Did you ever wish your co-workers would just leave their emotions at the door before they entered the work area?
“No more,” you say, “no more sob stories about friends and family, about diet and exercise, about being tired and troubled.”
Have you noticed that the most confident of colleagues will shrivel to the size of a walnut when talking about confronting that ogre boss, or two team mates will verbally bludgeon each other rather than listen and make concessions?
And do you and your peers start to hyperventilate when it’s time for the annual performance review?
We all, yes, all of us, have reason to bring our emotions to work even when we want so badly to stay calm and rational. Why is this?
We are wired to remember.
Without memory, none of us would make it past the terrible twos, if that long.
It’s the hot stove syndrome.
You know, get burned once, you get the “ouch” wired in your brain and next hot stove encounter is treated with more respect. Pretty fast, we learn that we were not born with Teflon hands.
Let me introduce you to “transference.”
Transference is the term in psychology that explains why we repeat behavior patterns from the past in the present time.
Transference is like a flashback.
Take that confident colleague mentioned above, the one who whined about an ogre boss. Peel the onion of emotions back just a bit and chances are there’s a memory of a bully parent who pointed fingers and yelled. Or the team members who want to prove they are right. Ask about their siblings and you’ll get a snapshot of kids wanting to prove who is the smarter and more powerful.
Remember that feeling in your gut when it was time for report cards? Or when the final exam grade was less than you (or your parents) expected?
In my book, Don’t Bring It to Work, I offer ways to handle that dang transference from the past to the present. The good news is that facing the past frees the future.
Here are some of the basics of becoming PATTERN AWARE that will help you notice your memories and not get trapped by them.
- What we learned in our original organization, the family is what we bring to work (whether we want to or not).
- What we learned about fairness, favoritism, backbiting and betrayal in our families gets played out with a new cast of characters we call bosses, co-workers, direct reports.
- How our families responded to resources (limitless or limited) programmed us for how we see the power of money, including salaries, raises, bonuses and what is fair or not fair.
- Rules became internalized and whether it was safe or dangerous to speak out and if we were to be praised or punished for taking a stand.
- Change was either something to enjoy or rail against. It produced victims who said, “It’s hopeless now” or heroes who said “We’ll make it happen.”
Look around you. You will see bosses like parents, colleagues like siblings and if you are ever put or need to put someone on a performance improvement plan, well, think about it like a “time out.”
The more you can see the power of transference from old memories to present day situations the more you can be in charge of how to respond in a powerful and positive manner.