Crucial Skills®

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Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

Being Micromanaged by Coworkers

Kerry Patterson

Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


Crucial Conversations

Q Dear Authors,

I hate it when others tell me what to do. My coworkers not only worry over me when I have new jobs, but they tell me what to do even when the task is routine or basic. I do like to take my time at doing some things and I know that this bothers people. I also feel like I can handle certain jobs at my leisure—that I don’t have to get to them right away. This worries some people though. They make me feel like a child, not a responsible adult. They only look at my errors and not at my accomplishments. I’m making a lot of improvements in my life, but they go unnoticed.


A Dear Micro,

Whenever I work for an organization as a consultant, I know it’s only a matter of time until someone complains to me that they are mismanaged. Some feel like you do—they just want to be left alone. Others actually want more time with their boss and, believe it or not, more instruction. Both cases, of course, result from differing expectations about the frequency and type of interaction between employee and boss. (In your case it’s between you and colleagues, but the point is the same.)

Now, here’s the question: who’s at fault here, the boss or the employee? Usually both play a role in the problem, but there are times when either (1) the boss really is looking over people’s shoulders too often and driving everyone nuts, or (2) the employee actually does need a lot of follow-up—including detailed instructions.

Based on the language of your question, I’m guessing that you are doing things that cause people to worry. You suggest that you experience the problem with coworkers, that you bother people both with your pace and response time, and that people focus on your errors.

Here’s my advice. Seek detailed feedback from a close friend or colleague. If you can, select someone who has seen you at a time when you’ve felt micromanaged. Explain your concern. Start with the facts. Describe two or three cases where people have told you what to do—even though you asked for no help and didn’t believe that you needed it. Then ask for honest feedback. Since this problem is happening with several people, you must be doing something that has people worried. What exactly are you doing? If people have a hard time answering that question, prime the pump by offering suggestions you suspect may be the problem. For instance: Have you been unpredictable? Is your error rate unacceptable? Is your pace too slow for others’ taste? Do you seem to put off important jobs? Make it safe for your friend to give an honest response by asking calmly and sincerely. Listen intently and repeat back what your friend is saying without becoming upset.

Once you have gathered detailed feedback on the specifics of what you’re doing (you may have to talk with more than one person), you will then be in a position to (1) rectify anything you’re doing to cause people to worry and (2) talk to others about what they’re doing—after all, you’re not the only one involved here. Seek detailed feedback. Take a close look at how others are viewing you and why.

Good luck with your personal change efforts,

You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

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