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Is Your Need for Control Taking Control of You?

January 15, 2016

By: Crystal Spraggins

Managing a career takes discipline. If you’ve obtained some degree of success at work, you probably didn’t do it by leaving a bunch of stuff to chance. Instead, a good bit of your actions were likely planned.

That’s okay. Self-control is a virtue—there’s no doubt about it.

However, difficulties can arise when the need for self-control crosses the line and becomes the need to control everyone else.

Seeing Red

Dr. Taylor Hartman, the author of The People Code, says that each person is primarily motivated by the desire to pursue one of four things: peace, relationship, fun, or power:

  • Peace (White)—you don’t like drama and will go out of your way to achieve peace. You neither care to control or to be controlled.
  • Relationship (Blue)—you desire closeness with others and like your relationships deep and authentic.
  • Fun (Yellow)—you are the quintessential “people person.” You live in the moment and don’t see the point in doing anything if it’s not enjoyable.
  • Power (Red) (now we’re getting to the heart of the matter!)—you’re a “power wielder” who likes to be in control all the time.

As Dr. Hartman points out, each color has strengths and limitations. Reds can be impressively productive, for example, but also insensitive, selfish, demanding, critical, poor listeners, impatient, and manipulative.

That’s what happens when your desire for control takes control of you.

Be Careful What You Wish For …

There are two enormous problems with needing to always be in charge.

First, others tend to resent it, which negatively affects your ability to elicit cooperation. Like it or not, you’re no island. Instead, you need other people to advance your goals. Not surprisingly, those people are more liable to offer their assistance when they don’t hate you. (And if you’re the boss, don’t count on being able to “make” people help you. It just doesn’t work that way. Disgruntled employees will find all kinds of ways to resist your instructions—without coming off as openly insubordinate.)

Second, even the most gifted individual has less than perfect vision, and no one knows everything. That means it’s generally to our advantage to be open to input from others. Customarily dismissing your coworkers' opinions and ideas or direct reports is sure to result in poorer quality work. 

It’s So Ironic

The irony of always needing to be in control is that the need controls you while preventing you from making the best decisions possible.

Think about it. If your primary motivation is to assert your superiority or authority—rather than find the best solution to a problem, for example—your personal interests are bound to interfere with your ability to do work well, even if only on occasion. 

Taming the Beast

How can you rid yourself of this bad habit? If you believe Dr. Hartman, even someone born with the tendency to crave control, can change and learn to temper his or her natural inclination with a concern for others.

So if your take-charge ways are interfering with your work relationships, here are 3 quick tips to turn your control freak volume down a notch:

  • Slow down. Yes, there are many things to get done, but you can take a minute to let someone catch up with you. It’ll be fine, promise, and your coworkers or subordinates will appreciate your consideration.
  • Get a grip. You’re not the only one with a good idea, experience, or decent analytical skills. Other people have something to contribute, too. Let them.
  • Practice gratitude. Instead of viewing other people as tools to get want you want or impediments to your goals, practice seeing people as valuable human beings in their own right and make a point to appreciate the good things they do on your behalf. When you appreciate the talents of others, you’ll have an easier time delegating and/or letting go of tasks others should rightfully handle. As a bonus, you’ll have more time to pursue new adventures. 

Our workplaces need take-charge people, especially when there are hard decisions to be made and not a lot of time to make them.

However, when you lose control of your need to take control, what should be a virtue becomes an unfortunate and career-stumbling vice.

Crystal Spraggins

Freelance Writer, Editor, and HR Consultant in Philly. You can find more of Crystal's work at:

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