A Short Guide to Collaborating with Controllers

A Short Guide to Collaborating with Controllers

Controllers tend to be the most results-oriented of the four Behavior Styles

Controllers Get Things Done

This makes them seem less concerned with the needs of others, more independent, competitive, reserved, and even aloof in relationships. Their ability to separate facts from feelings and make decisions based on facts alone is one of their strengths. For this reason, it can appear that Controllers do not like people or care about their emotions, but that is inaccurate. They are simply more inclined to show appreciation for others after results have been achieved. This is when Controllers can become very pleasant and warm.

Controllers make things happen quickly. Since personal and group productivity have high importance, they typically come across as assertive (or even aggressive) as they move toward their objectives. Further, they do not usually express personal motives or feelings, partly because it does not occur to them that this could be helpful to others. Their energy is directed toward tasks, not relationships.

They prefer to work alone. Controllers often perceive other people as moving too slowly or interfering with results. When this happens, they will often say or do something that creates tension or conflict. Since most people do not like tension, they will typically respond by quickly becoming more focused or active, which is exactly what the Controller is seeking. One common mistake people make when working with this Behavior Style is to take this tension personally. It is not about you; it is about getting results. 

Since they value speed, results, and productivity, they will not pay much attention to details. Not only do details take time, they require “getting into the weeds,” which conflicts with their strength of seeing and focusing on the big picture. Besides, they know their Analyzer or Stabilizer coworkers will take care of the details. Their preference for fast-paced action is behind the Controller tendency to make changes quickly and to take more risks, as Persuaders are also prone to do. 

By learning to direct your energies toward achievements that can be mutually supported, you’ll find assurance in Controllers’ drive, confidence, and ability to turn conflict into a team opportunity. 

[Want to know what your Behavior Style is? Take our Behavior Style assessment.]

Do’s

Ask direct and clear questions. They are action-oriented people, focused on the big-picture “what” in conversation. Be sure clarifying questions are brief and focused on activity or decisions that get results as quickly as possible. 

Present the facts and plan your presentation for efficiency. Rather than dress up your pitch with glamour or style, give them concise bullet-points. They’re looking for what needs to be done. Anecdotes and emotions are not persuasive and will decrease your credibility.

Provide specific data on the outcome of options. They want to be able to quickly come to a decision without becoming entangled in complexities. You will gain their respect if you can demonstrate precisely what will happen for each given alternative. 

Be direct, precise, and straightforward. Get right to the task at hand. They don’t need pleasantries or much context.

Present them with options from which to choose in decision making. Controllers have a need to be in control and to make decisions. You align with their needs by providing options and, as much as possible, allowing them to make the decision. Also, give them as much freedom as possible to determine how they will complete the task. 

Refer to objectives and results to get them to “buy-in.” This ties back to the “what” of the interaction. Let them know how the topic you’re discussing is going to give them the outcome they want or connect to their goal.

Keep interruptions and distractions to a minimum. Lack of focus can be interpreted as a disregard for their time or possibly a weakness of clarity or conviction. 

Support objectives and results if you agree. Controllers like to play the role of devil’s advocate. However, when others take that role with them it can come across as competitive. If you agree with them, say so. If not, briefly state the reason why.

Deal with the facts, and not the person, if you disagree. If you disagree with them, don’t verbally conjecture about their perception or why they might have it—just state the facts behind your viewpoint. Also, concern about the emotional impact of a decision on others can be seen as a distraction from the need to make difficult but necessary decisions. Keep the interaction centered on concrete actions as much as possible.

[Read “You Are Not Your Behavior Style”]

Don’ts

Expect to get to know each other before you conduct business. While some opening conversation is helpful if it’s your first meeting with a Controller, it won’t take long before they will want to focus on the task at hand. And if you have worked together or already met, affirming your relationship with them in some way is not necessary before getting down to business.  

Ask questions that distract from the task at hand. They only want to know and discuss that which will inform what course of action should be taken and get irritated by questions that seem superfluous or detail-oriented.

Be disorganized or linger after finishing business. Being unclear or scattered in your manner or communication is a frustrating waste of time. Also, remember they do not need some type of pleasant, personal ending to a conversation. At that point, they are ready to move on to the next thing.

Try to persuade on a personal level. For them, objective facts and data have far more weight than emotions. Also, trying to appeal to your relationship indicates a lack of conviction about the facts at hand and can actually reduce influence. Tasks and strategies tend to come first. It’s nothing personal. 

Offer unrealistic or exaggerated guarantees. Like Analyzers, Controllers focus on facts and are quick to disregard anyone who cannot back up their claims or statements with real data. They quickly smell out when someone is embellishing facts or making something up.

Attempt to direct, order, or make decisions for them. They have a strong need to be in control (so they can get results) and when this need is challenged or not met they will, like every Behavior Style, experience an internal tension-reaction and express the corresponding behavior.

Waste their time or say anything you do not mean. The efficient use of time is a key driver for Controllers. They also respect people who don’t mince words. Any words or actions that do not align with these two things will cause them to either quickly disengage or disrespect the person who does them. 

Make a big issue out of the fact that you agree with them. Since Controllers are comfortable with conflict they believe people who draw attention to points of agreement are likely patronizing, fawning, or unwilling to disagree with them, which reflects a lack of strength and too great of a need for harmony.

Let any disagreement indicate that it is because of them personally. Given their core value of respect, it’s irrelevant and/or frustrating for them to be told they are the problem. The most important thing is for them to be technically skilled at their job. If there is a disagreement it needs to be based on facts, not them or the relationship, for it to have any value.

[More detailed Behavior Styles Quick Reference Cards are available here.]

George is President and CEO at Effectiveness Institute. With 30 years of experience in leadership development and organizational management, he has helped organizations reach higher levels of performance in industries that include technology, finance, legal, academia, healthcare, automotive, aviation, and service.

He is an avid reader and musician who loves hiking around the PNW.

Jeffrey serves as Communications and Marketing Director at Effectiveness Institute. He is also Editor in Chief of Erraticus, an online publication focused on human flourishing.

He is a former mental health professional and educator living in Cascadia.

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