For anyone who does not know the term "family-of-origin", it comprises our immediate family members - mother, father, siblings and grandparents. These are the people from whom you learned the safest way to react to life situations. For each person in this family, you created a set of behaviours which best suited their way of interacting with you. When you go off to your job, you take this learned behaviour with you and apply the creative adjustments that worked within your family, to your bosses and co-workers. Depending on what you learned in your family-of-origin this course of action can be a smooth road or slippery slope.

At work you make an unconscious comparison between the people in the workplace and the members of your family. Fellow workers begin to remind you of a relative. A perfectionist can remind you of a parent who didn’t tolerate mistakes. How did you react at home? Be it by covering up, blaming someone else for your mistakes, or being fearful, you will bring these same actions and feelings to the work environment. You have, unconsciously, made this man or woman your parent in the workplace.

Suppose you had a father who lost his temper and yelled. Your heart may have beat rapidly, your breathing become tight, and you may have stood like a deer caught in the headlights, unable to speak. Now you go to work and a boss yells. What do you do? Stand paralyzed and speechless until he goes away. But with all that yelling he was also giving you orders and you couldn’t hear them. You could only hear your father yelling. Now you have another parent in the workplace.

This same idea holds true with the creation of workplace siblings. You create the one you fight with, the one you tell secrets to, or that one you don’t trust because she runs to the boss (mommy /daddy). So, based on this hypothesis, the workplace can be an obstacle course of disasters, or, you can prepare yourself well in advance to respond rather than react.

Now, I’m talking worst-case scenarios here. But, if you spend a little time becoming aware of your fellow workers you may see the ways they remind you of family members; how a word or action can send you right back to being a child. This can be a disastrous situation when you start having trouble with a particular type of boss or style of interaction. When your family-or-origin hot button gets pushed you may not be aware of, or have the skills to deal with the situation that erupts.

What steps can you take to be prepared for a new boss, colleague or challenging situation? You need to be aware of your actions and feelings and how they change when you are faced with your nemesis. You need to learn to breath and take time (only a few clear-headed seconds) to assess the reality of the situation. You can put together a tool bag of actions and words that guide you through "Job Jeopardy". Based on self-knowledge, you can learn to demystify your reactions to certain people. And you can learn to take back control of yourself, and choose appropriate, responsive words.

Author's Bio: 

Michaela David


Course of Action

Toronto ON Canada


Michaela is a Personal Life Coach, Clinical Psychotherapist, and
Writer, and Keynote Speaker with twenty-five years of experience in workshop
design & delivery. She has a busy private practice and writes a monthly
column entitled Surviving Work, dealing with day-to-day workplace
issues. Ms. David is a cancer survivor and brings the wisdom gained from
this experience to all aspects of her work in the form of humour.
presence, and openness.