Have you ever noticed, that when there’s a discussion going on about controlling people, the conversation is usually about them and never about us. The fact of the matter is, when it comes to controlling people, there is no ‘them and us’. We’re all controlling people.

Control is one of the non-negotiables of living; at least if you want to stay living. In order to keep moving your body around in the environment, you need to control important things like your posture (not too many people crawl or slide around the office) and your direction (not too many people spend their time in the park walking into trees or park benches or the lake) and your speed (not too many people sprint around the Board room or the factory floor or inch slowly along the pavement on their way to the cinema).

We are so good at control that we rarely notice we are doing it. People seem to hardly ever wonder what their environment would be like if they weren’t in it. What would your lounge room or kitchen look like if there were different occupants in the building? In fact, what would your appearance look like if you weren’t constantly checking and tweaking and adjusting it?

What path would your dog take the next time you take him for a walk if you didn’t put his leash on him? The tugging that often happens on a leash is a very physical indication that your pooch doesn’t always have the same idea as you about the path to take.

Our basic activity from birth to death could be summed up as the process of acting on our environments to make them be the way we want them to be. That’s what we all do all the time. Little babies don’t have many ways of acting at their disposal and yet even they are generally very adept at getting fed when they want to and held when they want to and changed when they want to.

It is this basic activity that leads to the paradox of living. We are all acting on our environments to make them be the way we want them to be. But we all share environments with other people. So, because we are all part of other people’s environments, we will, from time to time, be on the receiving end of the other person’s attempts to make their environment be the way they want it to be. It could even be something as benign as “Honey, would you help with the dishes?”.

Everyone wants their surroundings, as they experience them, to be the way they want them to be. That includes experiencing other people as we would like to experience them. Other people, therefore, are part of what we control in order to make our worlds and our lives transpire as we would like them to. We want our employee to turn up at a certain time, we want our boss to be more flexible, we want our friend to be less talkative, we want our kids to be more industrious, we want our teachers to be more understanding, and so on. 

Often, the controlling done by one person, interferes with the controlling of another. As your young baby controls for being fed, she disrupts your efforts to get the amount of sleep you need and your attempts to catch up on your favorite tv show. As a teacher controls the level of noise in class and the amount of work completed, he will restrict the abilities of some students to communicate with each other and work at a pace that is comfortable to them.

To a very great extent, the problems of the world could be explained as the actions of some interfering with the control of others.

Getting along harmoniously together and solving the problems of the world would entail figuring out ways of enabling people to control what is important to them without interfering with other people’s efforts at doing the same thing. This requires, of course, that people understand and recognise their own controlling natures.

These ideas really seem to have struck a chord with many of the Psychology Today readership. In closing, let me indulge in some unashamed self-promotion by letting you know that these ideas have been explored and explained in a whole lot more detail in a new book called Controlling People written by myself and my good friend and colleague Rick Marken. You can find out about the book here: http://tinyurl.com/z4kbrab 

If you think these notions could help you live more of the life you would wish for yourself you might find the book a helpful read.