The Hidden Cost of Control

I am progressing in my ability to get Otis, the Turnkey resident psychologist, to do my work for me. Typically, I tell him about my work in peer-to-peer fundraising or about running a business over a sauvignon blanc, piquing his interest to the point he will do some research, then blog about it as if I had done all the work myself. It is a good system, but clearly could be improved. This time I just had him speak to the client directly and recap to me what they discussed in an email, as seen below. This has proved a far superior method for writing blogs. The Beloved writes:

I was consulting with an executive with a major health-care nonprofit. She mentioned a concern about the way that organization’s staff interacted with volunteers. She felt like staff members were being too prescriptive in their instructions about fundraising, and that was probably a bad thing—although she couldn’t tell me exactly why.

German psychologist Armin Falk researches the perception of distrust, and talks about “the hidden cost of control.” Even the language used when talking to volunteers can damage their connection to the mission. For example, just using the word “should,” has been shown to trigger feelings of control and worsen performance. [Writer’s note: As in, “You should put the survivor tent over there.”]

It turns out that her intuition was spot on. Psychology tells us that two major factors that influence intrinsic motivation—commitment to a cause—are competence and autonomy. Giving someone a script to follow communicates the message that you distrust their competence in completing a task, and worse—that you are trying to control their behavior. The result is that the volunteer feels less invested, and their performance suffers as a result.

So, all that boiled down means that if you want your leadership volunteers to do more, tell them what to do less. Show them the goal, and let them achieve it in the way they see fit. Then reward them for success.

Terrifying, isn't it?