Efficiency, Control and Their Affect on Others
For some people, being organised, efficient and in control over others can be like an addiction. It can seem like they just can’t get enough of control efficiency. This is typical in risk and safety and is often enacted in the name of ‘your safety is our priority’. Safety suggests that it is about caring for, and looking after people, yet paradoxically this care, in the form of control, is quite possibly having the opposite effect.
When our life is dominated by efficiency, by a desire to control (both overtly and covertly) and where our focus is on ‘doing’, this can, and will, impact on our relationships with others, even if we are well intended in our actions.
I can resonate with this. I’ve previously shared that I’m naturally a ‘doer’ and I can understand this addiction.
A good thing about being efficient and feeling in control may be that things get done and that progress (or at least an illusion of progress) may be made. By contrast, being out of control and inefficient may make us feel uncomfortable, uneasy or at worst frightening. These are some of the feelings that I have experienced at times.
What I can now recognise is that efficiency strives for ‘excellence’ and ‘perfection’. Efficiency has no time for ‘ordinary’, no time for mediocrity and a minimal tolerance for waste. When our focus is on being more efficient and on creating ‘more with less’, how can there be time for understanding people and our fallibilities? That would seem like unnecessary waste.
If our focus is all about getting things done perfectly, control reins supreme. When we go about controlling others, whether intentionally or not, it must impact on our relationships, on our interactions, and how we treat others. We can’t have as a focus ‘getting more with less’ and perfection while at the same time accepting human fallibility. The two just don’t mix.
When we are ‘efficient’ and in ‘control’ and when ‘action’ is our priority, we may not take time to pause before acting, to consider others’ perspectives and to reflect on how we occur to others. Jacques Ellul in The Technological Society refers to this focus on ‘efficiency’ as ‘technique’;
By technique, for example, he means far more than the machine technology. Technique refers to any complex of standardised means for attaining a predetermined result. Thus, it converts spontaneous and unreflective behaviour into behaviour that is deliberate and rationalized. The Technical Man is fascinated by results, by immediate consequences of setting standardised devices into motion. (1964, p. vi)
When we become ‘fascinated by results’, control becomes our number one priority (either consciously or non-consciously). When control is the aim, how can our life be about others and understanding their perspective? Could we do things that we consider ‘efficient’, yet others may perceive as ‘control’? When we don’t allow others to have control, we know this impacts negatively on motivation.
In my previous article about ‘doing’, I shared the story of where my desire for closure and action impacted on a relationship with a good friend. In that example, I recalled how I went about doing a task that my friend had previously agreed to do, because I thought my friend had been tied up, or for forgotten about it. What I didn’t realise was that my friend had plans in place to do it that day. In that case my desire to be efficient took precedence over my feelings for my friend. Was I aiming to control them without even being aware that this was my agenda?
It seems like life long habits can be hard to disrupt.
On a recent occasion when I was in ‘control’ mode, I quickly ‘jumped out of the blocks’ when a person asked me to share some information I had so that they could consider it for themselves. So how did I jump to ‘control’?
It’s like I couldn’t help myself. I quickly passed on the information while at the same time adding my thoughts and views on the topic. Specifically, I suggested that they “carefully review the information as it was challenging yet at the same time fulfilling”. So what’s the problem with that you ask? The person asked for information, surely they’d also value my opinion, right?
As I reflected later in discussion with a close friend, I began to realise that by adding my ‘two bobs worth’ (Aussie term for ‘my opinion’), I may have unintentionally aimed to control what the other person thought about the topic. The priming effect of suggesting that they, “carefully review the information”, was significant.
Why could I not just pass on the information and allow the person to be free to form their own views, or, if they wanted, ask for my thoughts, ideas and experiences.
So how may we demonstrate ‘efficiency’ and ‘technique’ in risk and safety?
Here are just a couple of examples:
- Risk Assessment – how many times have you been involved in a process where the aim is to understand and asses risk, yet you have lead the conversation down the path of what you know and comes to mind, what you feel comfortable with, and what you thought were the key issues?
It can be challenging when we are expected to be a ‘subject matter expert’, to let go of control and allow others to be free to choose, to make mistakes and to learn. When you go about doing ‘risk assessment’ is your agenda to understand, support and lead others to discern risk or is it, even if non-consciously, to control their thoughts and actions, all in the name of safety?
- Safe Work Procedures (or other similar names) – what is the purpose of these documents if they are not to control others? Of course I recognise that we can’t always let people just wonder around the workplace working things out for themselves, but when our process becomes so tight that people aren’t afforded the option to think, discover or explore for themselves, what might this mean for ‘others’ and their understanding, learning and motivation?
Like all addictions, control is not easy to overcome. The first step to tackling addictions is to accept that one is addicted and want to change. I know that control mode is something that I can easily slip into. I know that control is easier and more efficient than understanding, exploring and accepting. However if we are to truly care for others, if our focus is on supporting others to learn and discern things for themselves, surely we need to let go of control?
Should we aim to better understand the oppressive nature of our actions and recognise that even if we feel we are caring (controlling) for what we feel are the right reasons, that this might not be ‘right’ for others?
Are there times when you may control others through a focus on efficiency and process? Perhaps you may not even be conscious that you are aiming to control others? What things can we do to learn, grow and mature in order to let go of control and allow others the freedom to make their own decisions? Are there signs or cues that you might be able to use to recognise when control and efficiency are taking the lead in how you go about things?
We’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and comments.
Author: Robert Sams
Phone: 0424 037 112
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