Since most of us prefer information to be fast and direct, here is the missing puzzle piece right up front: what happened in our original organization, the family, goes with us to work…whether we like it or not.
When I stumbled on this counter-intuitive nugget of knowledge it changed the direction of my career to work exclusively with businesses to rethink the causes of stress related issues and interpersonal conflict.
I used to believe the common philosophy that there needed to be clear boundaries between home and work. The “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” mindset is the one to live by.
Not really. While most of the time we can maintain clear boundaries, when stress hits the hot button all hell can break loose.
Over the top stress can be a deal breaker. It impacts physical health, emotional perspectives and important relationships.
While I adhere to great stress reduction techniques, there is one area that exercise, yoga, deep breathing, massage or mindfulness could not touch.
Sadly, it held me back from promotions and workplace success. I also lost some good friends and colleagues over my behavior. Even traditional psychotherapy never gave me the answers I needed.
When I became an entrepreneur and owned a business, I was finally forced to take a deeper look into that dark part of my behavior and grab the darn puzzle piece that had been eluding me for decades.
First, the back story.
Watching my father die from a sudden heart attack when I was fourteen was, no surprise, a master game-changer. My older brother was off to college and there I was, left with a gaping hole at home including a fearful and depressed mother.
Eventually, scabs formed over the trauma and to the outside world all was now fine. Different, yet fine.
Life goes on. I put the past behind and focused on the future. I used the present as a launching pad for what was next.
Except…the past is always part of the present and helps to determine the future. I chose to ignore the past. It was too painful.
As a young manager I was empathetic, encouraging and energetic. Yet, when someone left my team for another opportunity I judged them. I loudly predicted they would want to come back. I decided never to talk with them again. It was not pretty.
I became a real witch.
Most of us believe that we make work decisions based on conscious deliberation. One important study found that our unconscious brains are engineering our decisions milliseconds before our conscious brains can get around to them. German brain scientist John-Dylan Hayes states “Our brains make decisions based on emotional and rational assessment that we’re not aware of; only later after the decision is actually made do we explain our decisions and actions to ourselves.”
Thanks to advances in neuroscience, we now know that our unconscious emotions occupy a different region of the brain, often exerting a more powerful influence on our preferences and actions. Daniel Siegel’s book “The Developing Mind” synthesizes information to explore the idea that interpersonal experiences impact the structure and function of the brain.
Lisa was my assistant. She was woven from angel cloth. We worked together in tandem, the flow was amazing.
One sunny May day she wanted to talk with me and my partner (who was also my husband). The look of delight on her face made me uneasy. We exchanged pleasantries and finally she blurted out “I love working here and so it is hard for me to say I will be leaving in six weeks. You have always taught everyone to grow to their fullest potential. I was hoping that I would get enough money back from income tax to return to school and, yes, it happened.”
She waited to hear congratulations.
Instead I burst into tears and said through gulps of air “Lisa, you can’t leave.”
Lisa sat, with that deer in the headlights look, while my husband took my hand and said “Sylvia, she’s going back to school. This is all good.”
Then he “got it” and asked Lisa to leave us for a bit.
“What’s up” is all he said.
“I need her.” Was best I could muster.
It took a few powerful minutes for me to compose myself and understand what had just happened. For me, even though Lisa was giving us fair notice, news of her departure was a shock. I had not expected her to leave, well, forever.
I finally saw my tendency (we did not have the language to be pattern aware back then) to get “antsy” whenever someone in my life was ready to move on. I observed and understood that the past crisis of my father’s sudden death came to work with me, over and over.
It was the first time I had a clear understanding of how powerful patterns from childhood play out at work.
The knowledge of how family and work are intertwined fills in the missing puzzle piece, especially when there is conflict at work. Many seemingly unrelated incidents link together to form patterns that often repeat and repeat and repeat. It is the key missing component to stress related issues, conflict and poor productivity. And that brings us to today.
Adding emotional and social intelligence to leadership training helps develop a more humane culture in the data driven work world of today. Now, it is time to include techniques for becoming pattern aware and learn to observe, understand and transform the motivations, stimuli and responses, as well as past circumstances, when there are interpersonal issues at work. This is the missing puzzle piece for more effective workplace relationships and healthy work cultures.