Everyone has encountered a control freak – you may live with one, work with one or be one yourself. Control freaks like to manage every detail of every situation; they are often over prepared and expect you to be the same. They’re the people who show up an hour early to meetings and have everyone feeling on edge. At home, they may bark orders at spouses and children and micromanage the comings and goings, and dictate everyone’s wardrobe, curfews, and meals. They may try to make all of the decisions and seem intolerant and unwilling to compromise. They may come across as selfish people who make everything about them. The control freaks you know may not know how to delegate because they don’t trust others to deliver, but this ends up holding up projects and progress.
Whether you’re struggling with control freaks at home or work, here are a few strategies to help you deal with the control freaks in your life.
Set and reinforce your boundaries.
Control freaks will test your personal limits and run over you if you let them. If something is important you and you notice a control freak taking over, you have to let them know where you draw the line. Even if you let them know one time, be prepared to repeat yourself and give reminders. For example – “Mary, to be clear – I am bringing my homemade cinnamon cake for the office holiday party, so there’s no need for you to bring one this year. I know you typically bring the dessert and the beverages for the party, but this year I’m bringing the cake as we previously agreed.” Control freaks have a funny way of “forgetting” your personal boundaries if you don’t reinforce them several times.
Assert yourself firmly and communicate clearly.
Control freaks often hear what they want to hear or ignore what you say altogether. So you have to be prepared to stand up for yourself and communicate. It can be easy to fall back and let them take over, especially if you’re a non-confrontational person. But if you do this, you run the risk of them running over you time and time again. Don’t let them! Speak up and assert yourself when you see they’re taking over something you’ve previously discussed. Be crystal clear when you express your feelings, boundaries, and feedback – don’t expect them to read your mind. They will take your silence, ambivalence, or ambiguity as license to take control, so if you’re not a very controlling person you may need to learn how to foster that aspect of yourself in order to get what you need.
Don’t make sudden changes.
An abrupt change of plans can throw off the control freak and disrupt their plans for the day or week. They may throw a tantrum or overreact to something that seems like no big deal to you. While their response may seem unreasonable, it’s simply a response to the anxiety that uncertainty creates for them. As much as possible, give the control freak in your life as much advance notice as you can when plans change so they have time to process their anxiety and adjust to the new course of action.
Try to understand where they’re coming from.
Believe it or not, someone else’s controlling behavior is not necessarily about you. Control is often a response to the chaos happening in some other area of their life – for example, a tumultuous marriage may foster controlling behavior at work, or a volatile childhood can make a person seek to control every aspect of their adult life. In that way, being in control helps to keep anxiety in check. Depending on the person and their relation to you, you may be able to support them and help them heal. Seek to understand and have compassion for what the person may have gone through or may be going through in areas of their life that you cannot see. This understanding and compassion alone can make it easier for you to deal with their controlling ways.