The Illusion of Control

Susan was known as a control freak. It seemed that the more control she sought to exert, the worse the situation became. In her department people just couldn’t seem to perform. Yet every time she tried to correct them and chastised them for not making their numbers, and further behind they seem to go.

Not only were they not succeeding and making their quota, but they also began quarreling and bickering in amongst themselves. When Susan dove in, trying to solve the problems, the employees would blame each other for the shortfalls.

Finally in desperation Susan sought out her mentor, Linda. Linda was a veteran and had served many successful years in the industry. “What more can I do,” Susan asked. “Actually, Linda replied, “you could try doing less.” “Let up on them –try trusting that they know what to do and will have the capacity to solve their own problems.”

Linda said, “Susan, you can’t control people. You have to lead them.” The more you try to control the less control you will have. Control is one part of the definition of management. One dictionary’s definition describes management as organizing and controlling. But here we are talking about a certain amount of control over processes more than people. When it comes to conflict in the workplace managers really don’t have a lot of control.

You cannot control or prevent conflict from occurring in the workplace. So what is the manager’s role in regard to conflict in the workplace? The manager literally has two options when it comes to dealing with conflict and workplace. One option is to simply contain the conflict. This is another way of practicing avoidance.

When containing is seen as the option, the manager often will separate the parties if there are two people in conflict. If there is a team, then one person is often removed or transferred to another part of the company. Typically this would be the person who is perceived as being at the root of the problem. This is a temporary solution with a loss of talent.

The second option is to work to resolve the conflict. Resolution is a way of preserving talent and developing the individuals into more competent employees who are capable of solving problems.

In the above case study, Susan was able to refrain from exerting what was really micromanaging control over her team, thereby creating a great deal of stress and strain within the team. When she began to follow Linda’s suggestions, there was a rebirth of trust from the team to Susan and among the team members themselves.

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