That's a fancy title for an article, but what we are really talking about is how we bring what we learned in childhood to adulthood, particularly to our business and leader relationships. One of the most fascinating things to me as I've worked with 100's of business leaders, particularly in the context of the business or organization they work for is how most of the places people get frustrated, stuck, scared and angry is due to some historical family dynamic playing out in the workplace.
A few years ago, I was working with a client regarding their frustrations at work. We will call him John. John was a senior leader, one level below the executive team with about 20 direct reports. John was an outstanding leader by the all accounts in the organization. There was nothing wrong with John, he was just looking to be better as a leader and to more fully enjoy his work.
John was particularly upset about his boss. He went on to complain that she was always double checking his work, always "micro-managing" everything he did. He said she never trusts him and that really infuriated him. John felt, if she would just get out of his way, he could be more effective.
As we looked further at how he is in the relationship, we uncovered that he wasn't very good at expressing his emotions, particularly approval and affection. John also noticed that he was pretty intense and could sometimes come off as intimidating. John could see that his way of being in relationship was mostly non-expressive and right about his opinion that people should just trust him.
If you are John's boss, and he doesn't communicate with you, share his concerns or doubts, perhaps you too would be concerned and feel like you need to check up on his work.
For John's part, he could see that this is the same pattern that played out with him and his father. He felt his father was always correcting him and that he could do nothing right. He felt like his father didn't trust him.
John started to see this pattern play out with many of the leaders he had worked with throughout his career. He also saw that by playing out this pattern, it had an impact on his boss. She felt out of the loop and unimportant, which had her checking in on John more than he thought was appropriate.
Many times, in a relationship challenge, it helps to understand where the other person is coming from. When we really get the other person, their life experiences and what makes them who they are, we can have compassion, understanding and tolerance for the other's imperfection.
John shared that his boss had been adopted and that she had lost her father at a young age. Immediately, we could see that someone, having had those life events, may have developed a sense of not being good enough and perhaps a deep sense of fear with relying on other people.
Knowing this, John could see that perhaps she could use a little more reassurance and communication to make both of their experiences of their work partnership more productive and enjoyable.
This is a small example of how family of origin dynamics are constantly playing out in our professional lives. Next time you are having a conflict at work, especially when you are fiercely blaming the other person, I'd encourage you:
- Take a step back and consider what you can be responsible for, or how you are responsible for creating the experience you are having.
- Ask yourself if this is a familiar pattern or experience with authority figures, co-workers, your parents, your children, etc.
- Consider the other person's experience. What shaped them in their life and why they say or do what the thing that irritates to you. Compassion and empathy are the antidote to frustration and blame.
As a final point, remember that people are people. They aren't perfect and typically the person you are irritated with knows what's "not perfect" about them. Chances are they are beating themselves up 10 times harder than you ever could for that.
Rather than playing out dysfunction, let's work together to build healthier people and organizations in service of more joy, effectiveness and fulfillment.