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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