As we discussed in the last issue of Fifth Wave eNewsletter, in order to prosper in the Fifth Wave, professionals and executives are going to have to examine the feelings that are triggered by situations in the workplace to become aware of their familiars. These are the emotional patterns that are rooted in our families that may be keeping us from meeting our professional potential. As we reproduce these familiars, we often assume certain prototypical roles in the workplace. Becoming stuck in one of these roles adds to work dissatisfaction and thwarts any efforts to change.
The following are four typical roles that emanate from recreating our familiars:
Sometimes called “troubleshooters,” fixers are likely to be amiable “people persons” who are given the really tough assignments that nobody else wants. They may be asked to do the impossible – manage the truly difficult client or work with a particularly problematic manager. Because they will readily jump to the challenge and rarely say “no,” fixers are often plagued with feelings of resentment for having to clean up other people’s messes. These feelings are based in their familiars. Chances are pretty good that fixers played a similar role in their families of origin. Perhaps the fixer was always trying to be exceptionally good to make up for a deadbeat Dad or a sibling who was always in trouble. After all, if they can meet unreasonable expectations, then maybe Dad or the underachieving brother won’t look so bad. Unless they identify the familiars and take affirmative steps to replace them, fixers will end up in a career holding pattern, always feeling that they try and try and get no reward for their efforts.
Avoiders have difficulty confronting others, especially employees or coworkers. They develop rationales and excuses for why what was promised wasn’t delivered and believe themselves to be responsible for the happiness of others. Avoiders can’t tolerate hurting someone’s feelings. Often small business owners or entrepreneurs, avoiders may take huge financial risks, such as mortgaging their house to finance a business endeavor, but won’t take the emotional risk of confronting a lazy clerk – even if it costs them their business. It is likely that the avoider grew up in a family where obvious problems were treated like state secrets. Uncle Herman was an addictive gambler; cousin Ralphie was a bit slow on the uptake; but if the avoider pointed out the obvious, he was made to feel bad about himself. The avoider recreates this familiar in his professional life and the result is often self-sabotage.
The bully’s behavior is easy to identify. Bullies surround themselves with people who are going to fall short so they have an outlet for their tirades and tantrums. It is easy to think that the bully probably came from an abusive home environment, but just the opposite is likely to be true. Often bullies come from affluent indulgent families where they were never encouraged to share any meaningful feelings and never learned to connect with others in a meaningful way. Their familiar is rooted in abandonment, disappointment and isolation, and bullies will recreate this familiar in the workplace. They will push people to their limit and ultimately the people they bully will quit, thereby abandoning and disappointing them.
Schmoozers create the illusion of relationships, but their aversion to risk-taking means they never really establish any meaningful connections. They keep relationships on a superficial level to avoid the risk of being hurt. A shmoozer will always tell you that things are great, even if something awful has happened. Typically, schmoozers grew up with a depressed person in their family. It is likely that they were criticized or ridiculed when things did not go perfectly. If they admit that things are not really so great, if they share with others feelings of sadness or anxiety, they risk losing the familiar of feeling like a long-suffering victim. They end up right back with that depressed person in their family who wouldn’t let them have a moment of happiness. In the workplace, schmoozers recreate this familiar. They hold back seeking help when they need it or confronting legitimate job complaints and end up being chastised, fired, or quitting out of frustration.
While no one fits every aspect of one of the prototypes to a “T,” chances are you fall more closely within the aspects of one than another. Once you identify your type, don’t stop there. It is essential that you explore your internal frontier by identifying the feelings and past experiences that produce the behavior. In the coming months we will examine ways to remove blockers that hold us back and strategies to render those old familiars powerless.