Have you ever received a piece of well-meaning advice, perhaps about dieting, how to clean the dishes, or what to do in tough relationship situation, but it felt like the person was controlling you or didn’t really have your best interest at heart? And then perhaps someone else, a co-worker, friend, or neighbor shares something to that same effect at which point you receive the advise as helpful? This is a common experience that people face, often times within their marriages or families, where a loved one, who often does genuinely care for the person, offers something they think is helpful, but it is received not as helpful but as controlling.
This experience has been described in what psychologists have identified as a theory related to our motivation. The basic premise of the theory states that it is our perception of the person and situation, not the advice itself, as to whether or not we view the information as helpful or controlling. If we sense or believe we are being controlled through the information, we will almost certainly resist it and will lower our motivation to use and incorporate that information into our lives. This could be about a piece of information regarding healthy eating, exercise, better ways to be efficient at work, or how to do household chores. If you perceive the nutrition advice as controlling, then even if it is good advice you will be less motivated to try that information out. However, if the information is received as genuine information that will lead to greater competence, then you will be far more motivated to use it.
Now the complicated issue with this theory is that your perception of whether the information is controlling or empowering is based on many things including: your past history with the topic, your relationship with the person, and your current internal state at the time of the conversation. If your perception is that this person has tried to control you in the past or hasn’t had your best interest at heart prior to this, you will put up psychological defenses that bend you towards believing this is also a scenario where you’re being controlled. If you see the person as a valued authority in the area, say a personal trainer giving fitness advice, and can trust that she isn’t trying to control you, then you will be much more likely in the end to implement the advice.
So, when you are interacting with others, particularly family members who you have had a long history with, and are offering or receiving information consider, is this being perceived as controlling or informational? If the goal is really to empower or be empowered by another person and put that information into action then it will be more effective coming from a place that is seen as building competence through new information rather than controlling through coercion.