How to Deal with Control Freaks

How to deal with co-workers who give too much helpful advice.

Stever Robbins,
June 2, 2009
Episode #085

Today's topic is how to deal with co-workers who give too much advice.

Spike wrote in:

How do you deal with co-workers who are, shall we say, enthusiastic with their advice? My coworker is competent and nice, but if she has her way, I’ll be her personal assistant before long. I need her on my side, but this could get out of hand fast. I’m looking for advice dealing with co-worker relations specifically.

Thanks for writing, Spike. I loved you on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’m glad you listened to the episode on saying “No,” because no matter what else you do, saying “No” will be a big part of dealing with this control freak.

Stay calm! It sounds like you’re afraid rejecting her advice will upset her, and she’ll come after you with rubber gloves, a chainsaw, and a snack size Ziploc baggie for your remains. If the threat of her anger can’t get you to knuckle down and become her administrative love-slave, you getting angry won’t solve things, either.

Understand Her Motivation

When someone does stuff that bugs us, we usually have a theory about their motives. The closer we are to someone, the more our theories resemble a horror film. When a complete stranger suggests we wash our hands after handling raw chicken, we think, “How nice, they are concerned about our health.” When our shmoopy-woopy suggests we change our shirt before a nice evening out, we think, “That evil Satan-spawn is just trying to assert their power, destroy my humanity, and force me to subjugate myself to their will. Forever. hiss

From your description, it sounds like you two are already quite close. Next time she gives a helpful suggestion, take a deep breath, and ask yourself what her motive might really be. Maybe she wants to know you better. Some people give advice as a way of connecting with others. Or maybe she’s truly trying to help. Here’s a hint: you may as well assume she genuinely wants the best for you, because if she’s on a psychotic administrative power trip, you’re doomed anyway.

Listen, Acknowledge, and Appreciate Her

If she cares about you, she may be giving you good advice; you’re just not hearing it. Start by listening. If she’s giving you advice you already know, then bravo! That shows she’s giving you good advice. She just doesn’t know what you already know.

It’s risky to ask her to stop giving you advice. Many people treat their advice as an extension of themselves. She could walk away with the message that you consider her useless--not a great way to bond with your teammates. Instead, since she’s a compulsive advice-giving machine, sic her on any problems you have where you need advice.

Let’s put it all together: thank her, acknowledge her good intentions, and point her where she can do some good. “Bernice, that’s an excellent suggestion! Thank you very much! I appreciate what you do to help. You know, maybe you could help with another problem. Do you have any ideas on how to discreetly dispose of a dead squirrel?” That should send her off to Wikipedia for the rest of the afternoon.

You Don’t Need to Take Her Advice!

The key to a good relationship (and I have the uncomfortable feeling I’m talking about more than just a co-worker) is letting the other person know you hear them, you value their opinion, and you consider what they have to say. If you do that, taking her advice is optional. She may not want you to take her advice, just consider it and acknowledge that she’s looking out for you. It costs you nothing to give acknowledgement.

If she asks why you aren’t doing what she said, you don’t need to explain. Just say, “I appreciate your advice and am honored to have you looking out for me. Even though I may very well be wrong, right now it feels like I just have to try it a different way. I’ll let you know how it turns out.”

If she actually is a psychopathic control freak who just wants you to be a mindless puppet, then when you don’t act on her advice, she’ll show up at your office door with an automatic weapon and you’ll know the score. You might decide the wise course of action is to take her advice, just before moving to a new city and changing your identity so she can’t track you down.

Most likely, staying calm, understanding her point of view, acknowledging her intention and letting her know you’re listening is all you need to do. And Spike, even though that’s just my advice, I really want you to take it. I mean, you should really take my advice. All of it. About everything. We’ll talk.

This is Stever Robbins. Email questions to getitdone@quickanddirtytips.com and Follow GetItDoneGuy on Twitter.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!


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