03/22/2015 11:58 EDT | Updated 05/22/2015 05:59 EDT

Are You a Control Freak? Use Your Powers for Good

Woman writing on wall covered with adhesive notes
Antony Nagelmann via Getty Images
Woman writing on wall covered with adhesive notes

My husband, Warren, and I were driving downtown last week enjoying the first rain we've had in months when we were hit from behind at a stoplight.

We actually heard the car behind us get hit first, looked at each other and said, "We weren't hit!" We put the truck in park to make sure everyone was okay. That's when the car behind us lurched forward and bang! Right into our bumper. Warren became angry and got out of the truck to check things out.

The poor woman in the car behind us was on the verge of tears. She was shaking (but fortunately not hurt) from head to foot. Warren's anger instantly subsided when he saw her.

Rebecca was young, in her early twenties, and I'm guessing this was her first accident. Her eyes filled with tears and she looked at me -- like she would look at her mother -- and cried, "I don't know what to do! I am so sorry, but I don't know what to do!"

I took over. I stepped into the role of parent and made sure that all the occupants of all the vehicles involved weren't injured; I called 911 and handled all the details.

Thank goodness I'm a control freak! My need to control the world around me saved me from panicking or losing my temper.

Are you sometimes criticized for needing too much control? I often defend my controlling nature saying that it can be a good thing; this situation is the perfect example in which it was a definite asset.

In the workplace there are lots of virtual car accidents. There are many disasters in which someone needs to step in and take charge. Why can't that be you? Show your leadership qualities and step up.

There are some dangers associated with taking over a situation, however. Here are some points to keep in mind to ensure you don't cross the line at work:

1) Act as an advisor, not a manager. While it's often important to take charge in office situations, it isn't necessary to order people around. Make suggestions, be confident in what you are saying, but don't be bossy. You are taking charge of the panic of the situation, not necessarily the entire situation.

2) Avoid telling others to "calm down." That sentence never works. It just irritates others and they'll get defensive. I talk about this in my Dealing with Difficult People and Confrontation Skills programs. When you're taking control of a situation, telling someone to calm down is essentially pointing out how calm, cool and collected you are and how they are not. It backfires every time.

3) Don't be a know-it-all. You may have previous experience with the situation -- maybe even a lot of experience -- but that's not the time to be talking about how amazingly you've handled other situations like it.

When we were dealing with Rebecca (the young woman in the car behind us), it would not have been helpful to say "Oh I've been a car accident before. This is nothing compared to mine. You barely touched us." That would have been condescending to her, implying that she was getting upset for no reason and invalidated her feelings, making her feel like she was overreacting.

4) Learn when to step back. There is a time to step up and take control of a situation and there is a time to step back. When the police arrived, it was very clear that my role was finished. I didn't have to worry about the situation any more, the details or anything else because it was their job.

My control-freak nature helped me to handle the crisis effectively. When the crisis was over, I had to put that part of my personality away. Learning when to do that takes maturity, experience, and quite frankly, some failures along the way.

Fortunately everyone was just fine. I felt useful and I felt that I had made a difference. More importantly, I'd kept myself from panicking, from overreacting and from feeling helpless. My take-charge personality helped me by keeping me in control and it helped some other people as well.

Instead of thinking that your control issues are always negative, look at them in a positive light. You may be able to help someone.