Our earliest childhood experiences serve as models for relationships throughout our lives… including our work relationships. And without even realizing it, we can allow these experiences to influence how we relate to colleagues, supervisors and direct reports. Believe it or not, our brains are actually wired to recreate conditions from our past.
Childhood experiences help lay down neural networks that can lead us to later simulate a familiar environment. Even when some past family relationships were strained, we are likely to elicit these same patterns from future relationships.
The good news is we can learn how to make our emotions at work - well, work - by learning new ways of relating with colleagues. This is done by first understanding how our history informs our behavior. As adults, we often act in ways that may have served us as kids but which hurt us today. We may even repeat behavior we witnessed when young such as arguing, whining, or lashing out. We may project characteristics onto a colleague or provoke a team member to act in a way that feels familiar to us. Be aware of these patterns when navigating emotions at work:
There are many unseen elements that draw us to people who remind us of the past. Unfortunately, some can create negative situations such as feelings of being ignored or feeling bullied. From these feelings we then may overreact with behavior we enacted when we were young.
We may interpret behavior of a colleague as being critical or rejecting because they remind us of someone -- perhaps a sibling or parent - from our childhood. To challenge this, we must be aware of ways we read into other’s actions, words, and expressions, projecting the old ways of seeing ourselves onto them.
In addition to selection and distortion patterns, we may provoke a colleague to act in ways that remind us of our past. We don’t do this consciously, but our drive to recreate the emotional climate of our childhood can influence our behavior. If we were ignored as kids, we may have had to pester a parent to get our needs met. As a result, we grew up feeling like a bother. At work, we may still feel like we need to nag to get attention. An old insecurity can lead us to act in ways that provoke others to retreat. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, we engage in behaviors that trigger the same response from others, so we can feel the same bad way we felt as kids. These qualities don’t represent who we really are but projections that were put on us in early life.