We all know people who seem to constantly tell us what to do.  It feels like they always have to be right.

For most of us, persons who have to have their way grate on us.  We find ourselves avoiding them and questioning ourselves, as well as becoming angry at their bossy manner.

This sounds like a personal rant, but it’s not.  It’s a problem for which a number of Farm and Ranch Life readers have sought my advice. 

Most of the requests have been from farm women about authoritarian husbands and extended family.  A few farm men have contacted me about people who are excessively controlling, usually parents or landlords.

While it is difficult to get along with people who require adherence to their demands, there are approaches we can take to achieve a positive outcome.

What to do when people have to have their way.  It’s important to keep the lines of communication open, even if we don’t feel like it.

We get nowhere by ignoring domineering persons or taking a position that is uncompromisingly opposite.  That seems to be what is happening at the national level politically. 

A Pew Research Center survey of 10,013 adults nationwide that was released earlier this month indicates significantly greater political polarization between conservatives and liberals over the past twenty years, with fewer people willing to “take the middle ground.” 

When elected political leaders are unwilling to compromise, little gets done to solve national problems.  The same thing happens in personal relationships, the Pew report indicates.

Behaving in an authoritarian fashion is learned, not inherited.  Psychologists and others have developed guidelines to deal with the conflict that occurs when people are polarized in their relationships.  Here are guidelines I find useful.   

  • Agree to talk and to practice fairness.  That means everyone gets approximately equal time during discussion.  Sometimes the talking session is dominated by one person, so this may mean having to delay your opportunity to speak to a later date, but make sure you get your turn.
  • When a person is talking, do not interrupt.  Let the person say things even if you disagree.  It is important to let the person get things into the open.
  • Clarify what you are hearing.  It helps to repeat back what you heard so the person can confirm or modify his/her view.  You can provide prompts like “I hear you saying that…”
  • If the other person is shouting or not talking freely, provide encouragement to get matters into the open by saying such things as, “Okay, tell me more; I want to know what you are saying.”  Make eye contact when you give these prompts and avoid giving in to any impulses to disagree until you have your turn to speak.
  • Solve one problem at a time.  If the person talking brings up additional issues simultaneously, provide prompts such as, “Let’s solve one problem at a time before going to the next one.”
  • Avoid comments about the speaker or what is being said while the person is venting, yelling or verbally bullying.  When the person calms down, then gently say something like “I’m glad you got that into the open.” 
  • Avoid name-calling, foul language, swearing, and any physical restraint or aggression.  Sometimes it’s best to hold discussions in public places such as restaurants because it prompts appropriate social behavior.  Bring in someone who can mediate if necessary.  If anyone becomes physical, leave the situation if you can and don’t be afraid to contact law enforcement or other proper authorities when safe later to report violence or abuse to children and dependent adults.
  • Postpone what you don’t know how to handle.  When you are confused, overly emotional or angry, it usually helps to postpone trying to settle the issue immediately.  You can say, “I need to think about this a bit.”  Or “I need to take a break to get myself thinking clearly.”  Refrain from saying anything negative.
  • Always come back to the unresolved issue at a later date when you have regained self-control and feel okay.  Set a time and place, if you can, when you will be ready to resume discussion about the sore subject.
  • When you get your chance to speak, propose alternatives to the demands that have been made.  It’s rare when problems have only one solution.  Be willing to give a little to get a little in return.  Propose compromises.  Usually the first proposal, and sometimes several more proposals, do not lead to agreement so it is necessary to keep talking and proposing compromises until a solution is reached.
  • Compliment a person whenever he/she moves a little toward compromise.  Be sincere and willing to shift your position too.
  • When resolution is reached, acknowledge the agreement and thank those involved in the resolution.

By managing your own behaviors you are gently teaching the authoritarian person how to be less controlling.  You are setting an example of fairness.  Everyone benefits!

Dr. Rosmann is a clinical psychologist, adjunct professor and farmer who lives at Harlan, Iowa.  To contact him, see the website: www.agbehavioralhealth.com