Understand Your Sphere of Control

Understand Your Sphere of Control by Keri DuceWe all have points of frustration in our career. Sometimes you’re frustrated with your boss or co-worker, other times the larger institution or company. I’m an over-processor, so this has led me to points in my career where I became stuck in the weeds, unable to pry myself loose without a little help from my friends. Frustration at work can lead to reduced job satisfaction. Almost ten years into my professional career, I see two common areas of frustration that can be used to help understand your sphere of control.

Your sphere of control has three distinct aspects:

  1. What you can control or have power over
  2. What you can influence
  3. What is outside of your control or influence.

Teamwork: Build On Strengths

One common source of frustration is working on a team. Unless you get to pick your own powerhouse team and can create award-winning results (UWM PPD Committee I’m looking at you!), you will be on teams with people who don’t contribute as much as others or perform at a lower level than you would prefer. They also might not want to do things the same way you do. Compromise is key to a positive group dynamic. There are many roles to play on a team and some people are going to be stronger than others. This can cause hours of angst as you complain about the poor performance of a group member to other group members. You can act as an influencer, but you can’t control another person’s behavior or actions.

My strategy to positively influence someone using your sphere of control is to find people’s strengths and assign them tasks you know they will be successfully complete. (Tweet this!) You can influence someone’s work and try to improve the overall project but you can’t take total control unless you do it all on your own. A good leader finds a way to recognize everyone’s talents, whatever they may be.

Decisions: Be An Information Source

A second common frustration in understanding your sphere of control is decisions being made that are outside of your control or influence but impact you. In this situation I find it best to start with this question:

Does this decision compromise your ethics or morals? If the answer is yes, it may be time to think about finding a new job. But if the answer is no, then you’ll probably have to learn to live with it (this is the “suck it up” principle that my dad drilled into me as a child).

Your best bet is to quickly figure out what you can influence or control. Take a few minutes to tell a confidential co-worker why you’re angry or upset with the decision that was made. It isn’t good to bottle up your feelings and, as a chronic over-processor, I know if I don’t say it to someone it will consume me. After that, complete the task or make the change necessary for that decision and move on by looking for ways to better anticipate these types of situations in the future.

If you’re going to spend time and energy on a discussion after a decision is made, work with your boss or a trusted mentor to see how you could provide more important information ahead of time so you could have helped influence that decision. This goes to my second tip to send your supervisor a weekly email update with the most important information you need to communicate. (Tweet this!) I know people like to complain about reports, but then you’re missing a great opportunity to provide people you work with important context for decision-making and impacting their sphere of control.

When You’re In Control

Finally, it’s important to reflect on the times you have total control. Control is to have power over a person or thing. When we have power we feel in control and when we lose power we feel out of control. When you have control of a decision, are you letting the people around you positively influence you? The best decisions often come from discussions had by people from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. Use your power to practice inclusive decision-making to expand others’ sphere of control and ability to influence. (Tweet this!)

Any time you face frustration from loss of sphere of control, remember it is an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Try to keep in mind you probably don’t have all the details—there might not be enough money or something else might have to take priority. Take the opportunity to learn and grow. These skills will serve you well over your career and, if you do a good job, expand your sphere of control.

About the Author

Keri Duce PhotoKeri Duce serves as the External Relations Manager for the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. She directs UWM’s Speakers Bureau, Neighborhood and Community Relations, the Panther Family Association and newsletter, Public Records and the Board of Visitors among other public relations responsibilities. Prior to her current position, Keri was Assistant Director for Learning Communities and Retention Initiatives, Director of the Neighborhood Housing Office and a Residence Life Coordinator for UWM.

Keri provides consulting in many areas including learning communities and first year seminars, enrollment management, orientation, transition and retention programs, off-campus housing best practices, and selection and training of both professional and paraprofessional staff. She is also a social justice advocate.

Keri has presented at several regional and national conferences including the MAP-Works Summer Conference, NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, Wisconsin College Personnel Association, Wisconsin Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, and NODA – Association for Orientation, Transition and Retention in Higher Education. Keri led UWM to receive a MAP-Works Excellence Award in 2014 and has been awarded three UWM Staff that Are Remarkable Awards during her tenure. Keri has also obtained over $25,000 in grant funding for UWM.

Keri holds a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater and a master’s degree in cultural foundations of education with a focus on students at-risk from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. She is also a partner to Ryan Duce and mother to two cute kids with a lifestyle blog at wildduces.wordpress.com. You can connect with Keri at www.linkedin.com/keriduce or www.twitter.com/keriduce.


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