Do you like being in control of your job and career? Does not being in control feel uncomfortable and disabling? Wanting to be more in control of your life at work and beyond is a common coaching issue. Unsurprising, given today’s perfect storm of tech, politics, economics, social, legal, and environmental changes. Uncertainty and the accompanying anxiety are the new normal. This post examines the nature of control, why we want it, and how to tackle that sense of not being in control.
The nature of control
Control brings order to chaos, predictability to actions, and reduces unwanted outcomes. That’s fine in stable situations and highly-regulated environments. At a personal level, there will be times in your life when everything is going smoothly and under control. However, calm and certainty can be illusory, like the proverbial swan gliding gracefully on the water while furiously paddling below. Often, we seek control when we lack something or feel overwhelmed. For example:
- when you don’t know why something is happening
- if you lack knowledge that you want or need
- when you don’t know how to do something
- if workload, information, and emotions overwhelm you
- when you depend on other people or they depend on you
- if your self-esteem and self-confidence are at risk
- when the negative consequences of not being in control are too great
So, how can you address that sense of not being in control?
Acknowledge your fears
Acknowledge what you fear will happen if you are not in control. It takes courage to be honest with yourself (and a trusted friend or a coach can help you uncover those fears). Being judged by others? Being unable to make decisions? Not making everyone happy? Showing weakness or being ‘found out’? Loss of pride or status? Once you name your fears, then you can tackle them. Otherwise, they eat away at your self-confidence and prevent you from being at your best.
If you don’t know why something is happening, it’s tempting to throw your hands up in despair or blameothers or put your head in the sand. Instead, face up to your fears and seek more clarity or answers from within yourself or from others.
Create your own certainties
We tell ourselves all kind of career myth stories for self-protection. We fear the truth will hurt if the wall we build to protect ourselves comes crumbling down. Those walls can be personal myths about what you can and can’t do, what you are willing or unwilling to do. Many have faulty assumptions. For example, ‘I need to be in control because managers must be strong and not show weakness’ or ‘…because job seekers must be confident and not show insecurity or vulnerability’ or ‘…because I’m supposed to be the expert and know it all’.
What would be your own truths if you replaced them with what you really know to be true? How would you feel then? Make your own judgements and create your own truths to liberate yourself and create your own certainties.
Also, be clear about what you know and don’t know. What do you know about yourself? How do others see you? What do you know about other people, the team, the employer or sector? Put some stakes in the ground. Accept what you know you don’t know. Be curious, explore, and be prepared to respond when you find out. For example, using an underplayed strength, limiting an overplayed strength, developing a new skill or adopting a new mindset. Like the parachuter in the sky, focus on what is within your control and recognise what is not.
The bombardment of information online can be overwhelming and make you feel you aren’t in control. The key is to be selective and to filter information for focus, relevance and less stress. Check out these tips to help with information overload.
If your workload is too high, raise it with your boss, be clear about priorities (and stick to them), delegate if it’s an option, compartmentalise and break things down into manageable chunks.
Take time out to recover when your emotions overwhelm you. Regain your balance through rest and activities that recharge your batteries. Practise pausing and reflecting to give yourself breathing space.
Redraw your boundaries
No one can do it all and be great at everything. There is too much to do and never enough time. People who overplay being in control, either consciously or unconsciously, run the risk of demotivating others and inhibiting them from being the best they can be. Controlling to subjugate others is an abuse of power and a form of bullying. Have you ever been on the receiving end of a controlling boss? How does it feel?
Alternatively, you can succeed by letting go and redrawing the boundaries of your control. For example, when you move from education to work, suddenly, you depend on others and not just yourself to achieve things. Successful teams in any arena rely on the whole being greater than any one individual. Collaborative working and partnering involve compromise, co-operation, and trust. That applies whether you are employed or self-employed.
Share responsibility, spread the load, and coach others to increase your trust in their abilities. Become aware of other people’s strengths and ensure they complement your temporary limitations or enduring weaknesses.