[Advice] What Competing-Controlling Looks Like in Your Organization

The entire history of humanity shows that responding to a complex conflict environment with the competition/controlling mode generates outsized rewards, and little downside, to the individuals who choose it as a mode of addressing conflict.

Wars, battles, fights, riots, pogroms, demonstrations, marches—all are forms, shades, and methods of competing with other people and groups and “winning” control over resources that may have been scarce in the past, but may be more abundant now.

In workplaces, competency at controlling other people, the space of conflicts, and even the resources that go into conflicts, generates outsized rewards in status, money, and position for individuals. In workplaces, competition is fostered (either through overt messaging or through covert cultural conditioning) as a way to separate “winners” from “losers” or “A” players from “everyone else.” The rewards for engaging in these types of competitions are outsized, as are the losses—of face, reputation, authority, and status.

Many of the other responses to conflict scenarios that people are competent at—including accommodating, passive-aggressiveness, assertiveness, and avoiding—are, at their root, responses to organizational work cultures that value competition and controlling in a conflict scenario over other potential responses. Those other responses are deemed organizationally useful as downsides, for situations where “everyone else” fights over the leftovers from the “A” players’ tables.

We all know what competency at controlling and competing looks like, but here are some behavioral high points:

  • The novice competitor/controller mode focuses on hiding competitive desires and manipulates behind the scenes. Sometimes this behavior will be confused with passive-aggressiveness, or hostility.
  • The advanced beginner competitor/controller mode focuses on developing elaborate plans to deceive other parties in conflict, and even to involve other people who have little to nothing to do with the actual conflict itself, but who have access to outsized resources.
  • The competent competitor/controller mode manipulates parties in conflict at a high level, and can also mask intentions through avoiding direct confrontation, using others to accomplish goals, and spread gossip and rumors without accountability.
  • The proficient performer competitor/controller mode advances through an organization by engaging in ignoring and minimizing past mistakes when confronted with them and removing people from positions that could report previous poor performance, bad judgment, or choices.
  • The expert competitor/controller mode attains outsized rewards, (i.e. personal, financial, organizational, etc.) but role models this behavior as a cultural response to conflicts in the organization, thus setting the table for future repeating of the same behavior.

If this all reads like the HBO show Game of Thrones to you (or a description of the political process in many contemporary countries) you would be correct.  However over time, many organizations have developed crisis and resource poverty mindset-based cultures, focused around varied degrees of competition/controlling when faced with conflict scenarios, and many more will be focused in that way in the future, as communication and information increases transparency globally.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HSConsultingandTraining
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
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