Leaders: How to Deal with Control Freaks

Control Freak

Haven’t we all come across control freaks in our lives at one time or another?

If you say that you haven’t, then I would be quite surprised! They seem to be anywhere people gather and they are very tenuous to deal with.

Dealing With Control Freaks

The bad news is that you can find such people in any walk of life, but the good news is that there is a way to deal with them. You just need to be patient with such people and you can’t expect to treat them just like others because it simply will not work.

Although they are very trying to be around, you definitely cannot let them frustrate you because when you do this you are giving them more power that way. You could certainly refuse to deal with them, but you might be forced in a situation at work or some other place where you will have no choice but to deal with a control freak.

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Understanding the Control Freak

con·trol freak [ kən trṓl freek ]

  1. Slang. n. a person whose behavior indicates a powerful need to control people or circumstances in everyday matters.

The very first thing to know about a control freak is that he is somewhere insecure himself which makes him behave in a controlling manner.

  • They are probably not sure of their ability to work with people or lead them and therefore they chose to control them.
  • They haven’t developed the right leadership skills and controlling is the only way they know.
  • They may even feel threatened by you and by trying to control you they feel a sense of false power.

The other obvious thing to note is that control freaks are completely unaware of the fact that they are being perceived as control freaks. These people sometime wonder why they are not so popular.

The answer is obvious to us but not to them.

When you know and accept these two facts about control freaks, it immediately gives you power over them. Some people may mistakenly perceive them as bossy, type A personalities and fail to see their weakness.

If you are able to see their insecurities, you can deal with them very easily.

Leading the Control Freak

If you have the time and inclination to coach these personalities into becoming able leaders, you should attempt to do so.

I have to say, it is not going to be easy.

First you will have to make them realize their weakness because they are not even aware and then help them overcome it.

Both of these processes could take years because they will have to first unlearn their current ways of dealing with people and then develop more healthy ways of leading.

Control Freak

If you are not inclined to be a coach to these people or you don’t have the time to devote neither you are in a position to coach them, then you will have to have a different strategy to deal with them.

  • One option is to work with their supervisors to keep their behavior in check. This is only possible if you work with them in a well-defined organizational setup.
  • If you work in a cross-functional organization or let’s say a volunteer organization where there is no hierarchy, then the strategy would have to be different. In such cases, try and appeal to their goals and aspirations.
  • If they have some goal that you can help them with, they will see you as a collaborator and will not get threatened by you. As soon as they see that they have something to gain from you, their behavior will soften automatically.

So, are you now or have you been in the past the victim of a control freak? How did it make you feel? How did you deal with it. Or perhaps, do you see some of these symptoms in your own behavior? If so, what steps can you take to play nicer in the sandbox with others? And how could this increase your level of influence? I would love to hear your thoughts?

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Aditi Chopra
Aditi Chopra is an experienced leader in the software industry
She is a consultant, writer and a leader
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2 Responses

  1. People who are uber-controlling (I don’t like to call them freaks because it’s a judgment about who they are) are certainly insecure and unaware of how they are behaving. They also seem to be perfectionists (or actually im-perfectionists because they’re looking for what’s wrong) and are often confused about goals and objectives so keep control of things until they understand the goals.

    Sometimes these folks have climbed the corp ladder precisely because they were controlling but now find themselves in a position where control isn’t helpful.

    Sometimes people who are too controlling are perceived as workplace bullies but generally speaking they’re not bullying but rather lack the communication and delegation skills necessary to be a good manager.

    As workplace bullying label expands to cover many types of mis-communication as well as true bullying behavior, those with poor management skills are going to have a harder time with their careers.

    In sum uber-controllers are destined for failure, if they don’t change.

    Change is possible but coaching folks through that change is most effective.

  2. Good point, Kathleen. Like you said, controlling behavior may help in the short term but is definitely not going to work for a long time and needs to be changed.

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