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Give control to get control

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“Immense power is acquired by assuring yourself in your secret reveries that you were born to control affairs.”
- Andrew Carnegie

I was at a friend’s house during the challenging process of putting Ryan, his active 3-year-old, to bed. I had to bite my tongue not to give advice about how it might’ve gone a bit better if my friend had understood something about a person’s–not just a child’s–need for control. Instead of offering Ryan choices about going to bed, he announced that it was time. This was Ryan’s signal that the battle was to begin. If instead my friend had said to fun-loving Ryan, “Do you want to play one more game before going to bed, or do you want to go to bed now?” the screaming and crying would probably not have embarrassed everyone there. Ryan would have chosen the game, and then probably, having felt some sense of control, gone to bed without a fight.

Fighting for control
When the world seems out of control and filled with uncertainty, our ancient fight-or-flight response kicks in and we behave in less productive and gracious ways. Sometimes we just shut down, or we kick and scream. We seek to gain control, which leads to the correct balance of stress hormones and a sense of peace.

So, what does all of this have to do with you and your clients? Everything. If you want to deepen your relationship with clients for whom it feels like control has been lost, take a moment to understand the psycho-physiological needs for control, and use them. Here’s what the brain responds to:

  • Some sense of certainty: Help people to figure out what they DO control.
  • Completion: Taking care of things left undone gives you a feeling of control (clean your office!). Help clients complete unfinished business.
  • Understanding how complex things work is critical: Help clients understand how events such as the recent flu epidemic affect their portfolio.
  • Some things need to be consistent, including you: Communicate regularly and with a consistent message.
  • Give options: Provide a few choices when possible but not too many because then analysis paralysis sets in.

Use some or all of this checklist when you communicate with clients. They will be drawn to you. You will become an oasis of control for them. It’s simple. Do you want to be more or less successful? The choice is yours. It’s now in your control.


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