We all know someone who insists on showing us what, where, how, and why to do something. They will insist that they’re not trying to assert control, and rationalize that it’s just common sense. Their way is simply better.
In the realm of picking your battles, it’s sometimes easier to let a control freak win. If your friend always chooses where you go to lunch, whatever. It’s only lunch. On the other hand, if your colleague tends to take over the meeting and dismiss your contributions, well, that’s another story.
One of the primary goals I have as a mediator is to make sure the conversations are balanced. That means I’m attuned to sniffing out the control freak right away, so that he/she doesn’t run the show. Because I am neutral, I’m not emotionally invested in the outcome. But in my personal life, I’ve learned a lot about dealing with control freaks, and I have boiled it down to five tips.
Tip #1: Keep your distance. Establishing boundaries at the beginning is really helpful. How? Try using a “next time” or “from now on” type of approach. If you’re tired of your friend hogging the conversation and never showing any interest in you, simply state, “next time we get together, I’m going ask you to do the listening instead of the talking.”
Tip #2: Set consequences. Demanding the cooperation of a controlling person is necessary to your own well-being, but a control freak won’t care unless you provide the “or else.” If you’re fed up with your colleague undermining you during staff meetings, take her aside and tell her that you intend to bring her behavior to the attention of the CEO if it happens again.
Tip #3: Stay calm and breathe. Take a minute or two to think about being proactive rather than reactive. It’s a good strategy and your momentary silence will be unnerving to the control freak.
Tip #4: Shift the focus back to you. This one’s a little tricky because it requires you to reclaim your power. Try saying this: “You have a point. Now let me share MY thoughts.” Acknowledging that the control freak has a point immediately defuses his/her need to be right. And by sharing YOUR thoughts, you are forcing the control freak to listen for a change. The focus is back on YOU.
Tip #5: Keep your sense of humor. Try to find what’s funny in the situation, and exaggerate it. When your friend yet again chooses the vegetarian restaurant and you’re a carnivore, tell her you’re going to drive-thru McDonald’s and eat your Big Mac while she’s having her tofu salad. I think she’ll get the message, and you’ll have a great story to chuckle about later.
Above all, recognize what’s really bothering you. Do you cave because you’re seeking that person’s approval? Do you submit to pressure because you’re non-confrontational? Remember, you’re in control of you, and you have the freedom to change your own actions when dealing with a controlling person.