How to Work with Control Freaks

Why are some people obsessed with control? Why do they insist that everything be done their way even when your way works just as well -- or even better? You know them: They're the fear-driven colleagues who question and complain unless every task is done as they would do it, bosses who think they never have enough information to make a final decision, or bean counters who delay important orders because they're checking boxes over and over again. Here's why they are like they are, and three steps for dealing with control freaks.

Control freaks see themselves as burdened with the task of protecting an ungrateful world from mistakes. They are seldom aware of the fear that drives their behavior.

Imagine a dog inside an electric fence. After he touches it once or twice, you can turn off the power because he won't go near it again. That is how control freaks handle the possibility of mistakes. They try to keep a safe distance by obsessing about every detail lest even the tiniest of errors take them by surprise.

Of course, this strategy can be self-defeating. While it's good to avoid mistakes, people who take chances are the ones who succeed. Remember, Babe Ruth held the all-time record for strikeouts as well as for home runs. Thomas Edison, inventor of the electric light and the phonograph, patented 1,091 inventions, most of which no one ever found useful.

So what do you do if you have to work for a control freak? Getting mad and accusing him or her of being a control freak will only make the situation worse. She will see your behavior as evidence that you're not interested in doing things the "right" way.

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