Tell me a time when

Asking people at interview to recall a time when they had to tackle a particular issue seems at face value a great way of finding out what they’re like as a person, which is probably why behavioural interviews are increasing in popularity. After all, one example of a particular behaviour with no independent way to judge the veracity of the story is quality evidence, right?

Putting aside that obvious fault there’s a deeper issue with this way of interviewing that means it favours control freaks above all others. Given its common use when interviewing for senior roles that means it has a lot to answer for.
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Dissecting bullies

Bullies are a special type of control freak. At first glance it might appear like they are the meaner and more forceful type but when you analyse their behaviour the truth is quite different.

Adults often tell kids who are being bullied that the bullies are actually weak at heart and you can stand up to them, something that kids being bullied find it hard to believe. ‘Weak’ is half right but it’s not just about their strength of personality, it’s about them being incompetent control freaks. Yes that’s right, bullies are the special class of control freaks who for one reason or another are so useless at all the other techniques that control freaks utilise that they become bullies out of sheer desperation. They’ve tried everything else and it didn’t work so this is all they have left.
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All your successes are belong to us

Every control freak likes to claim the successes of others as their own. In some cases it’s relatively easy to do, such as when nobody listening knows better, or where they do but they are too timid to say anything. The most common case relies on the well known weakness of organisational memory, where everyone expects someone else to remember things for them. Even if they do remember, they expect someone else to remember better and so be the person that raises an objection, saving them from that duty.
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Too important even for politeness

There are some control freaks who don’t even bother apologising for being late, or for missing a meeting, or for any other situation where they’ve let others down. This isn’t too surprising given the ultimately narcissistic view that control freaks have where other people simply don’t matter.

What is surprising though is the effect this has on their reputation. In anyone else this would seem rude and would over time become recognised as an unforgiveable flaw in someone’s character. But in the weird topsy-turvy world of control freaks it actually strengthens their reputations in the minds of the sheep that they are trying to surround themselves with.
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Spotting a control freak at job interview

I’ve noted previously that control freaks manipulate their past unashamedly and this would seem like an opportunity to catch them out. After all there are bound to be some records or some people around from that time who can remember the truth and that can expose the lies. The foolish control freaks who think they are invincible make claims to university degrees they don’t have or other easily verifiable facts and so do get caught out, but this rarely works for clever control freaks because they rarely directly lie. Instead they manipulate others into rewriting history for them and so manipulate their past without culpability.
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I love the employees but I hate the individuals

This one took me years to figure because it is just so plain weird.

I used to regularly attend management meetings where we discussed benefits for employees and one member of the team has been persistently arguing in favour of increasing those benefits. Normally I would be very happy with this, after all the better the benefits the happier the people and the better they work. OK, we need to ensure we don’t overdo it so that people can’t leave if they want to, but that’s just a matter of assessing what the market does and not straying too far.

But whenever I heard this person talk in favour of increasing benefits, it always struck a sour note with me. A little voice would go off in the back of my head shouting “But you don’t like most of the people, in fact you seem to detest them, so why are you arguing for this?”.
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Rewriting history

Control freaks manipulate their past like nobody else does – unashamedly. A good control freak doesn’t lie outright though, they just talk up their past a bit. In the usual subtle manner where they don’t quite say what it is that they did but make it sound very important. So if they were say a business debt collector in a previous role then they can make it sound like they were a corporate finance restructuring expert, without actually lying outright.
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My picture is bigger than yours. No, no, mine is even bigger

There you are sitting in a meeting painting a verbal picture of how you want to solve a particular issue and then someone else pipes up with “I think we need to look at the bigger picture here” and starts talking about their solution. Obviously you’re irritated, because this is such a loaded way of interject. It’s basically saying:

  • Your thinking is just too narrow and you’re not considering all the things that need to be considered.
  • You don’t really understand what is important and what isn’t.

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Celebrating the ordinary

I love a good celebration, especially after a long project where everyone has worked hard together to deliver the result. Real achievement is always worth celebrating. Of course a celebration like this has some real benefits. It strengthens the team, it helps people learn from their successes and it provides a faster transition to the next project

The problem for a control freak is that they hate this kind of celebration because it recognises real achievement and so gives power, credibility and kudos to people other than them and we can’t have that.
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