Control And Influence

Getting stressed at work is all too easy, it’s like the panic you feel before going into an exam. You know it is not going to be easy or fun but it needs to get done. There are 2 things I remind myself about when it comes to stressful situations and that is Control and Influence.

Anything that you can directly impact is something you can control. In the case of an exam it is revision, in the case of delivering a piece of work it is time management. These are the things that if you ignored you would be held accountable for and likely have to answer to you boss or teacher, or other stakeholder. Preparation is the key to addressing control so making sure you get things done early and avoid procrastination will see you in a strong position when it comes to a deadline.

There are however things that are outside of your control, these can be decisions or actions that are out of your hands. With items that you cannot directly impact, the only alternative is to indirectly impact them through influence. Influence usually boils down to communication, discussing unknowns with various parties, and even clarifying knowns to ensure there is no misunderstandings or false assumptions. The important thing to remember with influence is that there are no guarantees, you might find yourself up against a wall and you just have to work with what you have. So long as you have addressed a concern ahead of time you can always point back to that conversation when the boss comes hunting for heads.

Control and Influence is a coping mechanism for stressful situations and the event that a project might not go to plan or fail entirely. Often stakeholders will be looking for someone to blame but the truth of the matter is that the end result is a reflection of the top down communication. I hold this belief against myself all the time and when there is a misunderstanding in what is required and something else gets delivered, it is a result of my failure to communicate and not the developer or designer implementing a solution. I refer back to control here because this is what I have a direct impact on – defining the requirements. My favourite approach is to go at my job like there is someone at the other end of my effort waiting patiently to catch me out on a mistake.

It does happen, I’m not perfect, but I do aim to address everything and ensure I am not caught out and that is the best I can do in the situation. When I do get caught out I like it, because it means there is something I can improve, so that the next time I am in a similar tight spot I can address that embarrassing mistake last time. Getting something wrong and then getting it right next time is the most satisfying and character building version of succeeding.

Look first for things you can control and encourage others in your team to do the same, then look for things you can influence to ensure a greater chance of success. This is how successful teams work, doing their part and then looking outward to see where they can help. Communication is the fundamental tool of any successful team and nothing has been solved without it.