Working With the Control Influence Accept Model

Giving Your Best When Problems Arise

Working With the Control Influence Accept Model - Giving Your Best When Problems Arise

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Learn how to ride the waves of uncertainty with the Control Influence Accept model.

"You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf." – Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus, University of Massachusetts.

Imagine the scene: you arrive at work to find that there's been a sudden and substantial increase in the price of a key raw material that your company uses to make its best-selling product. Almost overnight, your business is facing considerable losses. How do you react?

You could immediately get to work on finding a solution. Do you pass the cost increase to your customer, in whole or in part? Is there a different raw material that could do the job? Do you try to negotiate a better price with your supplier, or find a cheaper source? Or, do you consider withdrawing the product and focusing on your other lines?

How you respond to problems determines how successful you will likely be in solving them. You won't always be able to resolve a situation in the way that you'd like, but you need to take control when you can, and act decisively when you can't.

In this article, we look at how you can maximize your personal impact in a difficult situation by using the Control Influence Accept (CIA) model.

What Is the Control Influence Accept Model?

Human relations specialist Neil Thompson and social work lecturer Sue Thompson discussed the CIA model in their 2008 book, The Critically Reflective Practitioner. It's a versatile problem-solving and time- and stress-management tool that identifies three ways to respond to challenges:

  1. Control: identify the issues or elements of the situation that you control.
  2. Influence: identify the elements that you can't control, but that you can influence.
  3. Accept: identify the things that you can neither control nor influence, and adapt accordingly.

When you understand these potential responses, you can put problems into perspective more easily and get a sense of what you can and can't accomplish. This enables you to focus your efforts where they'll have the most impact.

This is a useful approach when you're dealing with issues from a personal perspective. And, as this article by self-development expert Roger Seip shows, applying the CIA model can help to reduce stress.

However, at Mind Tools, we think that managers need to do more than passively accept situations. After all, as a manager, you are paid to solve problems and achieve goals. Your superiors, and even your team members, would likely regard you as ineffective or negligent if you simply accepted a negative situation.

Remember, you're a manager partly because of your ability to handle problems. And, in the volatile modern world, you need to be flexible, proactive and tenacious. Your organization has placed its trust in you to manage and control difficult situations, and to exert your influence for its greater good.

How to Use the CIA Model

Let's look at how to use the elements of the CIA model in the workplace.

Control the Things That You Can Control

Changes, challenges and problems can arise at any time, whether you like it or not! So, it's important to identify the things that you can control. Chances are, those things will be your attitude, behavior and emotions, and the decisions that you make in response to the problem.

An unexpected problem or challenge can spark emotions such as anger, anxiety and frustration. You can learn how to manage and control them with our article, Managing Your Emotions at Work.

Your team members will also be looking to you for clear and effective decision making. Our article, How to Make Decisions, explores a step-by-step approach to doing this. You may also need to give your team clear instructions and delegate tasks to them.

Influence What You Can Influence

Having a strong influence is the next best thing to having control. You can't control your customers or your boss, for example, but you can influence the way that they think and act. And, although you won't have full control over a group-run project, you will be able to affect its outcome.

There are many ways that you can extend your personal influence – even from a weak or minority position. For example, you can build your personal power base and develop expertise and charisma.

Also, you can boost your skills in areas such as stakeholder management and win-win negotiation – these are useful tools for working out what makes other people tick, and how you can influence them. Then, when a difficult situation arises, your opinion and advice will carry more weight, and the trust that others have in you could sway them to accept your ideas or solutions.

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As a manager, however, exerting influence isn't always enough. In your position, you may be expected to assume responsibility and take control of whatever situation arises. But being in charge doesn't mean that you have all the answers, and it's not a sign of weakness or incompetence to admit it.

You can explore strategies for deciding how, when and who to ask for help in our article, Asking for Help. Your team members, your boss, or other experts and advisers may be able to suggest solutions or provide additional resources.

Accept – but Manage – What You Cannot Control Or Influence

Sometimes, an issue will genuinely be beyond your control or influence. There's the weather, to pick an obvious example, or fluctuating interest rates.

But passively accepting problems like these and doing nothing about them will dent your managerial credibility. A much better move would be to prepare for such situations, so that you're able to mitigate and confidently manage them when they arise.

The key to effective preparation is to conduct thorough risk analysis and contingency planning exercises. These can help you to identify, understand and manage the threats and dangers that you face well ahead of time. In other words, you accept them as problems, but you create a strategy for managing them that puts you firmly "in the driving seat."

If nothing else, make sure that you learn from the situation, and review your checklists and processes so that you can cope more effectively in the future. A great way to do this is to get into the habit of running regular After Action Reviews or retrospectives.


Accepting that you genuinely can't control or influence something is not a sign that you're ineffective, passive or apathetic. It's a sign of confidence, maturity and intelligence. It shows that you have a proactive way of coping that allows you to prioritize and make practical decisions.

You can give yourself an even better chance of coping well in these situations if you can develop resilience, practice techniques such as mindfulness, and establish networks of supporters and allies.

Key Points

The CIA model was explored by Neil Thompson and Sue Thompson in their 2008 book, The Critically Reflective Practitioner. The model states that there are situations you can control, situations you can influence, and situations that you must accept and adapt to, because you can neither control nor influence them.

However, as managers and professionals, we need to use our initiative to solve problems wherever possible, and to make decisions in difficult circumstances. Passively accepting such situations could make us look incompetent, and harm our careers.

Identify the elements of a situation that you can control, such as your reactions and decisions. If you don't have control, look for the things that you can influence, such as other people's actions and behavior.

Finally, if you have no control or influence over a situation, having contingency plans in place can mitigate the effects of the problems or challenges that you have to accept.

Apply This to Your Life

Individually or with your team, review your policies and procedures to identify any that could be improved, are no longer relevant, or need to be created. Conducting an Elephant List exercise to take stock of the problems and obstacles that you currently face can be helpful here.

For each item on your list, consider whether it is something that you could realistically control or influence. For any item where this looks unlikely, think about how you could mitigate it or manage it more proactively.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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