If you’re someone who desires control, my heart goes out to you; control is an illusion. We cannot control anything other than our own behavior. That’s true whether we’re trying to control situations or others’ behavior.
We can’t control situations. External factors like the weather, the economy or the health issues we face are beyond our control. We are not given a choice as to whether or not the situation arises. The only choice we have is how we deal with the situation.
News reports highlight the lack of willing workers for the employers who desperately want to hire, a still recovering supply chain, or the struggling economies of other countries, which to me illustrates that there are no quick fixes to inflation. If there were, we’d have seen them already because any politician capable of solving these problems would be assured reelection.
We can’t control others’ behavior. If you doubt that, talk to any parent and they’ll tell you how strongly their kids resist being told what to do. Indeed, the more that you try to control others’ behavior, the greater the resistance you create to what you’re trying to accomplish. That does not change as people get older.
Any manager who has tried to micromanage has experienced their direct reports following their instructions to the letter knowing that the effort is going to fail. They do so because they hate being controlled as much as any child does.
The reality of this resistance is further evidenced by the annual Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For. The employees in these companies consistently report that the reason why they enjoy their jobs is because of the autonomy they have in doing their work. They also cite the ability to learn and grow in their jobs, the sense of being valued and valuable and being a part of something bigger than themselves.
None of these feelings exist when we sense that others want to control our behavior…when we feel that we are being viewed as automatons who are expected to behave as instructed. We resist these impositions…as we should.
So what’s the alternative?
The alternative is influence. Influence is gained when we:
- Ask questions that are designed to shine a new light on the subject.
- Allow the listener(s) time to consider your question, reach a conclusion and validate that conclusion with their own experiences.
- Are open to the possibility that we are wrong and the other person’s position is the more accurate one.
- Are willing to change our position when we realize that it’s less correct than the one posed by others.
- It’s you who may be wrong.
You’ll notice that none of these elements of influence could be misconstrued as attempts to control the person(s) involved. Instead, the objective is to explore, jointly, the subject at hand in an attempt to find a mutually-agreeable solution.
Whenever you feel the desire to control a situation or someone else’s behavior, remind yourself:
- Control is an illusion.
- Attempts to control create resistance.
- Influence avoids resistance.
- Influence seeks a mutually-agreeable solution.
- Influence allows the listener to validate their conclusions with their own experience.
You’ll avoid the frustration and anxiety arising from the resistance you’d create in trying to control the situation or others’ behavior. Better yet, you’ll enjoy good outcomes and enhanced relationships with all with whom you interact. In other words, you’ll appreciate how much easier and enjoyable life becomes.
For our kids
When you see kids trying to control a situation or someone’s behavior, share with them the folly of doing so. Use examples of how your efforts to control resulted in poor choices or damaged relationships. It’s also helpful to ask them: “How would you feel if someone tried to control you in that way?”
The earlier that kids learn that control is an illusion and how to gain influence, the easier and more enjoyable their lives will be for decades to come.
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Dale, I wrestled with this control issue earlier in my career. After much thought I drew the conclusion that control is best gained by giving it up. Over the years, I have proven that my earlier conclusion was right on the mark, at least for me 🙂
Bill, your comment reminded me of a number of conversations I’ve had over the years with clients who lamented not having the authority to accomplish what they desired. My response to their lament was always the same: “I’m a consultant. I have no authority at all. The only way that I can accomplish anything is to influence others’ thinking in a way that gets them to act upon my idea…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” If I had control (positional authority), I might be tempted to employ it. Not having control forced me to become more creative, more precise and convincing in my communications and more open to the possibility that it is I who is wrong. As you say, control is best gained by giving it up.