Podcast – The Uncomfortable Truth – Episode 1: Control


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How to maximize control of your life and not surrender your future.


Hello again, this is Alan Weiss and today I’m talking about control. In another podcast I mentioned the fact that there was a myth that we feel have no control. That’s not true. Yet we often feel out of control. Sometimes we feel controlled by others.

Here’s my prime directive with this podcast. Don’t surrender control. When we don’t have control, it’s not usually because someone else usurped it. It’s because we gave it away.

Control is the ability and power and volition to make the decisions which positively influence others and your life. I’ll say it again. My definition of control is the ability and power and volition to make the decisions which positively influence others and your life.

But we do surrender it. We surrender it out of guilt, often because our parents make us feel guilty. In fact guilt has become a verb. We “guilted” him into it. We surrender it out of fear because we’re afraid of others’ power and we’re afraid that we’ll be overwhelmed if we try to exert our own. We surrender it because of low self-esteem, “I don’t deserve this. Why would they listen to me?” We surrender it out of uncertainty out of vacillation, “You know I can’t decide.” We surrender it out of fatigue, “I just don’t want to fight anymore. I’m tired of this.” We surrender it out of passivity. Someone else grabs it while we’re not watching.

Control is neither good nor bad inherently. It depends on our intent. There are six elements of control that I’ve identified as I’ve worked with people over the last 30 years.

In no special order, the first is knowledge. What is the situation? What do we know about it? Know and knowledge, cognates. Not what do I suspect, what do I know?

Number two is perspective. What’s really at stake here? Is it life an death? Is it a matter of taste? Number three is language, the ability to verbally influence someone by speech or by writing.

Number four is what I call the Plan B. What’s your backup and your flexibility? Too many people go through life without a Plan B. They lose a key person. They lose a key piece of business. Their trip is canceled and they don’t have a fallback position.

So the six elements of control, knowledge, perspective, language, a Plan B, mutuality and engagement. You know the TV remote you use, probably every night, is a control, but you can lose it. God knows I have. The batteries can go dead. You could fail to master it, quite complicated at times. So let’s look at these six areas and see if we can not master them and not lose them.

The first I said is knowledge. What is the current state and your desired state of being? Or what is the current state and the desired state of the person with whom you’re dealing? Where are you now? Where do you want to go? Who needs convincing, a buyer, a relative, a significant other, a teacher? Who needs convincing? What facts can you introduce, unequivocally, in an age of fake news and alternative facts, what real facts can you introduce that might turn the tide?

An example would be creating need when you need a buyer. Most buyers know what they want. Very few know what they need. By introducing certain facts you can create that need. For example not all of your clients are equal. Some are much better than others because they send you referrals. They never complain. They don’t return things. You should treat them differently. Do you know who they are? What are the precedents? You are looking at knowledge here as a control basis. Has this happened before? What’s happened in the past? What will constitute progress? What are your metrics? Can you suggest a favorable course of action that others might respond well too? Can you anticipate and make plans for any resistance? These are examples of the knowledge control factor and how you can take advantage of it in your best interest.

The second area I mentioned was perspective. Is the return worth the investment? If you’re dealing with control, is what have you have to invest and usually the biggest investment is time, is it worth the probable return? How long and how hard will be the fight? I use fight as a metaphor, but how long and how hard will you have to debate or argue or convince or persuade or cajole? How long does it take? How much energy? Will this issue be settled once we reach agreement, or will it be a perpetual point of conflict? You know how we revisit things. So is it going to be an ongoing issue, or can we resolve it once we reach agreement?

Can you manage a win win? Can you set up an honest win win so both of us feel that we’ve gotten a lot out of this? Will there be long term hard feelings even if we reach an agreement or even if my influence prevails? Will the hard feelings linger?

Can you marshal allies? Voltaire said that, “God is on the side of the heaviest battalions.” Can you get help so that you present an irresistible force? Or are you over-matched? Do you find yourself facing a host, an army? And you’ll have trouble making your point known and your voice heard.

So one example is are we talking about principles or taste? Are we talking about the value system of the business or where we have lunch? So these are issues of perspective in terms of regaining and exploiting control.

My third point was language. Using examples is powerful. I talk about the oxygen mask all the time as a metaphor, which they tell you to put out first before helping others in airplanes. The same things around you and your business and your life. You can’t help others until you help yourself.

So metaphors are extremely important. When I worked with Hewlett Packard, they talked about burning platforms, meaning that you had to pretend there was a fire under your feet so you would move and wouldn’t stay put. They talked about straw men, who were people put up for experimentation, couldn’t be hurt.

In terms of language, are you using tact, so you create that win-win situation I talked about earlier? Are you establishing mutual best interests so we both feel well treated? Can you demonstrate what I call the upside downside or risk reward? What’s to be gained? What’s to be risked? Is it worth the risk to achieve this gain? Are you listening with discernment, so that you can actually hear and respond to what the other person is saying? The heart of empathy, by the way.

My fourth point was plan B. Don’t allow for simply a win-lose. Have back up. Don’t say we win here, we fight here and win, or we’re defeated. Have a back up plan. The Greeks believed that it was glorious to die in the battlefield when you were outnumbered. The Romans believed that when you’re outnumbered, you were treated and came back the next day to try to win. I’m a Roman.

What’s your plan B in case something backfires on you? Are there other flights you can use? Are there other dates you can use? Are there other media you can use?

I know someone who relied very heavily on a single person who was instrumental to the company. You’ve heard this too yourself from your colleagues. That person would never leave, until that person does leave. If you don’t have a plan B, you’re out on a limb.

Never rely on a single option. The loyal employee will leave. The spectacular customer will go. Never rely on that single option. Don’t make yourself vulnerable in terms of your plan B. Have a trigger for it. If you’re worried about an outdoor event, the weather forecast is a trigger. If you’re worried about your best clients leaving or going to the competition, talk to a lot of people in the organization and watch for the triggers, when they might mention the names of people who you’re not familiar with, or new people in the hierarchy, or people from other companies.

Make sure your plan B remains effective by the way. Those fire extinguishers you see on the walls and those ubiquitous sprinklers you see are tested. They’re examined and the methodology is such that they make sure they work if they’re needed. It doesn’t make sense to have something in place that won’t work when you finally do need it.

Don’t accept one no. I found the other day that American Express couldn’t get me on an earlier flight. I showed up at the airport and I said to the woman at the United Club, “Is there an earlier flight that’s open first class?” She said, “Let me look. Yeah, there is.” So American Express either made an honest error or conditions changed, but if I had simply accepted the first outcome, I wouldn’t have asked. I would’ve stayed at a later plane and got home later. Don’t accept one no. Keep asking the question.

Leverage others in your plan B. Have them help you. Hot is best, you know? But lukewarm is better than cold. In terms of your plan B, if it’s not as good as hot, but it’s still lukewarm, it’s better than cold.

My fifth area was mutuality. Reciprocity. Here you have to enlist allies. Never be afraid to enlist allies and to reciprocate and to back them in their causes if you believe in them and you can lend weight to it. There’s an old phrase that says there’s no zealot like the converted.

Paul, on his way to Damascus, was [virulently 00:10:55] anti Christian. He was beating Christians. He had this epiphany on the road to Damascus. He became zealously pro Christian. In fact, it’s because of Paul’s writings that we know anything at all about Christ and about the birth of what we now call Christianity. There’s no zealot like the converted.

The more who perceive favor, the better the control. That is the more who mutually believe that they are getting something out of this, the better your control, because you’ll be creating a critical mass. Partnerships tend to share control, whether it’s lifetime partnerships, personal partnerships or business partnerships, you have to share control.

Preserve your musts and negotiate your wants. When you have a partner, or when you’re trying to create reciprocity, never bargain away, never trade away, never negotiate away the musts that you have that are critical to you. Barter away the wants. Your must might be that the house have air-conditioning. A want might be that it has a great view, but you’ll barter that away in terms of a great house with air-conditioning.

Loan control to others. You can delegate control. You can lend them control. That’s what some great leaders do. Put them in charge. Make them feel useful.

Learn to lead teams in groups. If you want to understand the aspect of mutuality and reciprocity, lead teams in groups even informally. This is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book about Lincoln, Team of Rivals. He put together a group of people who didn’t even agree with him completely, let alone with each other. They made for a very powerful cabinet.

Don’t try to control what at others expense. It’s not a hydraulic system where for me to win, you have to lose and vice versa. Win-win means we can both win. When one goes down, the other doesn’t have to go up.

My sixth category is engagement. Avoid self absorption and obliviousness. We were walking out of a restaurant the other day, and these people stopped to talk right in the doorway. You could not get around them. They weren’t trying to be obstreperous. They were simply oblivious. It’s the height of self absorption.

A lot of the problems you see in traffic are not caused by people who are trying to slight you or harm you or otherwise antagonize you. They’re just oblivious. They’re texting, or they’re on the phone, or they’re listening to music, or they’re thinking of their own future at the end of that drive.

In terms of engagement, to engage others and to be engaged in the environment, use this control we’re talking about only when necessary. No one has to be in total control all of the time. No one. Always act in the moment. Listen to what people say and act appropriately and accordingly in the moment. But you have to listen to do that, which is the antithesis of self absorption.

Don’t be completely transparent. You know, I’d like to think of transparent, translucent, and opaque. Transparent lets all the light in so you can see right through. Opaque lets no light in so you can’t see through. Translucent lets some light in. You can see what’s on the other side, but you can’t see all that clearly. There’s nothing wrong with being translucent instead of transparent.

Let me suggest to you that you build your own control traits. Most importantly, you do not surrender them, because control is not a question of people snatching it from you. It’s a question of your consciously or unconsciously giving it up. The more control you have, the more control you claim, the more control you sustain, the better your life.

Alan Weiss, talk to you next time.

2 thoughts on “Podcast – The Uncomfortable Truth – Episode 1: Control

  1. Great stuff Alan. Very helpful. When I feel ‘out of control’, And the other person/company has control, I ask myself ‘what can I control?’ Or ‘what is important yo me here?’ In most situations I come up with something to progress the situation from my perspective.

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