A Coaching Power Tool Created by Manzur Mohammed
(Wellness Coach, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO)
Caring vs. Controlling – A Shift in Perspective
Some time ago, my daughter was getting ready to go out and we were chatting about what she was planning to do, where she was going, and with whom. While she was sharing excitedly about her intended activities, I listened happily, appreciating how well she has grown and become a responsible young adult. In the middle of the conversation, she stopped and asked why I was not asking more questions about her plans. She indicated that some of her friends’ parents, tended to be more inquisitive. It made me wonder if my actions were sufficiently reflecting the love and caring for her at the expense of avoiding behaviors that felt as though I was controlling what she was doing and her decision-making.
Caring versus Controlling
In all aspects of life, we can show caring for many things – people, animals, the environment, as well as exhibit behaviors that promote our need to control an outcome or response. An article on how to differentiate between caring and controlling, from the website of Mano Vikas Clinic in India, mentions that “there is a very fine line of difference between caring and controlling making it very difficult to distinguish between the two. While caring arises from a sense of selflessness and love, controlling usually starts with feelings of insecurity and resentment.” In many situations, that ‘fine line’ can be difficult to see, and often our actions, borne from an intent to show caring, are displayed and received as though they are controlling. It is for this reason, we many times experience an unexpected response from persons, which results in disagreement and conflict, arising from our controlling behaviors versus actions of caring. Truly listening to what is being presented, verbally and visually, from a perspective other than your own, will allow for a response more consistent with selfless love and caring. When hidden agendas, personal thoughts, and one’s own well-being takes priority, the controlling actions become present. In many cases, we are not aware of the situation until we experience the negative effects.
Traditionally, an authoritarian style of parenting appeared to be more accepted in society. In the midst of establishing discipline, an act of control is the typical approach. Certainly, where health, safety, and security are concerned, about a helpless child, controlling actions are required for protection. In other situations, controlling behavior may negatively affect children’s development into confident and successful adults and may also limit them from achieving their true potential. In a July 2018 blog by Darius Cikanavicius, Author and Certified Coach, he suggested that the controlling approach to parenting was harmful. It arises from our desire to mold the child into what we want the child to be. An alternative will be to “gently guide the child’s authentic self”.
Controlling parenting can manifest itself when unrealistic expectations are established for a child and then punishment ensues thereafter when they are not met. A caring approach will involve taking time to understand the capabilities of the child and setting the expectations where they can succeed. Also, in the event of failure, support and guidance are provided as opposed to negative consequences.
Consider a child who is always being told what to do and not necessarily how to do it or the reason for the request. When the outcome is not exactly as expected, the child is scolded or reprimanded for failing to perform the task. In another example, an accomplished and successful surgeon became quite frustrated with his teenage son, when he was delaying the submission of college applications. The father unconsciously desired his son to follow in his footsteps. At that age, the father had been clear on what he wanted to do and could not understand his son’s apparent lack of interest and focus. Frustration ensued, which negatively affected the relationship. Any conversation around college applications usually resulted in one or both parties becoming angry and withdrawn. In a moment of truth, the son expressed his passion for video games and how they can be developed. A supportive response of the father allowed his son to pursue a degree in video game design and the relationship improved significantly thereafter.
Among adult relationships, the effect of control and caring is also quite present. There is usually a lack of awareness on how the communication and behaviors may be controlled even though the intent is to show how much one cares for the other. Sometimes we make fun with couples by highlighting “who is the boss” or “who wears the pants in the house”. However, if one party has dominance over the other in a relationship, feelings of resentment and resistance will show up sooner or later. Controlling the choices on what to do, eat or wear can subtly exist, where one person’s preference takes precedent at the expense of the other.
Many couples have achieved equity and compromise in their relationship. Some say “Yes Dear” to avoid conflict and some engage in the simple act of asking the significant other’s opinion on what to do versus telling them. This approach can make a difference in how the communication is interpreted as being caring or controlling. It does not mean that one person’s opinion is more important than the other. Rather each person in the relationship feels appreciated that their contribution matters.
Eve Hogan, a relationship specialist, purports that “we need to notice what is actually our responsibility to solve or resolve, and what is not, and to allow others the opportunity to take responsibility for what is theirs to manage.” The idea of focusing on what is our responsibility and within our capacity to change can contribute to a healthier relationship. We have the ability to change ourselves and our perspectives. Our energy is better spent on doing that, as opposed to attempting to change others to be aligned with what we think or do.
In the realm of leadership, the tendency to control is most prevalent. Since leaders are charged with the responsibility of delivering results, many of them focus on the achievement of the outcome at the expense of understanding and supporting the people whom they lead. Some leaders believe they should be “taking charge” and their communications become very directive. Additionally, when there is a lack of trust, micromanagement happens, resulting in more control over the people being led.
While results may be achieved in the short term, innovation, creativity, and a true sense of responsibility are stifled, which can have long-term negative effects on sustained performance. Instead of taking control, leaders should be asking “how can I help?” and then following through when the answers are provided. This approach demonstrates that the leader truly cares about achieving results through the people. For example, an employee who is arriving late to work may be subjected to disciplinary action through verbal warnings, and if persisting, followed by written communications with the involvement of the Human Resources Department. All actions focused on controlling the punctuality of the employee and not necessarily on the job they are performing. A caring approach will involve the Manager asking questions to create awareness and seek to understand why there is tardiness in arrival to work. The objective is to demonstrate caring for the employee and their productivity which will support their overall success in building a career.
Dave Richards, the Founder, President, and Head Coach at Elite Performance Associates, report that the best leaders do not dictate or control others, rather they inspire and motivate them to act. He does suggest that leaders can demonstrate caring by controlling their personal reactions, attitudes, and biases. Controlling reactions should include both verbal responses as well as body language. A sigh of frustration or scowl of disparagement can have the same negative effect as a poor choice of words. A leader’s emotion and the corresponding attitude displayed, can also influence how people perform. Emphasizing positive emotions and minimizing feelings of negativity will yield a better result. Personal bias is another area for control. It is natural to have a better connection with those persons who do not complain, express disagreements professionally and keep their personal life drama away from work. However, this should not affect the equitable distribution of a leader’s guidance and support for each team member.
What about ourselves? Are we engaging in activities that reflect a true sense of self-caring or are we allowing our daily lives to be controlled by the environment and the persons with whom we interact? It is easy to relinquish control over our emotions to the person who drives poorly in front of us or experiencing disappointment when rain falls on the weekend you planned to go to the beach. A caring approach for ourselves will avoid allowing these and similar events to create internal stress and anxiety. Our emotions remain in balance and our overall well-being stays intact.
When engaging with our clients, active listening and being present are key elements to provide effective coaching. Caring for our clients, allow us to ask the right powerful questions, evoke new learnings, and enable them to achieve their goals. Leading questions will have the effect of controlling the answer and limit their thinking. Listen to your clients as they share experiences and thoughts. Observe if their actions are controlling and how they may be getting in the way of moving forward. Asking questions, which allow them to see the situation from the other person’s perspective, may create new learnings on the impact of their communication style or behavior. Exploring their feelings in the situation may help them reconnect with their true sense of caring and consider alternative ways for communicating or behaving which can result in positive outcomes.
As coaches, we encounter clients who experience challenges in relationships with others while being a parent, spouse, friend, or leader. The impact of their communication and behavior, when expressed in a controlling manner, may have negative consequences in their relationships. Helping them to arrive at that awareness may allow them to see a path forward in achieving their goals. Recently, I decided to reduce the sugar intake in my diet. One evening, I was justifying to my son, the decision to eat cake because I did not have anything sweet for the entire day. His response to my rationalizing was “Keep telling yourself that Buddy”. A simple and effective way of reminding me of the poor choice while showing that he cared.
Questions for reflection:
- What does care about most in your relationships?
- What words can be used to express that caring?
- What behaviors do you demonstrate to reflect caring?
- What do you feel when others express their caring for you?
- What powerful questions can you ask your client to shift their perspective from a controlling approach to one of caring?