I’ve been pretty fortunate in my career to have had few bosses that micromanage. However, I’ve been less fortunate with colleagues who micromanage.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a colleague "next action" you to deathÂ¹ (great technique, but don’t use it for evil, Grasshopper) because they were sure that the organization would come to a fiery end if you didn’t RESPOND RIGHT NOW. Yeah, me too.
Now raise your hand if you’ve experienced the Evil Twin: your colleague decides that your responsibilities are also hers, and she begins to butt in on your project. That’s what I thought.
I really wish that micromanaging colleagues would read this next paragraph, but they won’t because they’re too "busy" worrying about someone else’s responsibilities.
Here’s the big problem with micromanaging colleagues, no matter how well intentioned: because they believe every issue is the end of the world, we will end up ignoring virtually everything they say. They’re like the boy who cried wolf–eventually nobody believed him. Of course, the micromanaging colleagues (can we just say ‘mc’ from now on? Cool.) aren’t always evil. In fact, they often have good reasons for their concern. The big turnoff is the communication approach.
Don’t misunderstand me here. There are always good-hearted colleagues who may have already been around your block and will offer up a bit of the wisdom of the ages. Those aren’t the folks I’m talking about–we like those guys. I’m talking about the mc who either: 1) has a chronic inability to focus on his own work; or 2) fancies herself a "big picture thinker" and naturally your responsibilities are part of the picture she’s thinking about.
So, now that we’ve defined the problem, what to do? As mentioned before, just as the problem lies in the mc’s communication approach, so lies the solution. If you haven’t read the book Fierce Conversations, you might want to check it out (or read my review of a keynote address by the author). It’s a great book that essentially details the nuts and bolts of building (or destroying) relationships one conversation at a time. The idea of "just talking about it" is deceptively simple. When was the last time you truly invested yourself in a conversation at work? Not just intellectual pondering, but really listening to the other, and honestly making yourself available, and vulnerable, to them? It’s hard work, but if anything will help sidetrack the pesky mc, it’s this kind of hard work. And, in all likelihood, you’re not just going to have one conversation and be finished–this is a "long obedience in the same direction", to paraphrase the title of an old book.
So, sorry, no detailed action plans here–that’s what the Fierce Conversations book will give you. But you can begin to practice her First Principle:
Muster the courage to to interrogate reality. Take a hard look at what’s going on. Is there a pattern of repeat offenses? Are you just being particularly sensitive this time? Is the mc truly malicious, or just plain clueless? Does this really matter enough that it’s worth the energy to get worked up over?
Good luck to all of us as we wade into battle with the micromanaging colleagues…