Is it control or is it something else?

The other day, one of my former colleagues shared that his manager was controlling him, and it was hitting him very badly.

“What do you mean by controlling?”, I asked him.

“Well, my manager after giving me a new task, wants to know how I am doing. And then after the job is over, he tells me how I should have done things differently.”

I was curious to know how this impacted him.

“Each time I get a task I am now paranoid that he will hover me and dictate how I should have gone about doing the job. I have lost my motivation and end up feeling low most of the days.”

“Give me an example,” I prodded.

He continued, “Last week we announced a new product launch, and I was in charge of doing the press release and media launch. I was very excited to get this opportunity because the product is truly innovative and one of its kind. So, I coordinated with the business and the PR firm and got everything done. We had great media coverage. I was so happy. Then the next day, my manager calls me and tells me good coverage but that I had missed out on some key things and how I should have incorporated those things. It sure took away all my enthusiasm and I felt very low and down.”

“What would you want instead?”

“I want a manager who trusts me, allows me freedom to do things and guides me on the right path.”

This had me flummoxed. “Isn’t that what he is doing? You are assigned new tasks; you perform your job and then he gives you feedback. This is how I am seeing the situation. Where is the issue here”?

Then it hit me. It was a matter of perception.

He was viewing the manager’s input as ‘control’, whereas I saw it as genuine ‘concern’ and guidance on how to do things better.

Control v/s concern

Often, we mistake concern for control.

Control is help that nobody is asking for. One displays concern when the intent is to genuinely support/guide/mentor/help someone.

It is very easy to get mixed between the two.

The easiest example one can relate to here is when it comes to parenting. Parents are genuinely concerned for the wellbeing of their children. But many a times, children discern the same as control and this creates a friction in the relationship.

It is the same at workplace. Managers may have a genuine interest in the wellbeing of their team members. The intent is right, but it is the demonstration of that intent that sets the ball rolling in different directions.

What can managers do right?

  • Listen to your team more attentively
  • Learn to ‘ask’ and not ‘tell’
  • Pay attention to your body language and tone of voice when displaying concern
  • Always begin with appreciation before moving on to areas of improvement
  • Learn to let go
  • Be open to feedback yourself

What can employees do better?

  • Be open to feedback – not all feedback is negative.
  • Proactively reach out to managers for guidance and feedback
  • Believe in yourself and focus on your strengths – you were hired on the basis of your strengths
  • Share your thoughts with your manager
  • Have a support system of colleagues around you to reach out when required
  • Keep an open mind and not rush to judge
  • Identify situations you are in control of and let go of those over which you have no control

Control is an illusion of one’s mind. It is up to every individual employee to change the perception and read it as ‘concern’. At the same time, managers need to be discerning and aware of how they show up.

Control and concern are two sides of the same coin. It is up to us to decide which one to play with.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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