Micromanagement: Stress Patterns in your Team

September 16, 2020

by Pam Boney


Stress symptom # 1: Obsession & Micromanagement

The first stress pattern is a reaction to a perceived loss of control. This pattern of stress often manifests as criticism about who (or what) impacts the efficiency or accuracy of work. What it’s about (underneath) is a perceived loss of power or status. Since the underlying desire is control and the feeling is to strive for perfection or obsess about being right, this often shows up to others as micromanagement and being critical of others who are less efficient. If it goes too far, the person will resort to discounting another person or group entirely and referring to them as useless or messy.


Two internal needs:

This stress reaction helps one to save face with themselves by temporarily propping up their ego with a false feeling of power and status. This short-term reaction where the ego strives to be in control and above others is harmless unless it becomes chronic or extreme in a way that is harmful to others.

What’s good about it?  

All human patterns serve our survival in some way. The positive aspect of this reaction is that it gives the person a quick boost of energy needed to solve problems better and faster. While the trigger is in motion, there’s keen alertness to details and a strong drive to solve complex problems that serve stability. While it doesn’t feel pleasant to be on the other end of this interaction, if others learn to recognize that something good is going to come out of it and relax while the person does their thing, it can have very positive results.

What often happens instead:

Instead of waiting to see any positives that may unfold under scrutiny, others often get tangled up in their fears and get involved in the person’s stress reaction while it’s underway. When this happens, it can trigger alarms in others that the person is “out to get them” or “looking to find their error to expose them” or “take over their job or situation.”  No one enjoys having their work fall under close scrutiny, after all. But there’s another, better way. If we can all learn to simply notice this pattern, recognize the person’s temporary stress and respond mindfully, we can help the person do what they do best - execute brilliantly. This requires not “taking the bait” and reacting to their stress. An escalation of stress-induced emotion is almost always counterproductive.

A better way to respond more consciously:  

A stress response always contains some kind of positive effect if it doesn’t go too far. As such, it can be helpful to point out to the person having the reaction that you are noticing their distress and inquire about how you can help in some tangible way. They may not take you up on the offer, but merely witnessing their stress can help them see the potential impact they are having on others. This can alert them to their unintended effect, so they can proceed with more awareness and intention. If we can remain curious about their reactions and offer to listen it can be very helpful. Saying, “I am noticing that you seem stressed about something and may even be triggered by it, but that may also mean it is important for all of us to hear. How can I help?”  Just the act of caring and listening can sometimes be enough to surface “the golden nugget” of truth lying under the surface of the stress reaction.

The positive result:

The acknowledgment that ordinary people don’t just dream up stress and react to it without a good reason is often enough to de-escalate the emotional charge that could tilt the tension over into drama and conflict. When someone experiencing stress feels witnessed, validated, and heard, they can relax and focus on solving the complex problem. Efficient execution requires focus, time, alertness, and mental energy that is served by the temporary adrenaline rush of good stress.

What happens if it becomes chronic?

Acute stress is often good stress that helps us power through tough circumstances. But chronic stress is another thing altogether and can become damaging for everyone involved. The persistent version of this stress reaction is to become an obsessive workaholic driven by unconscious ego-fear. Unhealthy patterns can result when one is triggered by inefficiency or imperfection too often. In this case, one can begin to take out chronic frustrations on others with enough frequency to damage relationships. If this happens, the best thing to do is get the person some coaching to address the underlying root cause and surface the underlying fear so it can be dealt with directly.

How to use laser coaching to help someone who is obsessing about control or showing signs of burnout:

Laser coaching sessions can help others open their eyes to the pattern and how it’s harming their influence with others and thus, ultimately harming themselves too.

Coaching questions that can increase awareness:  

  • What has you so concerned about efficiency/control right now?
  • What are you hoping to achieve through critical thinking right now?
  • What do you fear most that has you thinking you need to control the outcome?
  • What do you need to let go of that will require others to rise to the challenge?
  • What will others never learn if you keep controlling things for them?
  • What might you miss if you don’t connect with others who can help?
  • What is possible if you let go of having to be perfect or get it right?

Sometimes asking questions like this is all that is needed to raise self-awareness in someone under stress. As coach, leader, or colleague, you don't need to have the answers but can suggest they might benefit from pondering their answers in their own time. Click here to learn more about how to manage stress in your team.

Note: This stress reaction is most common in a STRUCTURE Master Mind personality profile. How can you actually use this? Learn more about your specific stress reaction pattern by taking the True Tilt Personality Profile™

View related posts: Stress Symptom # 2, Stress Symptom # 3, Stress Symptom # 4