How to Manage People Who Are Controlling

Strategy 5 – A Tale of Two Choices

This is a strategy you can roll out time and time again and it never fails and it is one of the easiest to deploy.

Remember, Control Freaks have to make the decision, so let them, but the important thing is the decision they are making is out of two choices you’ve given them, either one you’re happy with.  For example, If you say “I’ll arrange that meeting for tomorrow”, you could get an answer along the lines of “next week would be better, or Friday”.  Try asking “Shall I arrange that meeting for tomorrow morning or afternoon”, or ‘would it be better to go shopping tomorrow or Thursday?’ you are much more likely to get an answer choosing one of the options you have given.  They have made the decision, but you gave them the choices.

Children can be controlling as well – as I’m sure you know, and strong willed children will try various strategies for controlling their parents. One of the most common is around food. Children aren’t in control of much in their life, but the one thing they can always control is what they put in their mouth. Quite often, the more you get into a conflict about food, the more stubborn and controlling they get and meal times can end up a miserable source of stress, frustration and conflict both on your part and on the child’s. It’s your responsibility as a parent to make sure they get a balanced healthy diet, so what can you do to get them to eat their vegetables.

If you have a strong willed child, they do actually respect boundaries, so if they know that you are not going to give in completely, try giving them the decision out of two choices you’re happy with, but don’t make it about them, let them make the decision for the vegetables. For example, try asking “what do you think we should have with the chicken tonight” (you’ve said without ambiguity that it’s chicken for dinner) “do you think we should have peas or broccoli, I can’t decide?” Be a bit strategic about the choices you give, start with things, or at least one of the choices you know they will like and slowly introduce other things. At dinner, again don’t make a big deal about it, but casually congratulate them on their choice, “you made a good choice there, I think ….. goes much better with this chicken”.

This strategy is also particular effective for teenagers.  Teenagers are learning to make decisions, become independent and take responsibility for themselves so you can help point them in the right direction by asking their opinion of two choices.  You can even turn it into a discussion so they talk it out with you, but again, both options are OK and acceptable for you but the teenager makes the decision.

I spent some time as a foster carer for teenagers and the ones that came to stay with me were often the strong willed ones who could not live at home due to conflicts with parents, step parents or former carers.  Between the ages of 12 and 18 for girls or 20 for boys their brains start changing and they begin a process of independently evaluating everything they have learned as a child.  If you think of a twelve year old’s brain a bit like an overgrown hedge, it is stuffed full of information and it needs pruning.  The pruning process begins at the back of the head, in the primitive part of the brain and it gradually moves across the top of their brain testing, keeping or discarding information as appropriate until they reach the pre-frontal cortex at the age of between 18 and 22 which deals with complex reasoning. During their teenage years they are questioning and deciding for themselves how to act and forming their own identity but along with puberty, they seem to flip between personalities, one minute they are grown up and mature but can revert to a child in an instant or be an angry conflicted teen.

This transformation is a natural process that many people misunderstand and roll their eyes when you mention ‘teenagers’ having an negative opinion of them.  In their loving, caring, protective way, parents often through fear of their children making mistakes, attempt to control their teenagers.  Teenagers are attempting to grow up and take control of their own life, which is quite a natural course of action, so is there any wonder there is conflict between teenagers and parents, especially between over controlling parents and independent teenagers.

If you are getting into conflict with a teenager, this strategy of giving options is marvellous, as a foster carer I used it constantly and what I discovered is that over time when the teenagers came to trust me not to tell them what to do, they would ask my advice instead.

So, if I needed them to follow a particular course of action I would offer them choices, first of all getting their agreement to do something and then tying it down and because they had made the decision and commitment, more often than not, they followed through it with and were proud that they had.  A good example of this in action would be arranging review meetings (something they had to do regularly and hated because it involved the authorities)  If I just went ahead and arranged a date invariably they wouldn’t turn up, but if I involved them in the decision the job got done, so I would start with..

‘You know there’s a review meeting coming up, did you want to speak to your social worker to arrange a date, or shall I do it?”

Usually they wanted me to organise it which was expected, but I had subconsciously got their buy in and agreement that a meeting was to be organised.  So I would carry on

“When is good for you next week, would Tuesday morning or Wednesday afternoon be better?”

They would choose from one of those, often I had already quietly spoken to the other parties so knew when everyone else was available, then I would follow it up with

“Great, that fits with me too, I’ve got to pop over to ….. afterwards, I can give you a lift to ….. if you want”

So basically I made them feel as if they were making a good choice and also helping me out and they also had an incentive without it feeling like a reward or bribe.

It worked just as well for deciding who was getting dinner or what to cook, they were part of running the house not just being told how to behave and what to do all the time.  I used this technique to passively control the foster teenagers all the time and they never let me down, they relished the responsibility.  They were teenagers they still make mistakes in the decisions they made sometimes but that’s just part of the learning process and they were allowed to make their own mistakes safely instead of just doing the opposite of what they were told out of rebellion.

This technique will work with bosses, partners, friends and family.

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