Crystal Spraggins, SPHR
NIT-PICK (v.) to be excessively concerned with or critical of inconsequential details (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/nitpick)
The problem with the nitpicking manager is that he often lacks self-insight. In other words, the nitpicking manager doesn’t view his behavior as unhelpful. And that makes perfect sense, because if this manager viewed his behavior as unhelpful, one can only imagine that he wouldn’t be acting this way, right?
So, if you’re the nitpicking manager (and I hope you are, honest; I hope you’re a nitpicking manager who’s started to see the light—however dimly—and is here looking for help) how can you turn away from your misguided ways and get back on track with providing useful, relevant feedback to your staff?
Here are some suggestions.
Don’t judge, listen
When you’re told that you’re nitpicking (by your employees, your staff, or maybe even a good friend), you’ll be sorely tempted to dismiss the criticism out of hand.
This would be a mistake.
Sure, it’s wise to consider the source, and one strident accusation from the department slacker is no reason to alter your entire management style. However (and I need you to be honest, okay?), this isn’t the first time someone has given you the nitpicker label, is it? You’ve been fending off this moniker for a while, blaming everyone else for having poor judgment rather than facing facts.
Your employees need you to stop doing that. Also, they need you to stop believing that something is true only if you accept it as true. You can’t see what you’re doing now, I get it. But when six different people with no reason to lie tell you it’s true, it’s true. Deal with it.
Everyone wants a responsive manager, but nobody wants one who reacts all the time to every cotton-picking thing. If you find yourself making small, mostly irrelevant (again, I need you to be honest, here) comments on every email message, memo, idea, or utterance issued by your staff, you are nitpicking. You are. Where’s the value? Prove it, and I’ll shut up.
Show me a nitpicker, and I’ll show you someone obsessed with control.
As a manager of others, it’s good to be conscientious and have high standards, but remember that your primary function is to get work done through others, not to do it all yourself.
Also (and pardon me for being blunt), you’re either vain or nuts to believe that you have all the good ideas and the only applicable experience. It’s just not true. Give your staff the chance to show you it’s not true.
An occasional nit pick is nothing to beat yourself up about, but if you’ve developed a habit of inserting yourself in your staff’s work without adding any real benefit (and again, I’m going to need you to be honest here) it’s time to make a commitment to change.
The real problem
When you nitpick, it drives your employees crazy, but it wastes valuable resources, too. Your near-constant nitpicking keeps your employees on the defense, regularly strategizing ways to manage their work and you. It’s a diversion of time and energy your company could do without.
Also, over time, your nitpicking can erode your employee’s confidence in their abilities and judgment. Some will decide it’s better to ask you about everything before moving a muscle. Seriously, is that what you want?
A better way
Teach, don’t tell. Provide resources, and then get out of the way. Coach. Mentor. Inspire. Let someone else be right. Stop focusing on little things that don’t mean a hill of beans.
Listen. Relinquish control. Trust.
It’s better for you, better for your employees, and better for your company.