Menu Close

Could you be a victim of micromanagement? Seven tips to take back control

Illustration of a woman taking orders from several people.
Micro-management may be motivated by good intentions, but it’s often counter-productive., CC BY-SA

Have you ever wondered if you’re being micromanaged by your supervisor? You wouldn’t be alone: in 2021, a US survey by Trinity Solutions revealed 79% of employees have experienced micromanagement, with 71% reporting this interfered with their job performance and 85% complaining of its negative impacts on morale.

So, what does micromanagement look like? Let’s take the example of Marc and his manager Kelly. Marc wants to share some updates about a project the team had been working on. When he knocks on her office door, he hears a curt “Come in” and enters. Kelly appears to be busy, typing away at her keyboard. “I’ll be with you in a minute”, she says while simultaneously checking her phone and ticking off items on a notepad. Marc can sense that there isn’t a lot of time, so he makes it brief.

Marc: “Hi Kelly, how are you?”

Kelly: “Fine, hope you’re doing well too. I have five minutes, as I have to finish a report. What do you want to talk about?

Kelly’s eyes glance over a towering pile of papers

Marc: "Well, I’m concerned about how the team operates on the new project. To be honest with you, I’m under the impression we’re not sure where we’re going and are now headed in the wrong direction. People seem to be all over the place and…

Kelly cuts off Marc after the computer makes a notification sound. She then checks her phone.

Kelly: "Marc, I suggest that you create a to-do list and prioritise urgent, important tasks, and tackle the items per client… ”

Kelly’s suggestions continue for the remaining four minutes of Marc’s time with her

The above vignette presents us with three of the features of micromanagement that we have identified as part of our research on leadership. These are:

  • A lack of dialogue in meetings. Through her prescriptive remarks, Kelly’s communication style did not give Marc the opportunity to share his thoughts.

  • A lack of empathy and consideration of emotions. Marc wanted Kelly to hear him out, to acknowledge his perspective, and to show sympathy for the team’s situation, in vain.

  • Detailed, step-by-step instructions. Kelly missed out on an opportunity to support her team members’ problem-solving skills, even though Marc has a more intimate understanding of the project and would probably be able to contribute important insights into how to move it forward.

Why is micromanaging problematic?

Kelly and Marc’s interactions illustrate the underlying error of micromanaging. Although Kelly had good intentions – quickly solving an issue presented to her – the outcome was likely to be counterproductive. This is because it is more effective and motivating for most people to come up with their own solutions rather than being micromanaged.

That said, empowering others is not to be confused with not providing answers in situations when they’re truly required – for example, in the case of interactions with recent recruits or emergencies. Nor does it mean that leaders shouldn’t take action or not show support. Rather, they must strive to create a safe environment where diverse ideas can be aired, and to help their employees without seeking to control them.

While the benefits of empowering others are clear, our research shows that leaders rarely do it automatically. We analysed thousands of video interactions and found that leaders are often not aware of what we labelled “motivational micromanaging” – showing enthusiasm in voice and body language as instructions are being given. They often have the best intentions, but they’re short on time and feel that their role as leaders is to solve everything.

What can you do about it?

Merely telling your manager that you don’t want to be micromanaged won’t help much. Here are some tips derived from our research that can support you to help shift your supervisor into more of an empowering attitude.

  • Be specific and clear about what you want. If you want to run something by your leader, say that you would like to have a sounding board for an idea you have: “Hi, can I have five minutes of your time to run something by you?” Help them focus on listening: “Would it be possible that you listen to me for two minutes? It would really help me to talk through topic XY.”

  • Have them ask you questions: “What is the top question that comes to your mind after having heard my summary on XY?”

  • Focus on solutions instead of just presenting the problem. Rather than stating that there is an issue, come with several ideas and suggestions on how it could be solved. “I thought about the following three solutions for our current dilemma.”

  • Ask for feedback. Not only during your performance review, but continuously – it will allow you to able to change things. Also offer feedback to your supervisor.

“I would love to get your viewpoint on XY”

“Let me know if you would like to hear my feedback on XY.”

  • Be transparent about your values, it will help you gain knowledge about your strengths and communicate both to your supervisor.

“What motivates me being able to use XY, do XY, work with XY”

“It would really motivate me if I could use more of my strengths for the current project. What ideas do you have about how I could incorporate and leverage these skills?”

  • Show gratitude and appreciation for your team and its work. Don’t speak up only to complain about things going wrong; instead, also acknowledge the things your leader and team members do right. Be the change you want to see.

  • Emotions are contagious, so role-model those you want to create more of in your team and work environment.

Thanks to these tips, you can put an end to micro-management situations. You can also help your manager to change their management methods to boost their team’s independence, and ultimately, motivation and performance.

This article was originally published in French

Want to write?

Write an article and join a growing community of more than 185,700 academics and researchers from 4,983 institutions.

Register now