Relationships at work – Lessons from Attachment Theory 

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No matter how professional we sound as an employee, we cannot abstain ourselves from the surroundings & prevailing social dynamics both at a micro & macro level. At micro level it could be colleagues in our proximity followed by our team-mates. At a macro level, it could be cross-teams or for that matter encompass the entire organization. Ever wondered, how we interact within these surroundings & implications they have on our work & organization’s larger vision?

Especially when there is enough evidence to support that roots to almost all of our explicit behavior stems from unconscious (close to 95%). There is significant impact of our childhood experiences & socialization on what we are & carry at work. For the same, we first need to understand attachment theory, followed by how we are actors of it in a workplace scenario, lastly how we need to address it on a work front for the betterment of our organizations.

Attachment Theory from a Workplace mind-set

A point to be made here is that attachments are not only confined romantically but in all spheres of our being & interactions. John Bowlby (1958) is credited as the pioneer of this theory. The crux of attachment theory is that the early years determine the kind of attachment style we are likely to possess at a later phase.

As infants, primary caregivers are the ones who fulfil our emotional needs, if for any reason we believe that they have not been fulfilled, we are likely to carry over them in all spheres of our mundane existence at a later phase. Our attachment could be secure or insecure, which can be classified into following four attachment styles that have been mentioned, namely:

Following are Insecure attachment styles with their strengths & limitations, which could be classified as:

Anxious pre-occupied- 

Such individuals exhibit excessive concern about their relationships & fear abandonment. They are emotionally dependent & are bothered about how others perceive them. In a workplace scenario, such an individual is likely to be a people-pleaser who would want everyone to like & accept them. For this endeavor, they would want to behave in ways that confirm their acceptance. For instance, in a team, such an individual by virtue of his/her fear of being ostracized might accept ideas of other team-mates despite having a personal dissent for the same. However, at the same time, such employees may express acceptance towards their limitations & take charge of correcting them in order to perform better.

Fearful avoidant

Such individuals are afraid of getting misused upon their blatant expression to others & hence may possess excessive mistrust towards their colleagues. For instance, if such an employee has some vital information that needs to be known by the concerned authorities, but possess a fearful avoidant style can instead prefer to stay silent than being expressive by virtue of their fearful avoidant style. But at the same time, such an individual would prefer to abstain from unnecessary workplace gossips.

Dismissive avoidant

Such individuals dismiss this belief that others can address their emotions, instead they prefer to suppress their emotions. For instance, such an employee may prefer personal space even in team-work that may affect the task at hand & hence could be problematic for their work. On the other hand, such individuals can independently & efficiently handle tasks. For instance, on a new assignment, they could be the ones to take independent charge & complete it well on deadlines.

Secure attachment

Such individuals are at ease when with others & hence share healthy bonds. For instance, such an employee can connect well with all team-mates & know their way of getting things done as well as in handling various tasks. Additionally, there could be individuals possessing disorganized attachment style who possess both anxious & avoidant styles, hence they could behave differently in different situations by virtue of their mixed styles, thereby making it very uncertain & difficult to predict.

Workplace strategies in response to various attachment styles

Making optimum use of diverse workforce

Making optimum use of diverse ·As we discussed each attachment style has certain pros & cons. So, we need to maximize the utilization of good qualities associated with each attachment style for attainment of optimum performance & workplace goals through either timely rewards & recognitions, verbal reinforcement (as & when required) or simply friendly non-verbal gestures.

Assess individual attachment patterns:

There are various attachment style assessment questionnaires which can help us identify this for individual employee & hence deal with them accordingly, keeping into consideration their strengths & limitations.

Openness & acceptance to diverse attachment styles:

No attachment style is good or bad for any workforce, as discussed each of them have certain pros & cons. Also, we can shift from one pattern of attachment to another with time via socialization & differing experiences. Thus, we need to accept behavioral patterns which may be similar & distinct from self in a workplace.

Avoid self-fulfilling prophesy

Self-fulfilling prophesy is a tendency wherein our beliefs get reinforced with time. For instance, employee with anxious attachment who fear abandonment, may behave in ways to avoid loss of healthy social interactions, but may end up otherwise, thereby leading to a self-fulfilling prophesy. Hence, we as an aware workforce need to make intended behavioral efforts in order to avoid such behavioral patterns consciously.

Our behavioral patterns stem from our childhood which gives rise to varying attachment styles we now possess. Each style has its strengths & weaknesses which we need to understand in the context of a workplace, so as to minimize workplace counterproductivity & maximize workplace performance.

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By aamritri

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