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How to become a likable control freak

>> 6 October 2010

I was in a training course recently about Stakeholder Management.

We were taught the different levels of buy-in and involvement stakeholders need to have over the course of a project.

A colleague of mine, let's call her Melissa, was having trouble with this.

To her, it seemed normal that ALL her stakeholders needed to be kept happy and up to date ALL THE TIME from the beginning to the end of a project.

But at the same time she was admitting that she was stressed and afraid things would get out of hand if she lost that control.

I sent her a post on perfectionism and she replied that it wasn't so much perfection that she was striving for but that she probably was a bit of a control freak and if I had any posts on that, she'd be glad to receive them.

Well, I didn't.

And as I used to have some control issues in the past, I thought I might as well write a post about this myself.
  • What is control?
    If you look in the dictionary, it's a scary word.
    It has to do with power, domination, restraint, regulation.
    It implies that something is bad and needs to be changed.
    It insinuates that something or someone is better than another.
  • Is it good or bad?
    Probably neither. The opposite of control may be chaos. If there were no control over anything, where would we be? Would we all be running around wildly? Or would we just adapt to the new way things are?
  • How much control do you need?
    A certain amount of control can certainly be beneficial, depending on the goal you need to achieve. The more you control people though, the more you restrain them from a lot of things (like being spontaneous, creative, individual or just simply your friend). Most people don't like the feeling of being controlled. Some are being controlled and don't even notice (because they think it's normal, because they are in love...).
  • When do you become a freak?
    It is normal that you should want to be in control of your life. YOUR life, not other people's.
    Control freaks are terrified of failure. They don't trust other people can do things as well as they can. Being in control gives them a temporary illusion and sense of calmness.
    Control freaks suffer from perfectionism, they are very orderly, can't delegate, micro-manage and have workaholic tendencies. They are afraid of being vulnerable. 
There is a lot of advice out there on how to deal with a control freak.
There is not much help out there if you ARE one and want to change.

I'm a control freak. How do I change?
  1. Childhood:
    First of all, it is good to know that most behaviors (good and bad) are with you since childhood. You learned to behave this way. Whether from your parents or other meaningful people around you. You copied the pattern that you were shown.

    I am not saying you should go into therapy to return to your childhood and analyze how evil your parents were so that you can blame everything on them!
    But it is good to know where this behavior comes from and why you're doing it.

  2. Attention:

    Okay, so you figured out why you are the freak that you are. And a behavior you have learned over the last x years is not something you shake in a day. So, instead of trying to stop controlling completely, let's start with little steps:

    Try to be aware of your actions. Notice whenever you are controlling something or someone. Give it some attention. Ask yourself 'What's going on here? and why?' Then breathe, let it go.

    The more you focus your attention on your behavior, the more you become aware of it. The more you become aware of it, the more you can steer it.

  3. Change the HOW not the WHAT

    You're a control freak. That's your WHAT. It's WHAT you DO. That's what you have been trying to change because deep down you know it's getting you stressed, making you unhappy and not gaining you any friends.

    What would happen if you tried to change the HOW instead?

    This can be many different things depending on the type of your controlling behavior

    • How you behave with people
    • How you see and value yourself
    • How you are organized
    • How do do things

    How can you change a few little things to alter the above?

    Ask yourself what it is that you really want. Slow down and get clear. Why do you do what you do? Where do you want to go?
A few quick and dirty tips:

Woah! I hear you say. That's like a looong process. Isn't there a shortcut?

No, there isn't. But there are a few things that you should know that may kick you in the butt:
  • Showing a weakness does not mean you loose control. It makes you human and likable.
  • Trust your instincts: does this need to be controlled by you or is it gonna be fine without it?
  • If you have to use control, use it in a respectful way (don't belittle, shout, pressure, manipulate...)
  • Watch your tone of voice, your body language, the way you deliver something. How does that make you come across?
And most importantly: You teach people how to treat you. 

Don't say that your kids never clean up or that your husband never does the dishes.
Because you've always done it, people get that you will always do it....


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