Feeling Micromanaged? 4 Ways to See It Differently
Micromanaging seems like it's about control but it’s really about anxiety.
Posted Jun 20, 2020
It’s someone looking over your shoulder as you make dinner or telling you how to drive to Walmart. Or reminding you for the 30th time that tomorrow is trash day, or don’t forget to call your mother. It’s about the advice you didn’t ask for and don’t particularly want — about your job, health, or the best way to get from DC to NYC.
What bothers you is not so much the advice but the apparent need to give advice. Not so much the reminder about the trash but the implied attitude that you need a reminder. It’s about feeling mommied or daddied to death, about feeling like you are being treated like a 10-year-old rather than the adult you are. Your periodic explosions of “Get off my back!” don’t seem to make a difference.
This is a common problem for couples, cast as issues of control, power, rigidity, constant criticism, nagging. The labels don’t matter as much as the outcome — that the managed person is feeling fed up.
So, what to do? One is changing your perspective; the other is changing the pattern.
Changing your perspective
Control is almost always about anxiety. Yes, there are a small number of folks for whom control is about raw power—but even there, if you dig down deep enough, you find there is hypervigilance or insecurity that is only resolved by massive control. It’s anxiety running the show, but all anxiety isn't created equally.
Here are the common sources:
Worry about the future
For folks who have generalized anxiety, they are always anticipating the worst, looking around corners. Here we get into reminders — don’t forget to pay the electric bill, did you remember to _____? The content doesn’t matter, the reminders are the result of their looking ahead, way ahead, making sure things are getting done to ward off imagined possible disasters.
Worry about reliability
Much the same — did you pay the bill — but the driver is a real or assumed belief that others aren’t reliable. Maybe from parents and childhood, maybe because you have AD/HD and have a history of not being dependable. Your partner has learned that people aren’t reliable and so follow-up is needed. This is about trust.
Caring and anxiety
Put on a coat, call the doctor, go to bed earlier, blow your nose. Anxiety but driven by caring/concern — you are important to me, I want to make sure you are okay.
Anxiety and advice
Why don’t you call the bank? Write an email to your boss and say______. Unwanted advice. The driver here is anxiety mixed with trying to be helpful, problem-solving, supportive. We are a team, I care about you, and I’m trying to help you deal with your life and problems so you are not struggling so much.
All these perspectives are about anxiety. Intentions get lost in the mix and the micromanagement feels like control and criticism.
What to do
Try out a different perspective
Just so you don’t automatically overreact or get resentful, try out these other perspectives — substituting control for anxiety, assuming supportive intent rather than malicious intent.
Realize that the driver is their problem, not necessarily yours
The other person is upset and by getting you to do what they want you to do, they've learned they can feel better. For you, the challenge is to take a deep breath and realize that this is their problem, their learned ways of coping, that they are struggling so you don’t feel like the little kid who is screwing up and always in trouble.
Ask how you can help with their problem
Get off my back or leave me alone rarely works. Because the underlying problem is anxiety, instead ask, "Tell me what you are worried about." This gets to the underlying driver — the worry. Talk about that, and then ask what you can do to help them with their worry... besides doing exactly what they want you to do. This makes it less about you as the cause but more about focusing on the real problem, getting to their core issue that needs to be solved.
Talk about the bigger problem
The danger is you get into the weeds about specific issues — did you pay the bill or not, stop nagging me about the trash — or you get into the weeds of whose reality is right — a waste of time. Instead, step back and talk about the bigger problem, namely that you are feeling micromanaged and you need to understand what is driving it.
This is about the dynamics of the relationship, both feeling heard, and coming up with win-win solutions. Again, look at the bigger pattern — the control and your reaction that isn’t working — see if you can come up with a better solution.
Override your little-kid reactions
Finally, you may not be able to control the other, but you can control your reactions. This is something you can work on. Again, this doesn’t mean caving in and putting up with it but realizing that your buttons are getting pushed and that you can change your response. This is about you and upgrading the software in your brain.
By acting differently you can change the climate and maybe ultimately change the problem.