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5 Ways to Manage Controlling People


Wed Dec 16 2015

5 Ways to Manage Controlling People

We’ve all come across co-workers like Al, who constantly needs updates on miniscule project details. Or people like Deidre, who must analyze everything that comes across her desk. And don’t forget guys like Simon, who has mastered the withering stare at co-workers who make mistakes.

These professionals are control-oriented. It’s understandable why you wouldn’t want to work with them. To people without a controlling inclination, these co-workers seem difficult, demanding, and short-tempered, with exceedingly high expectations.


But complaining about them or dismissing them as “control freaks” won’t improve the situation. At the end of the day, you still need to get the job done, and people like Al, Deidre, and Simon are going to be part of the equation.

After more than 40 years of coaching experience, I’ve come up with five steps for working productively with controlling personalities:

#1: Know That It’s Not About You

If they treat you with what feels like personal disregard for your feelings, it’s likely because feelings have little place in their world. If you choose to take their comments and actions personally, remember that you are now making yourself responsible for their reactions. This will only exacerbate the issue.

#2: Acknowledge Their Concerns

Controlling behavior is a way of coping with a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA). This doesn’t excuse these people’s difficult approach, but it should encourage you to figure out why control may be so important to them. Rapidly changing work demands, coupled with highly ambiguous solutions, make some people want to control everything. You may well be the target of their fixation.

#3: Find Out What They Want

Sometimes a direct approach works best. Quickly determine their wants and needs to reach goals. Remember that many controlling types are perfectionists. They appreciate specific, measurable, resource-appropriate, and time-bound commitments that are not moving targets. Help them understand the requirements and specifications for the desired outcome. Negotiate the commitment so that it is realistic and acceptable to you, not just them.


#4: Keep Them Updated

When I was working with a co-worker we’ll call Robert, I would get calls and texts at all hours. He would also schedule far too many status meetings. Finally I started keeping him apprised of progress, problems, and plans—before he asked. The meetings and calls stopped.

#5: Give Them Facts, Not Feelings

Controlling people respond best to facts, not feelings. They understand results-oriented language that has clear, specific steps and milestones, not emotional pleas of urgency to meet deadlines. They don’t see it as their problem if you don’t respond positively to their controlling nature. Don’t make it your problem, either. Keep the conversation on what you can agree upon. Deliver on promises. Be honest and direct when you cannot. It is far better to renegotiate a commitment than drop the ball and make it a crisis.

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