Remember back when you were in school, and your teacher would announce that a new group project was being assigned? If your classrooms were anything like mine, you recall hearing a collective groan echo from chalkboard to chalkboard.
Confession time: I was probably the one groaning and complaining the loudest. But, it was likely for a different reason than most of my classmates. My peers were disheartened to hear that even more work was being tossed on their plates. Me? I wasn’t so upset about the new assignment. Rather, I was more discouraged that I was going to have to work in a group, when I’d honestly rather just do the entire thing myself.
That probably makes me sound like a pretty terrible person, and an even worse colleague—I get that. But, it doesn’t change the facts: I’m a total control freak. I feel this undeniable urge to have the final say on every last detail—no matter how small.
There’s only one problem: This approach simply isn’t maintainable (or advisable, really) in a work environment. When you need to effectively collaborate and communicate with your co-workers, behaving like this really gets in the way.
As much as I love being in charge, I don’t want to become known as that teammate who’s a total steamroller. So, needless to say, throughout my years I’ve managed to identify a few strategies that’ve allowed me to loosen the reins and transform myself into a little more of a team player.
Give these four tips a try, and you’re sure to improve the way you work with your co-workers (even if your inner control freak is screaming all the while).
1. Recognize Your Weaknesses
If you’re thinking that this seems like an incredibly discouraging first point, I can’t blame you. However, taking some time to identify those things that you aren’t so great at can be incredibly helpful in relaxing your grip on every last piece of a project.
When you crave control, it’s your nature to want to handle everything—regardless of whether or not you’re the best one for the job. As bad as it sounds, you’d rather have it within your own grasp than have to trust someone else to get it done.
This is why recognizing your weaknesses can be so effective: You’ll have a much easier time delegating or releasing those things that you already know aren’t your forte. There’s no greater sense of comfort than knowing that spreadsheet is in the hands of your office’s resident Excel whiz or that the pickiest proofreader in your entire company is taking the final look through that report.
Identifying your own weaknesses does something equally important at the same time: It highlights your team’s strengths. By figuring out those pieces you aren’t well-equipped to handle yourself, you’ll find natural openings where others can easily step in, fill those gaps, and contribute to the project (without you spiraling into a panic).
2. Be Open and Honest
There’s nothing worse than a control freak who repeatedly chants, “I’m not a control freak!” Listen, you like to be in charge—and, sometimes there’s nothing wrong with that. But, refusing to own up to your true colors won’t do you any favors. In fact, it will likely just irritate your team even more.
The best thing you can do? Own up to the fact that you like to take charge right from the get-go. Doing so will boot that big, pink elephant out of the room right away, and nip those hushed whispers and annoyed remarks from your co-workers in the bud.
However, simply admitting that you can be on the pushier side isn’t quite enough. Take this piece of advice one step further by enlisting an accountability partner on your team. You should explicitly instruct this person to give you a heads up and pull you back down to earth when you’re crossing the line from organized to obsessive. Having him or her keep you in check when you start to get a little too demanding will save you from snowballing into a full-on dictator.
3. Discuss, Don’t Demand
If you asked two different people to make you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I’m willing to bet they both wouldn’t go about it the same way. Maybe one would slather peanut butter on one slice of bread, and then jelly directly on top of it. Perhaps the other would coat one slice in peanut butter, the other in jelly, and then smoosh them together.
This isn’t a lecture on the art of sandwich making (and—let’s face it—it is an art), but the point is this: Even though those people had two very different ways of making their classic PB&J, they still ended up with the same sandwich.
There’s more than one way to do anything. That doesn’t necessarily mean that one method is right and the other is wrong—they’re simply different. And, unfortunately, that ideology is much too easy to lose sight of when you’re gritting your teeth at the thought of not maintaining every ounce of control by doing things your way.
So, before storming in with your “my way or the highway” approach, make sure that you zip your lips and take some time to listen. You should even ask questions, rather than doling out strict demands and instructions. You might be surprised by the thoughtful ideas and suggestions that come to the surface.
No, this might not come easily when you’re a natural-born control freak. But, as the old adage goes, we have two ears and one mouth for a reason.
4. Find Helpful Ways to Control
Alright, just because you can’t clear everybody else out of the way and charge full steam ahead on your own doesn’t mean you can’t be responsible for anything. You are definitely still entitled to contribute to the project or objective with your thoughts and your efforts. Nobody’s saying that being a team player means being completely hands off.
The key here is to channel your “my way or the highway” tendencies into things that your team will actually appreciate. Perhaps that’s by creating a detailed timeline for the entire project. Or, maybe you’re the best one to lead your regular team meetings to get status updates.
There’s a big difference between keeping everybody on track and keeping everybody under your thumb—and there are definitely times you can grab the reins and provide direction, without coming off as unbearably bossy. Find some different things that would actually help your team and put those on your own plate. You’ll be a valuable team member, while still satisfying that inner control freak.
I’ll be the first to admit that I love being in charge, and that can often make it difficult for me to be perceived as a true team player. Luckily, these four tips have helped me to squelch my control freak tendencies (at least a little bit) and be an all-around better collaborator. Give them a try for yourself—I’m sure your teammates will appreciate it!
Photo of co-workers courtesy of Portra Images/Getty Images.