Do You Communicate with Intent to Control?
Did you know that close to 90% of all human communication comes from the (usually unconscious) intent to control? So says Susan Campbell in the book Saying What’s Real (H. J. Kramer). She says the intent to control reveals itself in many disguises:
- Denying that you feel pain when you’re hurting.
- Trying to impress others.
- Manipulating to get what you want.
- Being nice or agreeable to avoid a hassle.
- Lying to protect someone’s feelings.
- Assuming that you know something that you really cannot know, instead of living with the uncertainty of the situation.
- Keeping silent to avoid conflict.
- Playing it safe.
- Trying not to rock the boat.
- Trying to appear more “together” of composed than you really feel.
Perhaps you recognize yourself in one or more of these examples. “It’s as if you’re playing a game of chess: if I make this move, my opponent will have to make that move.” This is an example of the intent to control. This sort of strategizing keeps you in a state of chronic fear or anxiety. Trying to avoid uncertainty is very stressful. On the other hand, when you relax your grip, allow to things to unfold and pay attention to what is actually going on (versus your wishful thinking or your fears), you are naturally more confident,” says Campbell.
She says that the more you try to control things, the more out of control you will feel, because when you are more focused on creating a favorable outcome or a favorable impression—than on expressing your true self and your authentic feelings—that you are reinforcing your fears and anxieties. “You are in a sense affirming that if things do not turn out according to plan, you will not be OK. This puts your well-being on pretty shaky ground. The fact is you will be OK” says Campbell.
There is a big difference between communication that comes from the intent to relate and communication that comes from the intent to control. Much of our communication is tarnished by defense mechanisms designed to protect us from feeling hurt, rejected, abandoned, controlled or feeling out of control. But healthy human communication—communication that fosters connection, trust, intimacy and respect—is about knowing and being known, says Campbell. That means connection and intimacy are byproducts of expressing ourselves and listening to others express themselves. Speaking up and saying what we want, what we’re irritated about, what hurts us, what makes us feel loved, what we hope for, what we dream of—and listening to your partner’s answers to the same emotions.
Healthy communication is not about manipulating other people in doing what we want. It’s about communicating our true selves and our real feelings—and receiving someone else’s communications and feelings. Then it’s a matter of how well the two of us can compromise. That is the difference between communicating with the intent of relating instead of with the intent to control.
Granted, with this kind of communication I risk being rejected. You could say “no” to me, and I might feel rejected and vulnerable. Would it be safer if I denied what I was really wanting, or if I just didn’t communicate my wants, or if I implied that if you don’t give me what I want, there’s going to be big trouble?
Safer maybe, but not wiser.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
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