Are You a Control Freak?

Last Updated Jun 20, 2011 4:02 PM EDT

Are You a Control Freak?"My name is Steve Tobak," he said, swallowing hard, like the words just didn't want to come out, "and I'm ... a control freak."

There, I said it. If any of my former employees, coworkers, or bosses are reading this, you now have my permission to laugh your freaking heads off.

The reason why that's LOL funny - no, it's not the "permission" thing, although that was mildly amusing - is this: if any of those people had called me on it at the time, I would have said they were full of it.

The truth is I didn't even know what a control freak really was because, well, I didn't want to know. I didn't like the sound of it and, more importantly, I didn't like it when anyone tried to judge me, get inside my head, put me in a box, whatever.

In case you didn't know, that's classic controlling behavior. There you go. But hey, if I can admit it, maybe you, your boss, or your coworker, can too.

Sure, it's a stretch, especially for what I like to call highly-functioning control freaks: successful executives who get the job done, along with a little bullying and abuse on the side. And control freaks are typically afraid to upset that fragile little house of cards their entire self-image is built upon.

Still, there's a big upside to understanding what you're dealing with. See if any of these 7 Signs of a Control Freak sound like you or that lovely person in your life who makes you want to have that extra glass of wine at night:
  1. Is there an executive in your company who appears to be genuinely charismatic and confident but, when challenged, he goes into attack mode and won't back down until his opponent is shredded, sort of like a pit bull?
  2. Does your boss constantly cut you off, not even letting you articulate a single thought before pouncing on what he assumes you're about to say and ripping it to shreds?
  3. Is there a coworker who's always telling you what kind of person you are and what you think, as if you're made up of a set of evil traits she's created for you - her enemy - and doesn't even see or hear the real you at all?
  4. Do you always need to be right? Of course, you'd never admit that, because that would mean admitting that you were wrong, right? I know; it's confusing.
  5. Does your CEO have a small inner circle of people he trusts and treats inequitably, as if they walk on water, while everyone else gets mercilessly grilled up one side and down the other over the slightest issue?
  6. Are you so anxiety ridden before a potentially contentious meeting that you have to preview the entire dialog in your head before the meeting even begins or anyone says a word?
  7. Does your boss ever sit you down and go on and on about what's wrong with you, what she's not getting from you, what others say about you, or accusing you of bad behavior? And yet, you can't believe your ears because she's describing herself and not you.
What makes people that way? Now that's a can of worms better left for a shrink to crack open. The better question for this forum is what can you do about it?

Well, before you go off and confront your boss, here's a dose of reality. Don't do it. You can't just walk up to someone you work with and tell him he's a control freak and expect him to say, "Wow, really? I didn't know that. I'm so, so sorry if I verbally abused you, treated you as if you didn't exist, or demeaned you in any way. I'll be better, promise."

That's never going to happen. Control freaks aren't typically conscious of their behavior and, as with all behavior of that sort, they won't change until there's a crisis of some sort or they've bottomed out. Then they'll get help and anything's possible.

What you can do, however, is read Controlling People, by Patricia Evans (that's right, my wife gave it to me ... as a present to herself), realize it's not you, try not to let it get to you too much, and refuse to be treated like a doormat.

If it's really bad and stressing you out, you should quit and work somewhere else. I know that's tough advice in a down economy, but if you feel trapped and helpless, you're at risk for depression. And nothing's more important than your health, right?

Related posts: Follow Steve Tobak on Twitter or Facebook
Image: DonkeyHotey via Flickr

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