Control Freak… I mean, Behavior Analyst! (Yeah that’s it!)

Author: Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

Author: Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

As you learn more about how to conceptualize and understand the world around you there are some natural rewards that come along with it – mainly that you can then come into contact with how to begin influencing situations when people are seeking such help.

There are many important conversations to be had around the ethics (both behavioral and professional) that arise when we talk about influencing behavior. That’s not the focus of this post, but it should be noted. I think almost everyone that has been on this planet has yearned to understand why others (including animals of any kind, actually) do what they do. There are also a lot of different models to understanding why things happen, and it’s important to note that events can be analyzed from varying perspectives (e.g., physics, biology, chemistry, psychology). As I alluded in the title, I think that these ways of looking at the world can produce some behavioral patterns that people call, "controlling." I’m not sure if *all* behavior analysts are “control freaks,” or if our field is any more likely to produce people that come off that way, but I think there’s still something worth sharing on this topic. (While remembering that we're all looking to understand the world and impact it in a positive way, and behavior analysis is just one of those ways to conceptualize what's going on around us). 

I have struggled personally and professionally with relinquishing “control” of a process, and I think there are a few reasons why that was happening:

  1. The reinforcing consequences of keeping my hands on the project were strong enough to continue you me to do so.
  2. Some self-rules likely influenced the situation too, such as “If I do X, then I can say I achieved Y, and that will be awesome to say!”  I've since learned that isn't so important, and it's much better to have a team work towards shared goals.
  3. A lack of training and experience in *how* to hand things off successfully (e.g., creating data systems that funneled up relevant info, how to schedule appropriate check-ins with team members, how to properly schedule and finish the tasks that I need to contribute towards the project.
  4. A lack of understanding what variables were actually occurring in the system (i.e., what skill sets were needed for me to hand off a process or what skill were needed to help the project reach its milestones?).
  5. A professional “fear” of trusting in others, regardless of how good they were at what they did.

Melissa Engasser, one of our Next Gen presenters and team members, actually pointed out that I was being a little controlling over a process while we were getting ready for our Next Gen Revolution Summit recently completed. I’m not sure if there were more times than the two that she mentioned out loud, but when she said those words it actually produced an increase in heart rate and for me to pause and re-play the event immediately. It led me to a pretty simple crossroad: do I know what the hell I’m doing?

  • If there’s something that I’m certain about I’ll stand for it and back it in a reputable way to the stakeholders' viewpoint. I also need to be better at listening and communicating why I believe something should be approached in a certain way.
  • However, if I’m not sure (i.e., there’s no data from a similar content to respond towards to guide my position), then I need to listen, share my position, and work on a solution that the team sees as the best fit for the problem on hand.

I think anyone can pick these two points up and try them and combine them with a thorough systems analysis, the appropriate data systems and begin paving a path forward to not only trusting in the people around you by building a stronger team. The day I started focusing on this for myself and those around me was the day that I started to experience more of what I think our field needs, progressive real-world solutions, and collaborative mentors and team members. It didn’t happen overnight.  I spent most of 2015 and 2016 figuring out how to do this, but it happening, and it’s leading to things like this very website.

Was it worth all that planning time?  So far all data indicates yes. 2017 has been a phenomenal year.

This post is partially created to encourage others to focus some time on creating and aligning the appropriate teams and resources that they need to reach intended outcomes, but to also as a sort of public commitment to continually focus on being a collaborative team member as much as possible.

What could you step back from and re-think?

Care to chat with me? I love connecting with readers and learning about other people's projects. Use the tool below to schedule in ~60 seconds! 

What To Read Next

Ryan O'Donnell