He looked at me with that stare that said he was clearly questioning whether or not I could do the task he had just asked me to do. He paused and then said, “So, walk me through how you plan on doing this one.” I walked him through it, he added a few things, and I was off to the races to get things done. This interaction could have gone the way of micromanagement very easily but it didn’t. With adults, and I would argue even with children, we have to respect people’s prior knowledge. Assuming people already know upfront what they need to do and how to do it is the most respectful way to go. We can certainly ask to be sure but asking first wins us the respect that simply telling does not.
Let people tell you what they know
Fundamentally, micromanagement is a lack of trust. We don’t trust that the other person can do the task or, even self-centeredly, that the other person would simply not be able to do it as efficiently as we would. We are presented here with options on how to proceed. As long as the person has the competency for the position they are in, we can let go of the reigns for things that would be a better use of another person’s time. We just have to make sure they understand the expectations.
Rather than dictate, we can use the technique employed by the manager in the example at the start. Find ways to check in on what they already know, correct anything that needs corrected in how they would organize or do the task on their own, and then release them to do the work with some good deadlines and check points in place. See Effective Boundary Setting and Expectations Conversations.
When we ask and then correct, we are training someone to do their job better. When we just tell someone what to do, we are creating a dependency and not helping the people below, beside, or even above us grow in their roles or skills.
If you are someone who has had a hard time letting go and letting another do the work you normally would, try the prior knowledge check this week. Ask the person you are delegating to how they would do it rather than just telling them what to do. Use this check-in question any time this week when you are tempted to just issue a command or launch directly into, “I would do it by ….” Check the person’s prior knowledge first.
What was your experience when first learning to delegate? What do you still struggle with when delegating work or managing the work of another? Use the space below to share your experiences:
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