Control Dramas: Why Trying To Control Our World Doesn't Work

Christine Comaford

How do you get thrown off your groove?

I’ll bet the vast majority of times it’s due to either trying to control something or trying to gain approval from other(s). The ego wants both. Constantly. Control control control or get approval get approval get approval. Both make you feel lousy and impact your performance as a leader.

Let’s say you wanted to control a particular outcome or situation and you didn’t get the result you wanted. Your ego likely steered you into blaming others/external influencers/external conditions or shaming yourself (aka beating yourself up). Felt lousy, right?

Next, let’s look at approval. You did something and wanted others to acknowledge, appreciate, approve of you or your work and you didn’t get the approval you wanted. Felt lousy, right?

Let’s get some choice around these dynamics so we can feel good instead.

How Control And Approval Dramas Begin

We all have a control drama (which is elegantly described in The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield). As children we forged a strategy to get attention, which was how we experienced being loved. We chose our strategy based on the strategy—or control drama–each of our parents had. They chose theirs based on their experience with their parents, so no one is to blame here.

Control Dramas are crucial to understand because your business and personal life are profoundly affected by them. They cause you, and those you work and live with, the most unhappiness of all your challenging behaviors. And they consume a tremendous amount of emotional energy.

The 4 Top Control Dramas You Must Be Aware Of

In my decades of coaching top performers, I repeatedly helped leaders cure four key control dramas. As you read them please separate the person from the behavior, and note that control attempts will increase when conflict is avoided.

1. Interrogator – this control drama often asks excessive amounts of questions, makes you explain and justify your decisions, behaviors, and possibly even your existence. They’re high on doubt and low on trust.

2. Intimidator – this control drama is often busy criticizing, putting others down, saying you or others are not good enough. Their standards are either unrealistically high, vague or constantly changing so you can’t succeed.

3. Aloof – this control drama avoids commitment, can’t be pinned down, avoids details, keeps everyone wondering what is going on, communicates very little to keep others in the dark—often because they want to keep all their options open.

4. Poor Me – this control drama thrives on being the martyr, they are big on self- pity, believe everything is being done to them, and they have no power. They are akin to a victim and rescuer combo.

The above are a more sophisticated version of some of the roles in the tension triangle that you’ve read about in my blog on sabotage.

Now let’s look at how the control dramas interact—in the workplace.

Control Drama Scenarios And How To Navigate Them

It’s key to keep in mind that control dramas create systems that two or more people participate in. Be sure to share this blog with your team so everyone gets clear on how they try to control.

An Aloof leader will likely attract/create other Aloofs or Poor Mes. The Interrogators in the organization will go nuts since they can’t get a straight answer. Then accountability, execution, results will all suffer.

How To Navigate:

  • Do a group Outcome Frame so everyone gets on the same page and agrees to next steps and who owns what. Be very clear on the next steps so all agree who’s doing what and when. Work with a leadership coach to shift this dynamic.

An Interrogator leader would attract/create other Interrogators or Aloofs. So everyone will be interrogating one another or avoiding details and decision making will suffer. This will then impact accountability, execution, results.

How To Navigate:

  • You’ll want to make sure you have clear swim lanes, or decision spaces, so ownership is clear. Also note the accountability structures I link to above. Work with a leadership coach to shift this dynamic.

An Intimidator leader will likely attract/create other Intimidators or Poor Mes. This one is tricky because Intimidators generally get great business results, so on the outside it looks like this dynamic is working. But long-term it’s not.

How To Navigate:

  • Boosting emotional intelligence will help here so the Intimidator increases the awareness of their impact on others, and the Poor Mes will take more responsibility for their experience. Work with a leadership coach to shift this dynamic.

Poor Me leader will likely attract/create other Poor Mes or Intimidators. Intimidators may get irritated and try to take over, causing anarchy or upset in general.

How To Navigate:

  • The Poor Me leader will need to re-establish his or her Energetic Weight and step back into it so others can follow them. They’ll also need to layout clear communication.

The Net-Net

  • The 4 key control dramas cause most of the disconnection and misunderstandings between people in times of stress
  • Each control drama, once identified, can be shifted to healthy communication using the tools we mentioned plus leadership coaching
  • The ego wants to control and seek approval. When we catch ourselves wanting one or the other we can stop, pause, and choose to simply be present instead

What is your control drama? What is the cost of it? Work with your coach to release it, and simply be connected, authentic, and at choice instead.

Feeling Like The Drama Is Draining Your Energy Lately?

A weekend getaway may be exactly what you need to take control of your life.


Meet Christine Comaford

For over 30 years Leadership and Culture Coach, Serial Entrepreneur, and New York Times bestselling author Christine Comaford has helped leaders navigate growth and change. She specializes in applied neuroscience, which helps her clients achieve tremendous results in record time. An entrepreneur she built and sold five companies with an average ROI of 700%, and she was a software engineer in the early days of Microsoft and Apple. Christine is a human behavior expert, a leadership columnist for, and the New York Times bestselling author of Power Your Tribe, SmartTribes and Rules for Renegades.

Learn More About Christine