Are You Attempting to Influence “Controllers”? What You Need to Know

By Justin Grensing, Esq., MBA

A few weeks ago, we looked at an article in Harvard Business Review written by Gary A. Williams and Robert B. Miller titled “Change the Way You Persuade.” In the article, Williams and Miller discuss what they found after spending two years studying over 1,600 executives. The authors discovered that the executives could be categorized into five different decision-making types: thinkers, charismatics, controllers, followers and skeptics. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve looked at thinkers , charismatics, skeptics and followers.  This week we’re going to look at the final group: controllers.


Williams and Miller found that controllers were the smallest of the five groups they surveyed, making up just nine percent. According to the authors, “Controllers abhor uncertainty and ambiguity, and they will focus on the pure facts and analytics of an argument. They are both constrained and driven by their own fears and insecurities. They are usually described as logical, unemotional, sensible, detail oriented, accurate, analytical, and objective. Like skeptics, controllers often have strong personalities and can even be overbearing.” Controllers are often lone wolves and can be prone to making unilateral decisions. Famous controllers include Jacques Nasser, Ross Perot and Martha Stewart.


Controllers are often insecure, although they would never want you to know it. Part of the strategy for persuading them is overcoming their inner fears and insecurities. “To persuade controllers, your argument needs to be structured, linear, and credible,” say Williams and Miller. “They want details, but only if presented by an expert. In practice, the only way to sell an idea to controllers is not to sell it; instead, let them make the choice to buy.”

In other words, give the controllers the information that will lead them to the decision you want them to make, and let them believe and feel that it is their decision.


“One of the worst things you can do with a controller is to push your proposal too aggressively,” say Williams and Miller. Controllers need to feel like they are in charge. Even if they love your idea, if they think it’s being forced on them, they’ll bolt and either shut down the conversation or, even worse, go in a contrary direction just to maintain their control. “And unlike charismatics, who are willing to take responsibility for their decisions, controllers try to avoid being held accountable. When something goes wrong, they assume others are at fault,” say Williams and Miller.

Final Thoughts

Even though controllers seek accuracy and facts, that does not necessarily mean they will make intelligent, rational decisions. Often, a controller will jump to illogical conclusions. Williams and Miller suggest a few key works and phrases to plant in the minds of controllers you hope to persuade: details, facts, reason, logic, power, handle, physical, grab, keep them honest, make them pay, and just do it.

(This contributed post is the first in a series from our colleague, Justin Grensing. Over the next several weeks we’ll be publishing his posts on each of these decision-making types and how you can most effectively influence them. If you are interested in contributing a post to our blog, please let us know.)

Recommended Reading

The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement


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