Control. It’s one of those words with mixed meanings.
Google tells us control is “the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events.” I see this term used in an outbound sense like “I will control what they do.” I also see it used in an individualized sense in instances such as “I need to control what happens to me.”
And the truth is we are all looking for control. The issue is we have different boundaries and the degree of control each person wants may lead to conflict. For how much control we have over people reaching out to us see my previous article on catcalling.
When we get two or more people interaction – control becomes a big deal and must always be negotiated.
Why is This an Issue?
Control is an issue because it is about boundaries. We, as humans in society, need boundaries to protect ourselves. We need to decide what is “in” and what is “out” for our own sanity.
We definitely don’t want friends or colleagues that push upon our boundaries and constantly ask us to do things we don’t want to do.
Some boundary conflict will be natural in life. No two people have the same boundaries. And what one person finds acceptable and what one finds unacceptable are often one and the same.
Let’s take modern dating as its a subject that comes up a lot. Some see text messaging as an unacceptable way to cheapen the quality of dating interactions between dates. Others take it as a great way to keep in touch and learn their partner. Same activity, different thoughts.
It also comes up in our professional world. Does your boss call you after working hours? Some welcome the chance to connect and get more done for the company and bond with their boss. Another employee at the same company may think the boss is overreaching into their personal time.
So these conflicting viewpoints on who each of us wants their world ordered necessarily sets up a negotiation over control.
How Do We Determine Who Is In Control?
So with all this battling over control how do we actually determine who is in control?
In a business environment it used to be easy. We had organizational charts showing who was the boss of who and we’d follow that to know. And in prior decades it was pretty clear if someone was above you in the organizational chart you answered to them.
But social norms and views on jobs are changing. No longer does everyone just want to do what their boss says. More and more employees are setting their own boundaries of how the workplace should look.
In personal relationships control is also important. Who sets the locations for meeting? Who directs the conversation? Who initiates meeting? How do interactions actually play out?
These are all important issues. And each relationship is different and every relationship going through a stormy period early on where each person is trying to figure out who leads and who follows in different areas of the relationship.
Normally there are a series of tests or an informal “dance” that is done to determine who is in control. Objections to one person’s behavior are made in some form and the recipient of the objection has to determine whether to tolerate the other person’s objections or rules or not.
An example from the workplace might drive it home. When an employee doesn’t like a boss calling them after hours they might just turn their ringer off or be slow to respond. The boss must either accept this employees boundary or change the working relationship. In one way or another we’ll get to an answer.
And in dating similar dances happen. For instance how often should the new couple speak and keep in touch between dates? The dance of their interaction will determine what they like and what they end up doing. And then both parties have to decide whether they are in or out of that negotiated relationship.
What Are The Outcomes of this “Dance”?
The dance of boundaries and control leads to a negotiated relationship. The parties may not think of it as a negotiation but it is. At some point the new couple, the new boss and employee and the new Facebook friends determine what their relationship looks like. And it doesn’t always work.
Sometimes our boundaries are incompatible. The amount of control we wanted – either outbound or over our individual circumstances – is not compatible with the amount of control they wanted.
In my world, for instance, I often have issues with what I call “non-friends” on social media. These are people you have interactions through public postings but you can’t have an actual conversation with. To me, if we are friends (Facebook or otherwise), we should be able to converse with each other on topics.
These non-friendships are out of bounds to me and are usually terminated by me.
And while often we fail to have matching expectations on boundaries and control sometimes we reach harmony.
What Happens If It Goes Right?
If we get it right we end up with compatible systems of control between individuals. We end up with a relationship where each person is getting what they need and we are able to work coexist and get our needs met. Each person is getting the degree of control in the relationship they need.
This is a healthy place to be as both individuals feel in control and a mutually beneficial win-win is established.
What Happens To Control Over Time?
For the relationships that reach a balance in control we will get to see how the relationship evolves over time. Each person will be learning and growing and changing.
Often our boundaries and need for control are fundamental to who we are and stable. But they can change with learning and growth. At some point the loyal follower may gain the confidence to be a lead. And the spouse that is a follower may someday want more independence.
Over time we will have to renegotiate, reestablish and reset control. And sometimes the change is too much and the relationship must radically change.
How Thinking About Control Has Made Me Better In Relationships?
As I think more about control and boundaries I am better at relationships. I know that I can see better what’s happening when I look at things from the lens of control.
It makes it easier to see if a relationship is working. It also makes me better able to understand why some relationships don’t work and walk away.
Sometimes we aren’t meant to have relationships with people, even if they are good, because we aren’t compatible. But that’s OK. We want to end non-working relationships sooner than later so we can get on to the ones that do work!
By: The Our Shawn McBride who is constantly studying the Future of Business as the host of The Future Done Right(TM) Show. If you want regular content on the future of business subscribe to get new blog posts from us here.
One of my recurring themes on Medium.com is looking at what words mean. Here are some prior articles on the subject:
And for some completely different topic from me check out Why I’ve Given Up On Work-Life Balance.
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