Published by Sameet Dhillon 8 min read

Micromanagement from Multiple Views

category: Communication

Micromanagement sucks. There, we said it, in the plainest way possible. While sucks isn’t usually a word we use, it perfectly encapsulates the range of feelings that people experience when they are micromanaging or being micromanaged. This specific workplace tension is the source of a spin cycle of blame, shame, and oh so much complaining. 

At its heart, micromanagement is a symptom of a break in the workplace relationship. Behind every manager and employee is a mix of emotions and pressures. The very first thing we all need to remind ourselves is most people are doing the best they can with the tools and resources they have. This is why we are taking a step back and looking at micromanagement from multiple perspectives. 

Let’s talk about micromanagers

Here’s our first perspective shift. Instead of thinking about your boss as a micromanager, try thinking about them as someone engaging in micromanaging behaviors. This tiny shift can help you see the glimmer of good intention behind poor delivery– which has saved more than one work (or other!) relationship.

What causes micromanagement?

Unhealthy micromanaging habits are rooted in a mix of emotions and experiences, both past and present.

  • Anxiety: Micromanagement often starts with leaders feeling anxious about meeting expectations from their higher-ups. Their performance reviews, bonuses, and future career opportunities depend on their team’s success. This is a lot of pressure, especially for first-time managers.   
  • Mistrust: An employee or colleague let them down in the past—maybe repeatedly. So now the leader doesn’t take any risks and doesn’t put in the effort to build communication and trust 
  • Models:  A leader’s boss may have also practiced micromanaging ways. There are plenty of C-level executives who haven’t broken the habit yet. You may be in a culture of micromanagement rather than experiencing it just with your manager. 

Micromanagement Signs

Most of us have experienced or practiced micromanagement in our careers. These patterns will likely feel familiar:

  • Does not delegate tasks: Micromanaging leads to people trying to take on everything themselves, from high-level strategy to routine tasks that could easily be delegated to the team. On the rare occasion that they do delegate, it’s with a heavy dose of “Are you sure you can handle that?” 
  • Checking in for constant updates: While it is reasonable for leaders to want status updates, micromanaging involves demanding updates on every single thing, every step of the way. You might feel your boss hovering over you–virtually (an anonymous armadillo in the Google doc) or in person (behind your desk).
  • Does not provide clear feedback (or ask for it):  Feeling the pressure to tick another item off the to-do list, your boss makes revisions directly instead of giving you feedback to learn and improve the work yourself. 
  •  Focusing on the minor details: Perfectionism is another form of anxiety, and when it takes over, your boss might fixate on the minor details to the point of overlooking big-picture goals and processes. It’s hard to pay attention to everything.

Navigating a micromanaged workplace

The first thing to remember is no one enjoys or benefits from micromanagement. It signals that anxiety has taken over–no one thrives in an environment where you’re constantly in fight-or-flight mode. Both you and your boss are struggling, albeit in different ways and with different power dynamics. Acknowledging the shared part of the struggle can help in the process of finding common ground.

Second, psychology has taught us that anxiety is just a fancy word for fear. And, biology has taught us that fear is contagious. Fear often shows up as scarcity at work–there’s not enough time, money, credit, etc. As these feelings move between people they ramp up. In this way, you might unintentionally feed and perpetuate the environment you want to escape. 

Third, you might think of your boss as all-powerful, but the reality is that nobody feels in control in a micromanaged setting. There's a fundamental imbalance or mishandling of power somewhere. That may begin and end with your boss or it might be coming from somewhere else.

Fourth, even if this is bigger than you, you’re not helpless. Try thinking of it as an opportunity to create agency for yourself. How you show up and try to shift dynamics for the better can rub off on others, empowering them to also take steps and break the micromanagement cycle. Along the way, you’re building leadership skills.

How to Address Your Boss’ Micromanaging Ways

We know it’s scary to give your manager feedback– especially if they haven’t asked for it. But, you can use the power of curiosity to help you communicate what you’re experiencing and how it’s negatively affecting your contributions to the team. 

  • Vent: Micromanagement triggers strong emotions which can lead to what Brené Brown calls the Stormy First Draft (SFD)– one-sided, worst-case scenarios stories we use to make sense of difficult things that happen to us. You can share your SFD with a trusted mentor or coach but frame this as an opportunity for curiosity and reflection. What’s missing from your story? Finding holes in your narrative makes room for empathy and productive next steps. 
  • Empathize: Remind yourself that your boss is a person too. What is on their plate? Is something happening in their lives? Has your boss asked you to do something that you didn’t deliver? Try and let your assumptions and biases go and look at the situation from a few different perspectives.
  • Communicate: Sometimes micromanagement happens before people realize that’s what they’re doing. What started as a one-time thing mushroomed into an unintentional habit. When you meet, bring one or two examples of things that you experienced as micromanaging, ask their perception about the examples to see what other holes your story might have, acknowledge their good intentions, and then share how this approach is hurting your work and contributions. Repeat as necessary– shedding micromanagement can take time. Check in regularly with each other to stay on track.
  • Shift: Suggest alternative ways for your boss to engage and hold you accountable. Ask for what you need. That might look like asking for written feedback or notes and the time to do two drafts instead of directly revising your work. Be bold in asking for what you need, while also being willing to compromise to help your boss get what they need. 
  • Update: Rather than waiting for your manager to ask for updates, offer them ahead of time, especially if your boss values overcommunication. This will build confidence and trust, showing you can handle the task at hand. You might over-communicate at first, and then as you get more comfortable you can give each other more space.

How to Stop Micromanaging

You can be the manager you want to be. Sometimes we lose faith in ourselves. We’ve made some mistakes, lost a good team member, and fallen into a rut. That’s okay. Today is a new day and a new opportunity to grow your management skills. Here are a few small daily actions that you can build on over time to be a healthier manager.

  • Reflect:  Understand the reasons behind your micromanagement habit so you can address it head-on. List your triggers (Someone missed a deadline) and the consequences of your actions (My team won’t learn and grow if I do everything). 
  • Get clear: Make sure each team member knows what’s expected of them. Use regular one-on-ones to ask questions that clarify priorities and balance workloads. Write notes after each meeting to remind yourself that your team is on track. Be direct when someone isn’t and help them reduce their workload or change their priorities so they can succeed. 
  • Delegate: Use what you learn about your team during check-ins to assign tasks wisely. Provide what they need to be successful, then step back and give them space to breathe. Make a plan for dealing with mistakes without jumping in, and look at the quarterly goals to ensure there’s enough time built in for people to do revisions on big projects. 
  • Focus on your tasks:  Spend most of your time on things only you can do– like strategic and resource planning. Don’t get into the daily tasks. Give your team the time to do their work while you are doing yours.
  • Break the cycle: Talk to your manager about your challenges with micromanagement and the negative effects it’s having on your team. This might lead them to reflect on their behavior. It will also give them the heads up to be understanding through the road bumps as you and the team make important changes.

Everyone has a story about micromanagement, and these stories often stir up big feelings. It makes sense—you've seen how this workplace tension brings down culture, productivity, and the quality of work. Maybe, you’re experiencing it right now. 

But when we take a step back and see things from different perspectives, that narrative starts to shift. Good versus bad is replaced with something messier but more honest: here are people showing up and doing the best they can with what they’ve got.

Once we embrace this curiosity-inspired empathy, we might start to see the demanding manager as someone stressed by their own boss's expectations, and the struggling employee as someone who just needs clearer directions and more support. With this new understanding, we can make our way from fear to collaboration and create a workplace where people see and work toward the good. 

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Have more questions? Great!

That’s part of what it means to be curious. Don’t hesitate to reach out.