We continue our series of leadership stories, exploring the impact of family dynamics on conflict management styles. Today, we hear from Lee, a team leader who leverages experience from her upbringing to benefit her team by minimizing workplace tension.
Have you ever felt like you’re in the same role at work that you were in your family? That’s what Lee discovered – and she learned to use it to her advantage!
Read on for her answer to, “How did my family get in my office?” We also share three tips you can use to leverage your family role in your workplace.
How Lee Used Her Family Role as Leverage for Career Success
Lee sat across from her boss and noticed the situation felt oddly similar to facing her father across the dinner table as a kid. Within ten minutes, her boss had gone from a verbal rampage – spewing angry words during a management meeting about an unexpected vendor change – to acting as if nothing happened.
Gratefully, just like with her dad, her boss wasn’t targeting any one person. The focus of his anger concerned the situation. None-the-less, the unpredictability of the emotional outburst remained uncomfortable. The team knew to keep their mouths shut to avoid escalating the situation.
It was a familiar feeling. Lee’s boss, like her dad, was an honorable man who developed a temper when things didn’t go his way. The office had adopted the same unspoken motto Lee’s family lived by when she was growing up: “This too shall pass.” The office staff knew to wait a few minutes, sometimes a few hours, and the boss’ temper flare would pass, returning everything to normal. Today was a good day, as her boss calmed down in a mere 10 minutes.
Just like in her family members, Lee and her management colleagues knew how easily anger could get the best of their boss. And just like her siblings, the office employees were conscientious and competent in their work duties. In addition, the staff highly respected their boss despite how explosive and unpredictable his anger outbursts could be.
How Does Your Family Role Affect Your Career?
Have you been in staff meetings when your boss has an angry outburst? You’re not sure where to look, so you fixate on your pen or paper in front of you. Or perhaps you go into freeze mode, holding your breath for fear of making a sound and drawing attention to yourself.
It may even, like for Lee, feel similar to your family upbringing. You may notice you’re responding like you did growing up. The difference is that you’re no longer sitting around the dining room table; you’re sitting around the conference room table at work.
What I Learned from my Father’s Temper Helps Me Negotiate at Work
I learned from witnessing my father’s temper how his anger impacted us kids and my mom. Because of what I saw and experienced, I’m now intentional to confront conflict calmly and rationally. In addition, I focus on understanding the whole situation to make an informed decision. Consciously deciding not to respond with a knee-jerk reaction means I don’t exacerbate the problem or make a tense situation worse. Finally, I strive to look at both sides and all the details involved.
Unknowingly, as a kid, I was learning negotiating skills that would help me later in life and in my career. Here’s an example.
Even though I was the youngest of my siblings, in many ways I functioned as an oldest child. For instance, I was naturally drawn to take control and create order out of chaos. Therefore, it wasn’t uncommon for my older siblings to elect me to ask Dad when we wanted something. My siblings thought dad favored me, but I never saw it that way. I believe to this day if they would have asked, he would have filled their requests, just like he did for me.
Leveraging my Family Role Has Helped My Career
Lee went on to say:
As the one going to my father on behalf of my siblings and me, I learned how to present a request with logic and to figure out the best time to ask. From those experiences, I gained negotiating skills that allow me to address topics in a forthright manner and to respond proactively, before problems arise. My family role offers leverage for my career in ways I never would have thought possible, all because I chose to use the events from my upbringing as an opportunities to grow and learn.
Surprising Ways your Family Dynamics Show Up at Work
It doesn’t matter if you’re in your 20s or 50s, chances are your upbringing affects how you lead, communicate, and deal with conflict. Parents and primary caregivers play an invaluable role in the formative years of children’s lives. They model behaviors in the family, including how conflict is handled, which impacts the conflict style kids adopt and carry into adulthood. Without realizing it, your work life is an extension of your life history.
For Lee, a surprising way her family role has shown up at work occurs when Lee and her co-workers want something from their boss. Guess who they elect to ask him. Lee, of course! Her family dynamics were in her office without her ever realizing it! And it demonstrates a great use of her natural strengths to benefit her and her team.
Three Ways to Leverage your Family Role for Career Success
If you would like to leverage your family role in your career, here are three ways to get started that were helpful for Lee.
- Identify your role in your family upbringing. Gain self-awareness by considering how conflict or anger was handled in your family. What did you do? How did other family members respond when someone was angry? Look back to identify patterns, not to blame, shame, or finger-point. It will give you insight into how you handle conflict today at work.
- Stay level-headed. Daniel Webster said, “Keep cool; anger is not an argument.” Even though your boss may have a temper like one of your parents, maintain your composure. Handle the situation with calm, maturity, and reason. Stay grounded so you don’t take other’s anger personally. If you feel you are the target of bullying, check out this article by bullying and incivility expert, Renee Thompson on the three characteristics of bullying.
- Seek out a Mentor. Early in Lee’s career, she went to a seasoned leader whom she respected for help developing her leadership skills. Her mentor’s encouragement and willingness to answer questions gave her perspective on handling difficult interactions at work with more ease. Gaining objective point of view allows you to use the situation as an opportunity for growth and learning.
Whether you realize it or not, your family upbringing influences how you perform and behave at work. If you’d like help to leverage your family role for your career success, give us a call. We’ll help you transform your responses to conflict and communications challenges at work, allowing you to stay calm, even when others don’t!
Workplace Conflict Expert Bonnie Artman Fox, MS, LMFT, works with executive leaders and team managers who want to stop divisive behaviors, resolve conflict, and build the team trust needed to create a healthy work culture. Contact Bonnie to help your employees get along and bring teams together.