Stop Being So Controlling

I’m a control freak.

See, I have this picture in my mind about my business, my kids, my wife, my health and my comfort. You want to see me anxious or angry? Mess with those pictures.

Here’s an example. Last week my wife and I were up late creating a game plan to address some behaviors we felt needed correcting in our first grade boys. We debated several approaches, and I slept fitfully, feeling the weight of my responsibility as a dad.

The next day I related these challenges over lunch to a pair of executives. One looked at me incredulously and asked, “Are you serious!? Let it go. They’re just kids being kids! You sound like you’re running your family like you’re running a business!”

What an impact that comment had on me!

But you know what? I’ve thought more about it and have realized his comment implies it’s ok to run my business with that level of control. Is it really?

Don’t get me wrong; we all need feedback, coaching and accountability. So often, though, I have a picture in my mind of how work should be done, and I try to fix, change and drive people to my vision.

And yet…when I write those words, it all sounds so normal, so completely logical.

To some degree and at certain times, we’re all control freaks.

micro management

And here’s what we’re doing in the process: We’re limiting the engagement of others and making ourselves angry and anxious.

Don’t believe you’re controlling? Well, here are three signs that you probably are (and what you can do about it).

    1. Observing. When we watch from the sidelines as someone else volunteers for the task, raises their hand or says something risky, we stay safe: We control our comfort.The next time you’re scrolling through your news feed, comment on articles and posts. When you’re in a meeting and afraid a dumb comment will make others think less of you, say it anyway. When the opportunity surfaces to lead a new initiative, raise your hand. You’re needed in the game! Let go of the need to control your comfort.
    2. Talking. When we’re talking, it’s our answer, our idea, our direction: We control the agenda. I notice I talk more when I’m nervous and when I’m adamant about a point (when I’m losing control).The next time you’re talking, try using my structure for talking in “Tweets” – character-limited messages that connect and matter to others. Or imagine a basketball shot clock ticking down from 45 seconds. Before it runs out, pause and ask for other perspectives. Dialogue, don’t download. Let go of your need to control with an agenda.
    3. Doing. My wife once asked me how my day went. “Great,” I responded. When she asked why, I said, “Because I got a lot done.” To which she replied, “Is that the only way that you measure your day?”

It stopped me in my tracks. I realized that when I “do,” I sense progress toward my vision: I’m controlling the outcome.

Thinking, listening and dialoguing can be unpredictable, ambiguous and sometimes derailing. But the next time you’re tempted to put your head down and plow through, to go it alone, ask yourself, “What do I need to let go of doing right now?”

Don’t these all sound so benign…and so unsuspectingly normal?

If you see yourself in any of the above, what will you do to let go and stop being so controlling?



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  • Jim Vos
    October 29, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    Many years ago, I had a boss who insisted that the proper grip on anything valuable – a puppy, a golf club, an employee, a spouse – was like the grip you’d have on an open tube of toothpaste.
    Too loose – it slips from your hand. Too tight – there will surely be a mess.

    • Matt Norman
      October 30, 2014 at 1:58 am

      That’s a great image Jim. Really appreciate you weighing in on the topic.

  • Rick
    October 29, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    Dialog, don’t download. Wow, I certainly needed to hear that and will take a new look at my conversations from that perspective. Thanks Matt!

    • Matt Norman
      October 30, 2014 at 2:00 am

      Thanks for your honesty, Rick. It’s hard to stop talking when you are so enthusiastic about your ideas!

  • Mike Norman
    October 30, 2014 at 1:21 am

    I battled with this for most of my career. I finally learned that the more I try to control, the more I am out of control. In retirement, it is whole lot easier because it is no longer about running a business. It still becomes an issue in relationship with my spouse. Even after 44 years of marriage, I still try to control Karen more than I should. We are both a whole lot happier when I just let her be herself. Thanks for the great insight.

    • Matt Norman
      October 30, 2014 at 2:03 am

      Thank you for your comments and transparency, Dad. I really appreciated your recent reminder to me to work on changing myself and let go of trying to change other people.