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How to Work With a Controlling Person

Controlling behaviour at work often stems from a need for power and status, and can leave those of us on the receiving end feeling undermined and struggling to deliver on the very basics at work. The troubling behaviour can manifest itself from different angles. It could be your boss, a colleague, or even a client who is being overly controlling - and having a knock on impact on your productivity and well being.

If you’re struggling with working with a controlling person, here are some ideas to get you back into the driving seat.

See Also: How to Spot a Manipulator at Work

1. Practise Asserting Yourself

If you are struggling with a controlling person, then you need to have what might feel like a tough conversation, to tell them how their behaviour is affecting you, and make it clear that it is not acceptable. This can be especially challenging if you are dealing with a controlling boss. But in this situation it is actually all the more important to get your point across.

Pick the right time and place for the conversation. Choose a private moment, and think about whether the individual is more likely to respond well to a relatively formal setting (in a performance review or meeting, for example), or something less constrained, like a lighter touch conversation over coffee.

Think carefully about the tone you are seeking to hit, you must stay calm - assertive not aggressive, and focus on specifics of the behaviour that are making you uncomfortable. Tell the individual how their behaviour is making you feel, with real examples. Never make outright emotive statements such as ’you’re a bully’. But do be clear, for example, you might say, "When you contradicted me in the meeting earlier, it made me feel as though my opinion was not valued."

2. Create Space

How you do this is dependent on the environment, the severity of the issue, and the role and relationship you have with the controlling person in question. If you are seriously struggling with a colleague, who is impairing your ability to deliver well at your own job, then you should raise this with your boss and ask for support in either resolving the issue or making changes to the team that can create either space or boundaries.

This conversation, of course, is somewhat more difficult if the controlling person is your direct manager. In which case you may need to ask HR or another senior manager to help resolve your issues.

If the situation is less serious, or the controlling behaviour is isolated, you may find such drastic measures are not necessary. Simply creating space by taking a ’time out’ to walk in the park or somehow escape the office environment may be enough to let the situation calm.

3. Keep Calm

This might be easier said than done - but keeping calm and cool when faced with your controlling person is a real must. If you are visibly upset or angry as a result of their behaviour, this may serve to make it worse in the long run.

Try to work out the root cause behind the controlling behaviour you are experiencing. If you can calmly identify the issue, then you might well be in a position to diffuse the behaviour. For example, if you have a colleague or boss who appears to be trying to overly control your work, then it could be that they are concerned about the delegation process or don’t believe that anyone else could deliver the same quality that they can.

If this is the case, then you could talk more openly to the individual about how you can work together to ensure that you are fully skilled and trained. Even if you are sure about how well you can complete the task in hand, you could highlight the issue in a non confrontational way by saying, "It feels like you’re worried about how well I can deliver on this - what can we do together to make sure you’re confident in my ability?"

4. Look For The Lessons

 And finally, there is always something to be learned - even if the main things you take away from the situation are lessons in how not to behave. Look for the opportunities to grow personally, developing skills like assertiveness, influence and negotiation - but protect yourself.

If the situation becomes so bad that it is damaging your health, then it is time to seek help or move on. If you think the behaviour you’re experiencing is tantamount to bullying then talk to your boss or HR department, who should support you to resolve the issue.

See also: How to Deal With a Bad Boss

It is very unusual that you manage a working life without encountering a controlling colleague, client or boss. When it happens, it can feel draining emotionally, and cause you to question your own thinking and abilities. Use some of these ideas and coping mechanisms if you’re faced with this issue, but don’t forget that you deserve to be treated with respect and dignity at work. If the problem continues, then don’t be afraid to speak up and seek help.

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