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The avoid and control trap at home

Nov 17, 2018

As a dedicated bunch of leadership development nerds, our team spends most of its time focused on people’s work lives. And whether the topic of the moment is coaching, collaboration, or change; everything we do shares some things in common.  One of those things is taking an honest look at where we get off track. We’re always working to help people recognize how basic human drives get in our way and prevent us from engaging people and the real issues that matter. Then we challenge them with new approaches and tools to be more effective in their organizations.

At this time of year, I’m reminded that the family is an organization too – complete with its own reporting relationships, competing priorities, political factions, and leadership dysfunctions.  All the same human drives we talk about in a work context, are active in the family. Probably even more so.

In our workshops with organizational leaders we talk about the Avoid & Control Trap:

People all have the same fundamental drives. We’re all wired to avoid risk, conflict, and uncertainty.  We’d all like to get what we want by controlling outcomes, processes, and perceptions.

And the pull of those drives is really strong. It’s rational to want to get my way and avoid risk. There’s an emotional payoff and sometimes they work: especially in the short term, or if you’re dealing with things that are routine.

But our efforts to Avoid and Control often backfire on us. They cause a variety of bad habits that drive people around us nuts. They result in bigger problems down the road, and when we get trapped in Avoid & Control, it prevents us from engaging the people and things that really matter.

I don’t think it’s really very different at home.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, and the Winter holiday celebrations of our many traditions, it’s worth asking ourselves:

  • Is there someone in your family that you want to reconnect with, but you’re avoiding because of the risk of rejection?
  • Is there an opportunity at this time of year to reach out and invite them in?
  • Are there important issues in your family that aren’t being discussed because of the fear of conflict?
  • Is there an opportunity at this time of year to get those issues productively out into the open?

If your answer to some of those questions is yes, then a conversation around the dinner table could be a great place to start.  But having good conversations is easier said than done. We’ve all been part of family conversations that went sideways at some point.

In our work with leaders, we give them simple but powerful tools to increase the quality of their conversations and keep them on track. In honor of the holiday, here’s a special job aid for your Thanksgiving dinner conversations:

Please feel free to print it out and use it at the Thanksgiving table, but it’s ok if you decide to wait until pie…