Do You Communicate to Control or to Connect?

Years ago I started to notice that the way I spoke to my children did not produce the desired results. I remember one day when my oldest brought home a B- in math, and I said something like, “You got a B- in math? What happened?” Immediately my spouse responded with, “Some kind of a communication expert you are!” I reacted by proposing that my intent was not to belittle or demean my son’s effort. My spouse pointed out the obvious by stating, “Well, look at your son and tell me what effect you just had on him.” His head was on his chest, his shoulders were hunched toward the floor, and he was slowly leaving the room. I called out to him, and all he could sarcastically say was, “Thanks, Dad.”

Since that time, I have noticed many people seem to communicate in a way that will ensure that they get what they want. The tactics that they use seem to manipulate and control the person in order to get their desired outcome. For example, some individuals always seem to have to be right, which makes everyone else wrong. Others only share a limited amount of information or withhold what they really want in order to maintain a sense of safety. Others communicate in an aggressive manner in an attempt to control the situation. Fear, for some, is the great motivator. Still others attempt to control others because of their need to look good. This reminds me of the ubiquitous bumper sticker that reads, “My five children are all on the honor roll at so-in-so school.” Obviously such a declaration makes the rest of us wish we had something to through.

Whatever the tactic used, control seems to be the desired outcome. Control strategies are obviously a form of ”fake talk.” Such strategies give the illusion of control, but they do not produce the desired results over time. Unfortunately, we may fail to realize that we are even using such tactics. Additionally, using control-based behavior does not help to build or improve respectful, trusting relationships.

Here are a number of behaviors that will help you to communicate to connect with others rather than seeking to control.

Examine your intent. We tend to judge others based on their behavior and ourselves on our intent. This leads us to give ourselves a pass because naturally we are well intended. Those that we judge are obviously ill intended because we feel that no one in their right mind would act that way. We need to identify what the intent or purpose may be for holding a difficult conversation or saying what we do. In every conversation, we should keep others’ best interests in mind.

Share your thoughts and feelings. This is very difficult for some people. But if you really want to connect with others, you must be willing to share what is going on with you. Sharing how you are thinking and feeling will help the other person in the conversation be more open to sharing as well. Sharing and listening to one another creates connections and understanding of each other.

Be open minded. If you expect to improve any personal or professional relationship, you have to be willing to hear what others are thinking, whatever that may be. If you hear something that you didn’t expect, don’t be derailed by the message. Ask questions and for examples to understand the other person’s perspective without defending yourself. After all, their perspective is not your perspective-that is what makes it so valuable. Seek first to understand and then thank the person for sharing their perspective. Your defensiveness in a potentially difficult situation will not inspire openness in the other person ever.

Be empathetic. This is not easy if you have not been trained to put yourself in another person’s shoes. One simple way to increase your ability to empathize with others is to ask yourself this question: “What would this person have to think and feel in order to say or do that?” This question requires you to relinquish your perspective for a moment and observe the other person’s world or experience from their perspective. Remember that what we deem to be irrational is rational to someone else. The challenge is to understand the rationality behind the feelings, words, and actions that we don’t understand. If you can’t understand, then respectfully ask them questions to improve your understanding.

Challenge your expectations. We have expectations that often go unidentified to others. If we haven’t been clear about our expectations, then they will most certainly be violated. When this happens, it is easy to become angry or frustrated with other people. Our negative emotional reactions then serve to hijack the rationality of the other person in the relationship. Sometimes our expectations are unreasonable, and sometimes we do a poor job of clearly explaining to others what we expect. Whatever the case, it is important to deliberately clarify what we want and to ask ourselves if we have been sufficiently clear. Unfortunately, we often don’t find out that our expectations need to be examined until they are violated.

Express care and concern. Recognizing and telling another individual how much we value their contribution and effort goes so much farther than trying to control or manipulate them. In fact, recognizing the efforts of others reinforces the importance of the desired behavior and increase the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated.

I know of a woman who used control tactics in raising her children. Now that she is old and they are grown, they refuse to have anything to do with her because of the way she treated them. If she had expended her efforts in connecting rather than controlling, I am certain that her relations with her family members would be dramatically different.   

Ask for what you want. No one likes to be led down a path and be ambushed. Asking for what you want and explaining why will help others understand your expectations and the reasoning behind the request. If they disagree with your request, then you will have a wonderful opportunity to explore their perspective. And who knows, perhaps you will learn something in the process. But you will likely not get what you want if you don’t ask.

Connecting requires that you communicate, come to know the individual with whom you are associating, and understand them. Simply, connecting requires that you know and are known. Using communication to control does not accomplish connection. Connection requires transparency and openness in not only revealing yourself but also in establishing sufficient safety that others will feel comfortable enough to reveal themselves in sharing things with us. Taking the time to connect with others will not only improve the quality of your relationships but will also vastly improve the quality of your results.  

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