Controlling the Urge to Control

We take it. We lose it. We keep it. We seek it. We grab it.


No matter what path we’re on – our career path, our personal path, a juncture where the two careen together – we are usually trying to manage the next few steps, anticipate the upcoming curves and glibly sidestep any burgeoning roots threatening an imminent face-plant.

And yet it’s a bit like quicksilver, isn’t it? The more we grasp for control, the more it eludes us. We might catch it for a minute, manipulate a specific situation or individual, but once you do, it always leads to more… trying to control the next situation, trying to manage an adjacent one. And then you’re so busy trying to manage everyone else and everything else, when do you actually live – for yourself, for your own moment?

Letting go is hard. Have you ever tried it – I mean, for more than an hour in a hot yoga class?

I was on a conference call this week, listening to one of my team members present her case to another team, wanting to enlist their help. I listened. And I cringed. I winced. I sighed. I held my breath. I held down the mute button. And I held my tongue.

She needed. She required. She expected. She was loud. She interrupted. She repeated her point. Again. She was assertive? Aggressive? She was demanding. She had lengthy answers to questions no one asked. She was pushing them to meet her needs. She was counter-arguing their arguments.

Every time she opened her mouth, I could think of a different way to phrase that… a gentler way to request that… a smoother way to bring the conflict to resolution. And every time the other people on the call asked a question or pushed back, I worried that it somehow reflected a lack of preparedness or clear communication on our part. I was biting my lip, ready to jump in if the conversation skid downhill too quickly or escalated to hostility. I had soothing, ego-smoothing words on the tip of my tongue.

But still I held my tongue.

Because by the end of the meeting, she got what she needed. The other team was on board. They agreed to supply her everything she required. And they didn’t sound too flustered about it.

So, it wasn’t the way I would have gone about it. But she got the job done. I reminded myself of two things repeatedly during that seemingly interminable call.

Everyone has her own style, her own way of sharing herself with the world. It doesn’t have to be my way. In fact, it usually isn’t.
The world can tell that person to shut up any time. I don’t have to control that. In fact, I can’t.

Sometimes after a call like this, I will make time to offer feedback and coaching to the person. But sometimes, it’s enough that the job got done.

Letting go meant letting my teammate be. It meant letting the situation evolve. It meant understanding that I didn’t have to pull all the strings for things to turn out “right”. It meant letting other people do their jobs.

And it didn’t have to be my way.

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