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Control, How Do I Get It?

October 13th, 2011

Have you ever seen so much effort put into controlling others lately? It seems in a lot of meetings I attend these days there appears to be a desire to control the actions and decisions of others. Perhaps it is a reflection of the times and what is happening in our society. When people feel the events going on in the world are out of control, they try to focus on what they think they can control, whether that is the case or not. So, if I can’t control world events, maybe I can control events in the office or the family or in groups in which I participate.

When experiencing this lack of control many people feel threatened and their way of dealing with the stress this causes is by trying to gain more control. Therefore, it is not surprising that people are feeling that others are trying to control them and the events around them. If all you know is that you need to control others to feel better about your own experience, then operating out of what Roger Schwarz calls “The Unilateral Control Model” is the way you will relate to others.

So how does operating out of the “Unilateral Control Model” impact our relationships and ultimately, the interpersonal climate? And what is the alternative to operating under this model?

In The Skilled Facilitator the author Roger Schwarz describes this model and the alternative, the “Mutual Learning Model”.

The “Unilateral Control Model” is described as the way we behave in a psychologically threatening or embarrassing situations. If we are feeling threatened by the sense of having no control, then our behaviors can be understood by examining the “Unilateral Control Model’.

To understand what motivates our behavior we need to review the core values of this model, which are;

  • Achieve my goal through unilateral control (getting others to do what I want them to do)
  • Win, don’t lose (achieving my intended purpose)
  • Minimize expressing negative feelings (keep my unpleasant feelings out of the conversation)
  • Act rationally (I remain objective and not become emotional)

When I reflect upon my recent experiences of individuals trying to control others and/or the situation, I certainly see these values at work. The way I experience these behaviors can be demonstrated by the following core assumptions;

ü  I understand the situation; those who see it differently do not

ü  I am right; those who disagree are wrong

ü  I have pure motives; those who disagree have questionable motives

ü  My feelings are justified

Have you observed any of these assumptions in action? If so, what is the result of these assumptions being acted out? Do any of the following results look familiar?

  • Misunderstanding, conflict and defensiveness
  • Mistrust
  • Self-fulfilling, self-sealing processes (attempting to control the situation and push your point of view while not being open to influence by others)
  • Limited learning (don’t learn about other points of view)
  • Reduced effectiveness (lower productivity of the group interaction)
  • Reduced quality of worklife

If none of this sounds desirable, perhaps we should explore the alternative approach; the “Mutual Learning Model”. The core values are;

  • Valid information (I need all of the information relevant to an issue)
  • Free and informed choice (choices are based on valid information and free of coercion, manipulation, or defensiveness)
  • Internal commitment (as a result I become internally committed to the choice)
  • Compassion (involves adapting a stance toward others where I suspend judgment)

Behavior based on these values looks like the following assumptions:

ü  I have some information; others have other information

ü  Each of us may see things that others do not

ü  Differences are opportunities for learning

ü  People are trying to act with integrity, given their situation

Have you experienced situations where people behave based on these assumptions? If so, what were the results of these behaviors? Do any of the following look familiar?

  • Increased understanding, reduced conflict and defensiveness
  • Increased trust
  • Fewer self-fulfilling, seal-sealing processes
  • Increased learning
  • Increased effectiveness
  • Increased quality of worklife

If these look like desirable outcomes, what prevents us from changing our approach and behaving accordingly? Is it just the lack of understanding? If knowledge is critical and you want to know more, I highly recommend The Skilled Facilitator by Roger Schwarz.

If you don’t want to be that person who is trying to control others or the situation, then you need to explore the “Mutual Learning Model” and begin to incorporate the core values and assumptions into you behavioral responses. Until next time, take advantage of this new knowledge whenever you feel the need to control others.

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