Going To Work Is Just Like Going Home

Going To Work Is Just Like Going Home
February 23, 2016 Linda Murray

Athena Coaching, work, Linda MurrayThat sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?  Unless perhaps you have issues at home!

There are some schools of thought that say we should treat our teams like family so we bring out the best in everyone and provide a safe, nurturing environment for them to work and grow in. And then there are the others, who believe that teams should be treated like teams if we want to be successful.

I think that no matter how we intend to treat our teams, we take some elements of our families with us into those relationships. And that can really cause some issues!

Think about it. Your boss holds a position of seniority over you, just like your parents did.  Your team mates are like siblings – some you’ll get along well with and some you won’t. How does that affect your behaviour?

I read an article by Dr Michelle Pizer on this very topic and she gives a brilliant example of the way your work behaviour might be influenced by the relationships you had within your family as you were growing up. We bring the mindset with us to our ‘work family’.

For example, Dr Pizer had an older brother and, as older brothers do, he teased her and she didn’t like it. She could not work out how to stop the teasing or how to manage it.

In her article she says this.

“The family dynamics played out at work. I did with my bosses what I did with my brother. I gave them my power. I kept myself small. At least smaller than them.”

So she reacted to her bosses in the same way she’d learnt to react to her parents. She was subordinate and obedient. How far will that go towards building a successful career? Not far at all!

We learn about ourselves, our roles, our skills, and our power in our families as we grow up. It’s also there that we learn about fairness, entitlement, power hierarchy, negotiation and so on. Whether we realise it or not, these experiences shape our behaviours and beliefs, and they still apply as we get older.

How easy is it to slip back into those childhood behaviours when something goes wrong?  “Oh, well he said…” “She told me to!” You might not say the words out loud but I’m pretty sure they will run through your mind at some stage.

If you listen to yourself as you interact with your team, you might be surprised at how much of what you say is triggered by your family experiences. Of course, the same goes for your team.

As leaders, we need to listen closely to what our team members are saying. If someone Is exhibiting a pattern of behaviour that you don’t understand, pay close attention to them when they speak about it. Not everyone is lucky enough to have grown up in a happy or stable home. Perhaps they are bringing emotional baggage with them that is triggered by a specific person or situation. Recognising the pattern is half the journey towards breaking it.

Dr Ben Dattner is an expert on family dynamics and the workplace.  He says:

“Whether you are the same person at work and at home, or whether you experience and express different aspects of yourself in your personal life than you do in your professional life, you should consider how your early life experiences provide a prism from the past through which you are evaluating situations in the present.”

As an experiment, start paying attention to your words and thoughts particularly when you’re in a work situation that isn’t going your way. What can you hear and is it the echo of your childhood?

I’d love to hear what you have to say about this theory. Please leave me a comment below.

Comment (1)

  1. Michelle Pizer 8 years ago

    Hi Linda,
    Loved reading this – thanks for referencing my ‘heart on my sleeve’ post. Recognising those early patterns replaying at work is one thing, changing how you respond is yet another. Both are challenging and worth wrestling with. It frees you up to start to come into your own. And, based on my experience, it’s never too late to start.
    Best wishes,

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