How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
The ChangingMinds Blog!
There is a style of management with which many are familiar and which has acquired the name 'micromanagement'. The manager in question acts as if the subordinate is incapable of doing the job, giving close instruction and checking everything the person does. They seldom praise and often criticise. Whatever their subordinates do, nothing seems good enough.
For the individual, this tends to be incredibly frustrating. They are being treated as if they are incapable and untrustworthy. We often see ourselves as others see us and, when treated as unworthy, we will soon feel unworthy. In this way, people who are micromanaged can become dependent, unable to make the smallest decision without asking their manager. Alternatives to this total submission, which many take, include remaining frustrated or leaving. In any case, it is easy for one's confidence to be severely knocked.
Why do managers micromanage? There can be a number of reasons. First, they may reasonably not trust the person either because there is evidence to support this or because the newness of the relationship has not yet yielded evidence to support trust. There might also be a high-risk situation which merits extra management attention.
A more likely explanation is an internal need for the manager to manage closely. They may fear failure personally, transfer that risk to the person then take ownership of the person's work. The manager may also feel (or want to feel) superior to the person, effectively confusing authority with ability. The person thus seems incompetent and the manager looks for confirmation of this in the smallest details of the person's work. A minor error is thus taken as evidence of the person's total incompetence and the manager's obvious superiority. This can be a reversal of a childhood situation with a critical parent. Just as the abused become abusers, so also may the criticised become critical.
So what should you do when faced with a micromanager? The first thing is to recognise that it is their issue, not yours. However, this disability means they lack certain abilities and because of your situation, you are going to have to handle it. The simplest approach is to listen patiently and attentively when they tell you what to do (they hate being ignored). If you really disagree with what they are saying, ask politely for their reasons or explain your concern and ask for their advice. Quietly and carefully ensure you cannot be blamed for the micromanager's decisions (it can be useful to keep notes in case of later disagreement).
You can give them feedback (through a third party, if necessary) about how they are behaving and how this makes you feel. Some micromanagers do not intend to act this way and will make genuine attempts to improve. Many, however, will feel slighted and the result can be unhelpful. In consequence, think carefully before using this approach.
A reversal can be an interesting alternative, effectively, micromanaging them. Book their time to agree what you will be doing. Agree in detail what you will be doing. Let them make every decision. Then do exactly what they said and report back that you have done it. Go back often to check for new each decision. In the end they may tire of your constant attention and tell you to back off. You can also pre-empt and prompt this by occasionally asking if your approach to managing the detail through them is ok and whether they'd prefer you to decide more things yourself.
Another approach is to use their control and identity needs as levers. Use these as punishment and reward, carefully removing control and isolating them, or giving feedback that shows they are in control and are wonderful. For example when they over-control, avoid them, whilst when they give you more space, even a little, look at them and smile (identity stroking). Be very subtle in all this -- if the micromanager feels micromanaged, they will react strongly.
In this way you will feel more in control yourself even as you give them a greater sense of control. Living with a micromanager need not be painful and it can be an interesting challenge.
Thanks for this post. You have described my manager to a "tee".
Several of us have tried your suggestions, but she hasn't gotten the message.
This particular manager can also become a rage-a-holic on occasion. I feel very
disempowered and discouraged in this job.
Yeah, I told my manager my opinion and she simply replied that
"this is not going to work" - meant us working together. I think that copying
her on every email I send (over 60 emails a day and coworkers refuse to email me
because they know she reads everything) to asking MY subordinates to email her
with everything they forward to me.
My Senior Manager tells me that I am a micromanager because I
like details. I am a manager of a team of 20 in a call center for an online
university. I do like details, but mainly for my own comfort. I rarely use the
details, such as how many transfers my employees make turn to appointments then
enrolments by an admissions advisor, to confront an employee. Instead I see the
info and it shows me who is effective and who needs more coaching. I am a
stickler for professionalism, attendance/timeliness, not using slang, dress
code, and rebutting to objections. However, I don't feel that this makes me a
micro-manager, I just want to be a facilitator and have everyone know and do the
basics without acting like little kids trying to get around the rules. I find
myself always having to nitpick about attendance with an employee because our
company policy says if you are more than three minutes late then you get an
occurrence (after 3 you are gone) the company mandates that part timers be on
the phone 3:30 of their day and full timers 7:20, anything less and I am
supposed to reprimand them. When I do so, I am called a micromanager and told
that other managers will give them leeway.
Reprimanding is a tricky area, when it comes to motivation and can easily just make matters worse. One approach is to frame it as a joint problem -- a part of your job is to ensure the rules are followed, so what can we do? (note the 'we').
In our office there are two female young supervisors who are definitely need
more supervisory skills training; apparently they have attended a class, but to
no avail, have they changed. Our staff are not allowed to leave the area unless
we email our supervisor every time we leave our desk area and return when we
return back to our desk, we can not ask for any assistance from a co-worker or
ask a co-worker a job related question, we must email a supervisor every time we
are leaving and returning from lunch; our supervisor is new from another area,
but she refuses to take our suggestions on how to help the court run better, she
wants to make changes that we tell her are not possible for judiciary reasons.
AND LORD FORBID THAT SHE CATCHES YOU TALKING TO YOUR WORK NEIGHBORS.
I can't imagine having to email my boss every time you have to leave your
work area. I feel for you.
to david c you are a total micro manager. The online university business
allows for leeway within the rules. other directors do it and you know it. This
is a sales position not rewarding those who do well with some sort of autonomy
will cause them to not enroll. This is due to the fact that thier mood will be
considerably down and in sales that is a very important factor. Im guessing by
now you have no job as im sure your team quit on you and turnover is so high in
for profit education.
I feel that most people don't require micromanagement; but there are always those who do. In some cases, it cannot be avoided. We have a manager who allows us to do our work, on our own, and get the job done. Then, there are people who abuse lunch hours, say they are going to the field and end up out shopping, that kind of thing. The field in which I work requires some of the workers to visit clients in their homes... so I feel these people almost have to be micro-managed. The boss is beginning to crack down on these situations.
-- Bonnie H
i am a supervisor. i use to have a business like the one i work for. i know
more than my administrator/owner on the business. i know all the regs and
policies and usually everybody from staff refer to me for advise and direction
including my immediate supervisor and the owner/administrator. the administrator
is starting to micromanage and is asking for reports. i have same work as
everybody plus my supervisor duties and indirectly helping with the management
of the whole office. the reason i say indirectly is because my immediate
supervisor ask me for advise. lately i heard a counseling/writeup is on the way.
apparently for not keeping up with the report of the people directly under me.
how can i respond to that counseling/writeup? thanks. i love my job but lately
its been very stressful for the whole office including my immediate supervisor.
I feel that most people don't require micromanagement; but there area
always who do. In some cases, it cannot be avoided. We have a manager who allows
us to do our work, on our own, and get the job done. Then, there are people who
abuse lunch hours, say they are going to the field and end up out shopping, that
kind of thing. The field in which I work requires some of the workers to visit
clients in their homes... so I feel these people almost have to be
micro-managed. The boss is beginning to crack down on these situations.
Some additional interesting perspectives on Micromanagement from two
individuals with PhDs in Industrial Psychology can be found at
I am a Supervisor, My Employer is funded from an agency, and is totally voluntary. The Community dev. Office in Charge of the Funding is totally micro-managing me as a supervisor and my employer. I have being working with the same agency over 15 years and never had a problem, until this new person was allocated to us due to the previous persons retirement, I am totally stressed out, and as you say this makes you feel worthless and useless while you are being put down on a continues basis. Her bosses are turning a blind eye on how she does her business, and thus this is being pursued by The Employer and Union. I do hope this will be addressed soon, so I can do my job to its perfection.
-- Teresa H
Your comment on this blog: