Thursday, 17 December 2009

Those who seek to control: love of power or an expression of fear?

We've all met some of these people.

No matter what you're doing, they will always tell you how to do it better.

Or what you're doing wrong.

Or what actions you should be taking that you are not.

It doesn't matter if it's a task you've been doing successfully for years, or the dress you just bought for the company dinner, or the way you've arranged your furniture. I'm not talking about someone with a specialized area of knowledge who is passionate about sharing it. These are the generalists, who would appear to know most everything about, well, everything!

They are right there offering "helpful" suggestions. Put this here, get this instead, do it this way. These aren't the mean tyrants who scream and swear and demand. These are the people who always believe that you are in need of their help to avoid a potentially disastrous result. Their "suggestions" are phrased so carefully, that you might not see them for the control efforts they are. But here are some clues...

1) The suggestions are made when you have not asked for them, nor are you expressing any distress, uncertainty or doubt about what you are doing

2) The suggestions make you feel that you must say "Thank you," even when you would rather say "Stop!"

3) The suggestions are made across of a variety of situations, from car troubles to hairstyle to classes for your kids. In fact, there seems to be no area in which they do not have something to say.

4) Hearing the suggestions makes you feel less capable, less certain or makes you feel that you must at least consider whatever they say lest they be offended.

5) They offer suggestions to nearly, friends, your friends, strangers on the subway -- even career professionals like doctors, lawyers and others they may have hired.

And while these chronically helpful people come across as meaning well, the phrase "The path to hell is paved with good intentions" truly applies to them.

So is it a love of power? Sometimes, probably. But mostly it's fear. Self-doubt.

In most cases, these controlling people have lives that are out of control. Their own children are in trouble at school, but they are ready with advice about your parenting. They need to loose 50 pounds, but they can tell you what diet you need to follow. Their yard is a mass of weeds, but they will suggest where and what you should plant in your own garden.

So what do you do? They aren't acting out of malice, after all. But the effect can be damaging to us. Try this:

Next time you are on the receiving end of one of their "helpful" comments, say firmly but kindly that favorite-phrase of 4 year-olds everywhere:

"No thank you, I can do it myself."

And despite what they may tell you, know that you really can.

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