“I have no control of X, Y or Z.”

When we hear that statement, it sends a signal that we are powerless. That we have given up and become a helpless victim. To me, it seems weak.

However, sometimes it also happens to be true. There are times where exerting too much control over a situation can exacerbate it by alienating a colleague, friend or family member. Or… and this is a tough pill to swallow… we may actually be wrong, uninformed or have bad timing.

So how do we decide what to do?

1. Do I have enough information? A common misstep we can make it shooting first before we even take time to aim. We have become hard wired with automatic programming that can lead us to make quick decisions without necessarily having all the data needed to properly form an opinion, much less a proper course of action. A former CEO of mine used to say, “I trust in God. All others bring data.” Words to live by…

2. Will the situation resolve on its own? In crisis communications, often it’s best to be gracious and let the storm blow over. That’s usually not the advice a client or colleague wants to hear, but responding to some situations can fan the flame when the best reaction is to sit quietly by as the news media or your perceived attacker looks for their next victim. In times like this, I’ve simply counseled, “Brace yourself, it’s going to be ugly but will be over soon.” Then we can regroup and lean into generating activity about something positive.

3. Would “space” be helpful? For confrontations with colleagues or friends, space to cool off can help. If you use this option, just make it clear that you are not avoiding the situation but simply need time to process and sort through everything. Use the space to cool off, collect data and weigh all options, potential outcomes and trade offs for the relationship or situation. It’s time well spent!

4. Am I actually in a position to help? Sometimes we may feel we need to have an opinion on a subject but actually not be in any position to control or influence. In this case, we need to “stay in our lane” and focus instead on areas where we can have a positive impact. Letting a situation sap our energy keeps us from concentrating on areas we actually can control or influence. Snap out of it!

5. Is there a leadership vacuum? There are times in our careers where we may look around and see that no one is doing anything to help. But we are standing there… with our skills, passion and toolkit to do something potentially extraordinary. This may be the time to ask for forgiveness rather than permission and do what we have been trained to do to positively influence the situation – or take complete control and own it.

Learning how and when to take control can help build a fabulous and fulfilling career. Either way, take note of the lessons learned, so next time, you can choose wisely and be even more confident in that choice.


Hear more from Michelle Metzger at the
3rd Annual Strategic Internal Communications conference in Boston, July 18 – 20