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The nuts and bolts of control

3 min read

Control is a loaded term that can be positive or negative depending on the context. For farm operations, someone (or a team) needs to be in control of the business. This involves making decisions to keep the company running smoothly and moving forward. Successful businesses rely on strong leadership, usually from a CEO, to maintain control. The alternative is dysfunction and chaos.

A more problematic version of control relates to behaviour that strives to control people on a psychological level, both in personal and professional relationships. There’s a fine line between being a detail-oriented farm manager who knows what everyone on the team is doing by providing guidance and motivation, and exhibiting controlling behaviour that has a negative impact on the team or family members.

Have you ever been called a control freak, even in jest? Do you work or live with someone that seems driven to control any and all personal and professional decisions not only for themselves, but for others? Problems can arise when leaders fail to distinguish between being in control of the business and attempting to control people.

Common controlling behaviour includes:

  • Insisting on having things their way, even minor details

  • Refusing to accept blame for mistakes or passing blame onto others

  • Creating drama and criticizing others

  • Attempting to control finances and personal movements within relationships, or attempting to isolate others from relationships

Why does controlling behaviour develop?

Anxiety and worry is the root cause for many people, based on a fear that if they don’t exert control, things will go wrong.

Anxiety and worry is the root cause [of controlling behaviour] for many people.

If you’re experiencing controlling behaviour from family or on the farm, there are ways to communicate that it’s not OK. Your goal is to ensure boundaries are effectively communicated using clear and concise language. For example, “John, I can help you work on equipment on Friday from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. I can’t help you other than that.”

It’s OK to ask the individual what is specifically expected of you. Then, repeat it back to the individual to ensure clarity and to establish a boundary. Stick to the facts.

We often believe that by expressing our feelings, it will allow for greater understanding. While that’s a great skill, it’s not always helpful when interacting with controlling individuals.

When to seek help

Controlling behaviour can cover a wide spectrum, from mildly annoying habits to more aggressive manipulative traits, to abusive control of personal movements, finances and other relationships. In both personal and professional settings, recognizing and understanding the magnitude of the behaviour helps dictate next steps. It can be as simple as discussing the behaviour and how it’s having an adverse effect on the relationship or operation. In more severe and abusive scenarios, professional help and support should be sought out.

What if I’m the problem?

If you feel that you may be exhibiting controlling behaviour and struggle to maintain personal relationships, help is available. There’s no shame in asking for help to understand what might be driving this behaviour and how it’s impacting you and others. Well-trained, agriculturally aware therapists, like those at the National Farmer Mental Health Alliance, can help you discover what controlling interactions may look like in your life and how you might address the root causes of the behaviour.

Local support networks can also help, including the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233(SAFE).

Contact the National Farmer Mental Health Alliance.

From an AgriSuccess article by Peter Gredig.

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