What if I told you I could bring peace to your household? What if I said there was just one thing you need to do to get your child/teenager/partner / to do what you wanted?
I could offer you the sugar-coated version where you would promise goodies like gold stars, financial incentives, praise, or other rewards for getting people to do the things you want them to do. Kind of like: “If you do this, you’ll get that.”
Then there’s the negative control. You use threats, punishment, time-out, or aggression to demand compliance. Kind of like: “If you do this, you’ll get that.”
They’re the same thing – using our power to make someone comply with our wishes. The problem is that people don’t like being told what to do, no matter how good and worthwhile it may be. The law of physics applies in relationships too – Force creates resistance.
Say for example a mother wants her child to learn the piano (because that’s what she was taught for two years as a child. Of course, she hated it back then and was miserable about it, but with hindsight she wishes that she’d stuck with it).
The child starts lessons enthusiastically, but within a month or two the daily practice overrides the initial enthusiasm. The child refuses to practise. Predictably, the mother starts to use power to bribe, demand, threaten, and ultimately force the child to do something he or she simply does not want to do!
The harder we push someone to do something they don’t want to do, the more likely it is that they’ll push back and insist that you can’t make them do anything. Invariably this leads to problems such as:
- The person will only act the ‘right’ way when the person who holds the power is in the room.
- Kids whose parents use power-based strategies at home to force compliance are much more likely to be bullies, using these same strategies to force compliance in the schoolyard.
- An inability to regulate and control emotions.
- Self esteem/Self worth issues. When people are only rewarded for doing things that someone else deems worthy they may question whether they’re worthy at times when rewards aren’t forthcoming.
In fact one of the greatest predictors of burnout in the workplace is not too much work. It’s a sense that the employee has no control over what is happening.
But there is a third alternative: a way of guiding people towards doing the right things but for the right reasons.
When we use ‘controlling’ techniques we ‘do things’ to people to ‘make’ them do what we want – the alternative is to work with people by trying to understand their motivation and then explaining why we’re asking for a change – and leaving it up to their good judgement to make that change.