Understanding Control

The principle of control is one of the most misapplied fundamentals of our industry. In fact, this misapplication reveals itself when many practitioners believe they need to control clients and candidates in order to successfully complete their business dealings. In attempting to do so, they generally employ aggressive strategies and techniques which unfortunately create a fight or flight response with a corresponding loss of control. Just the opposite of what they are trying to accomplish. The manifestation of this becomes apparent when you consider the increasing level of fall-offs, candidate turn-downs, counteroffer acceptances, and twelfth-hour client surprises.

Regardless of how well intentioned, you cannot force people to do things that are not in line with their concept of self-interest. Remember “Petra Principle Number One”:

“People do things for their reasons and not ours.”

This remains the most important factor in dealing with people whether in business or in your personal life. Keeping this in mind, let’s consider the principle of control from a different perspective.

First of all, you should stop trying to control other people. Rather, you should concentrate on controlling the process in which you deal with these people.

Let’s be honest. Most of us have a hard enough time controlling ourselves much less other people. Consider for a moment the number of times you have been disappointed in yourself for not being thorough with your questioning, for not responding properly to an objection, for allowing yourself to be intimidated by a prospect, client or recruit, or for not making that phone call because fear of the outcome prevents you from doing so. Those instances have nothing to do with controlling the other person. Rather, they have everything to do with controlling yourself.

On the other hand, implementing an objective process that, by its very design, increases the likelihood of a positive outcome for everyone involved is quite another matter (See TFL-06/02 – “Implanting the DNA For Success, and TFL – 10/02 – “It’s In The How and Not The What”).

With this approach, control is regulated by the process itself and the willingness of the participants, including you, to commit to that process. Therefore,

In order to gain control, that control must be willingly given to you by those who agree to participate in the process.

Consider for a moment the one thing that everyone who agrees to participate in the process has in common. Everyone involved in the process at one time or another will be required to make a decision. Obviously, their first decision is whether or not to even participate in the process.

Keep in mind that the process begins once a two-way conversation has been established between you and each of the participants. If you are effective with your marketing and recruiting skills, this will generally occur on the initial phone call. In order for this to happen you must accomplish a minimum of three things in the first thirty seconds of the call.

1. You must gain their attention.

2. You must not create a reflex rejection on their part.

3. You must change the call from a monologue to a dialogue.


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The greatest skill in this business is not the skill of getting people to listen to you. Rather, the most valuable skill is to get people to talk to you and for you to actively listen to what they have to say without pre-judging their motives.

Once they are talking with you, they have entered your process, albeit at a very preliminary level. However, if they decide to continue their involvement, that decision will be motivated by self-interest. This is critically important for you to understand.

In order to gain and maintain control over the process, you must insure the process is designed to facilitate the decision making capability of all the participants. This means you must assertively control (as opposed to aggressively) the flow of information, making certain that each person in the process has all the information they need, when they need it, and they are properly interpreting that information in order for them to make the right decision.

When the participants believe you are operating in a context that reflects their best interest, you will have gained their trust and positioned yourself as a viable center of influence. Consequently, they will feel comfortable with your assertive control of the process as they continually witness that you are operating in a context consistent with their best interest.

However, gaining control is impossible if your process is not well constructed, if you operate in a self-serving manner, or if you allow yourself to be continually compromised by fear of losing the “deal.”

Instead, be a straight-talking provider of real life solutions. Through the assertive application of a properly designed process, you will become absolutely essential to the decision making of each participant. Only in that capacity will you be able to gain and maintain control.

Finally, notice that I have used the term assertive instead of aggressive. This is not merely a play on words. Rather it reflects an operating style. While an aggressive style is often earmarked with combativeness and emotional polarization, an assertive style reflects boldness and confidence. In gaining control of the process, an assertive operating style will help build the relational trust required to achieve a positive outcome for everyone involved. Therefore, do not confuse the two for they are not similar in either application or effect.

As always, if you have questions or comments, just let me know.

Terry Petra is one of our industry’s leading trainers and consultants. He has successfully conducted in-house programs for hundreds of search, placement, temporary staffing firms and industry groups across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, England, and South Africa. To learn more about his training products and services, visit his web site at: www.tpetra.com. Terry can be reached at (651) 738-8561 or e-mail him at Terry@tpetra.com.

Recipient of the Harold B. Nelson Award, Terry Petra is one of our industry's leading trainers and consultants. He has successfully conducted in-house programs for hundreds of search, placement, temporary staffing firms and industry groups across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, England, and South Africa. To learn more about his training products and services, including PETRA ON CALL, and BUSINESS VALUATION, visit www.tpetra.com. Terry can be reached at (651) 738-8561 or click to email him.


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