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I have a personality trait (desire to understand details and confirm them) that very often can be mistakenly perceived by people as micromanaging them (even though my intent in what I ask/say is purely centered on my mental details and NOT on what/how I want them to do).

For example:

Me: notices that the person I gave the task to does it way X

Me: "I noticed you did it way X, curious why not way Y?" {note that I'm 100% genuinely curious here; and not intending to tell them to do it my way}

Taskee: "Stop micromanaging me!" (they may not say it outright but sometimes they say it later, so I know it happens often).

Short of just never asking such questions, how can I tailor such communications so as to prevent an appearance of micromanaging someone?

8

First, know that many people are not concerned with the optimal action in the same way that you are. If you are analyzing which approach would be better in a certain situation (the way you currently do something vs the way you are seeing something done), that is necessarily comparative. While your intention may be to try to figure out if their approach is better, or even mere idle curiosity, people will often respond negatively because they can sense the comparison.

If this person is your report, then I would advise that you typically not ask them, unless you suspect that their approach really is better, and want to learn how to improve yourself. (In which case, flattery can go a long way). There is little to be gained (fulfilling idle curiosity), and a very high cost in the long run in terms of employee dissatisfaction.

If they are not your report, you could have a conversation with them once, at the start, and explain that you have this quirk. You can explain what is meant by it, ask them if it's okay if you ask those kinds of questions, and emphasize that if it ever makes them feel uncomfortable, they should feel free to say so - it is truly meant to be friendly, and you don't want them to feel put upon in any way. This gives them an exit clause in case they don't like a particular line of questioning.

A word of warning about this second path: it is a little fraught. You will need to check in from time to time if you are unsure whether your questions are still being received with warmth. Again, the potential benefits are small, but the potential costs are high. Don't mess around with important long-term professional relationships without good cause.

8

Your question is leading and puts the person on the defensive.

It's leading because you are making it seem like "doing Y was right, why did you do X over that?!" which then puts them on the defensive, having to justify their decision against your perceived favorite.

Try things which do not do this:

  • "Can you help me understand why you did it that way?"

Now, instead of them having the failing (choosing the wrong choice in XY) you are making it so they can help you.

3

I think it's about the overall approach to your questioning process. As well, it is very important that you do not ask why someone did something a certain way. Each person has a different level/way of thinking, which is why some people think they are being micromanaged (in a way, they feel offended without directly telling you so).

Instead, I would approach them with a sentence like:

Good job on completing [that task]! I would like to know more about your process so you and I can give advice to other people who have [that task]. Maybe this is a better way to approach it for our company.

Note that it is important to give the other person praise for the work ethics/effort so that they do not feel offended. BUT ONLY IF YOU MEAN IT

1

Find out why people are "saying it later", and avoid actions that will induce these feelings.

I read your post and I am left wondering why people are saying "often" that they are micromanaged. Also, when someone blurts out "Stop micromanaging me", it's probably not an isolated event.

So I am wondering why people are feeling like this. OK so some ideas:

  • Give a task and make sure it is completely understood. State the task(s). State the conditions under which they need to be met. State the standard that constitutes acceptable completion and include a due date. If you require interim reports, state so and include a timetable, and what you expect (percentage completion, issues, etc).
  • Let the person go. Ask no questions.
  • If, and only if, something goes awry and at odds with the stated task should you ask for status. This is not a justification for their actions; this is status. Please make that plain.
  • If you think it is warranted, ask the person if they need assistance -- assistance is not supervision. Please make that plain.

There is a lot of grey area in the above. But given that we have employees that are now fixated on the concept that they believe you micromanage, you may have to go "total hands off" for a while until they understand that the situation has changed.

1

This appears to be a case where a social action (asking a detailed question) is not objectively bad, but is (wrongly) seen as "bad" by others.

If that is true, try to avoid instances of this action where the stakes are trivial, because you will likely lose more credibility on the social interaction than you will gain from the action itself.

On the other hand, if there is a good reason to ask the question, ask it, and if necessary, be prepared to explain yourself. "I wanted to help you prepare for X," or "I wanted to warn you against Y." This will give you practice in handling yourself in the more critical situations, and may eventually increase your skill in the more trivial instances.

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