If you’ve landed on this page prepare yourself.
One of the latest buzzwords to hit common speech (apart from beginning every sentence with the word ‘basically …’) is to call someone you don’t approve of, ‘controlling’.
What Does it Mean to be Called ‘Controlling’?
One way we are all controlling is when it comes to expressing hurt feelings. It’s difficult to discuss with friends or family when things go wrong for us at work or otherwise. Once you reach adult years, permission to ‘vent’ doesn’t apply in all situations. After a conflict with someone, the first step many take towards dealing with that achey feeling inside is to search the internet for answers. We recognise we’ve mis-stepped socially, even though we may not have started the conversation in the first place that led to a messy exchange of words. The question remains; what have we done?
“When you become a parent, or a teacher, you turn into a manager of this whole system. You become the person controlling the bubble of innocence around a child, regulating it.” Kazuo Ishiguro
Controlling at Home
Are you a controlling parent? Kazuo Ishiguro in discussion with The Guardian Newspaper goes on to add ‘all children have to be deceived if they are to grow up without trauma.‘ Now there’s an interesting sentiment. Most parents would agree that if you tell your children every detail of your lives there’s a good chance every parent at school will know the same details. There’s merit in holding things back, or ‘controlling’ information.
Beyond protecting your private family life, in what other circumstances can you be a ‘controlling’ parent?
In the home, conflict is most centred around housework, house routines, and who does what and when. Children are like blank canvasses. In the case of a teenager helping out by washing up the dishes, it soon becomes clear he/she doesn’t automatically know how to do this. As the parent, there are two roads to take and in our modern world, they are two distinct roads. Give up and let the teenager ‘off’ or get involved and teach them how to do it. Interestingly, the first group (the give-up group) are likely to call the second group (the get involved group) ‘controlling’.
In defense of group one, you could argue that teaching children chores such as washing-up offers no real benefit, as they don’t need to learn this. Children watch you doing the washing up, so they know when they leave home washing up is an inevitable part of life. For now, they can pursue childhood interests, later on, they can enjoy teaching themselves, rather than learning autocratically. This parenting style could be said to encourage independent learning.
But does it really?
Are you Psychologically ‘Controlling’?
Parenting is an interesting place to examine the concept of ‘controlling’ others. Child psychologists explain healthy parenting is best done by behavioural control. Asking for chores to be done simply because they need to be done is considered controlling a child’s behaviour. They may complain and resist, however they are to be reminded the chore is to be done. They don’t have to like it, they just have to do it. Trying to make a chore appealing by drawing on the child’s feelings about it is considered psychologically controlling.
Asking your teenager to do the washing up is a completely reasonable thing to do. It helps them appreciate the other jobs done for them around the house. Trying to exert psychological control by telling the teenager how they should feel about the chore is like saying: “washing up is really good fun, you can enjoy listening to music and have a great time.” Telling a child to like a chore is one thing, and they may come to appreciate the chore over time as part of daily life. Disguising the unpleasantness of a chore, emphasising they must enjoy themselves or else, leads to kids who tend to be depressed, have low self-esteem, and suffer anxiety and loneliness. The child feels guilty because they don’t enjoy the chore. They are more likely to be involved in anti-social behavior and delinquency because their emotions are being mis-labelled and this angers and confuses a teen.
Being ‘Controlling’ at Work
Shift the idea of psychological control to the workplace. If you give someone feedback on their performance and load it up with a lot of emotional statements the door opens for unpleasant accusations. You might get called ‘controlling’ if you say things to colleagues like; “the whole office loved your speech on …”, or “… you really let everyone down that time.” Describing everyone as feeling a certain way and making yourself the office emotional barometer will not endear you to others. You are operating psychological control to get your points across.
Behavioural control involves giving good feedback, and like parenting, does not mean you give up and let colleague’s ‘off’ bad performance. Getting involved is easier when you are dealing with children, but even the best of us falter occasionally at work. The book featured in this post, How to Give Good Feedback, is a great little read on Amazon Kindle. Designed to recap the techniques of giving good feedback that is received well, it is best summarized by a quote from the book’s description:
“Remember, if someone has upset you with their feedback, you need the right tools to get heard, get your point across, and do it professionally and without causing offense. This book shows you how to win at work, and best negative colleagues and others who try to rain on your sunny day.” by Lisa McKnight