Dr. Jayme Albin: How to Manage Requests from Controlling People.

Most people eventually encounter a boss, partner, friend, or colleague that comes across as demanding or controlling when they make requests. They might not express appreciation; fail to acknowledge your contributions; or fail to provide rewards social, monetary or in other concrete form. Their request may come across as controlling as they attempt to micromanage a situation without explaining their rationale for their needs.

One main reason you might not say “no” or confront them is out of concern it will lead to negative consequences in the relationship or for you personally. For example, you may choose to avoid any feedback since you may worry that speaking up could do damage to your career/job position. For these reasons, you might just succumb to their requests to avoid addition stress.

However, while confrontation may not seem like a great option, there are other strategies to help you cope with the situation. Failing to learn to cope can leave you angry and resentful. Even more, not addressing these behaviors can impact your personal and professional life since your overall strategy may be to avoid or escape the situation. For example, imagine that each time you encounter a controlling boss or partner you opt to eventually leave the job or relationship. This probably won’t bode well for your long-term career, love life or social support network. Furthermore, these types of feelings and behaviors can lead to other negative behaviors such as taking your stress out on others, substance abuse or avoidant behaviors.

Here are some techniques you can do to help the situation.

1. Be assertive: Instead of confronting a person, assert yourself. This could include asking for more information, clarifying with them or asking for an action from them. Keep it simple since too many words can often overwhelm the other person and seem like you are confronting them. Acknowledge the situation from the other person’s perspective to avoid them getting defensive. For e.g. you might say “Hey I know you have a busy calendar/schedule and other people to manage but I was wondering why you rejected my ideas. I am just trying to learn to strengthen our relationship…”. “When you asked me to fix this I was confused since I thought I was doing it correctly and offering my assistance. What can I do to improve this next time/or now? “

2. Avoid reverse criticism: It takes two to tango. Avoid statements that judge or critique the person’s actions. For example, avoid statements of “When you criticize my work after I spent hours trying to please you…”. Statements of this type will usually lead to the confrontations you are trying to avoid.

3. Schedule it: Instead of responding to the beep/alert on your phone and allowing yourself to react in conditioned way with anxiety/stress, only check your phone or email every 15 min, every 30 min or every hour. This will give you control and help you to have time to mentally and physically prepare for any stressful requests.

4. Do Breathing Exercises: Before you dive into the information do the following. Place your hands on your belly. As you inhale, feel your belly and chest expanding with air. As you exhale, feel your body become slender. Most people reverse breathe. This is bad for your nervous system and triggers your mind to be in a fight or flight state. Reverse breathing occurs when you inhale and your chest and ribs expand. It takes practice and a mindful approach to breathe properly. Doing mindful diaphragmatic breathing calms your nervous and hormone systems. It teaches your nervous system that you are in control and that you are not just impulsively responding to the stress around you.

5. Focus on the information: Distance yourself from the request until you have time to sit with the information. Use this time to gain perspective. Try to separate your emotions from the information in the request. Write down their request (if it’s not in a written format) and then reorganize the written request to highlight just the information without the emotional content.

6. Gain empathy! It’s common for most people who are upset or angry to assume the other person is trying to “manipulate them or control them”. Here’s a news flash! Everyone likes to be in control to some degree. If you witness a person acting controlling, there is usually a reason behind it. Perhaps they have insecurities about their position, fear that the situation won’t turn out right or worry about the unforeseeable.