Have you ever been maneuvered into the “child role” at work?
You know the feeling, someone takes a strong or demanding stand with you and boom – you’re tricked into acting like a kid.
That might mean you try hard to please them, even though you know it’s not your job and they are making an unreasonable request. Or you take the rebellious teen role and start arguing adamantly, a little out of proportion to the situation. So what happened?
First, know that you aren’t alone. I was chatting with a new client, a well-spoken woman with a lot of experience. She explained the anxiety a senior colleague was causing her. This person would spring meetings on my client and insist she attend, the colleague had asked to be cc’d on her correspondence and requested a weekly meeting to see what my client had been up to.
The colleague wasn’t my client’s boss.
Of course my client felt annoyed, but she had done it.
As we discussed it, I ask how she could handle those requests in an “adult to adult” way. The penny dropped immediately. She had acquiesced because she was trying to be a “good girl” and wanted to get along.
Another client had a sticker situation. It was his boss that wanted him to do just what he said and managed to push the emotional buttons that turned my client into a “rebellious teen” in seconds.
While he was very senior and Head of his department, when he talked about his boss he used phrases like “I’m not allowed to….”
That’s a good indicator you’ve slipped into “child mode.”
What happened here?
So what happens to our grown up professional selves, that allow some people to make us react like we’re kids?
Research has shown us that our subconscious holds on to events, and those feelings we had as a result, long after we can consciously remember the actual occurrence.
We have memories of how a variety of adults expected us to behave when we were growing up. Some of those instinctive memories are triggered in work situations.
This seems to occur most often, when the person is authoritarian and focuses on what they need, as opposed to what the business needs.
It rarely happens when the senior person is focused on what YOU need – we find it easy to stay in our adult, professional persona when we feel respected and valued.
Grab your authority back
So how do you regain your balance?
The first thing to do is recognise that you have taken that role. They pulled on the role of Parent and you slipped into the role of Child – either doing their bidding or rebelling, both indicators that you’ve lost your adult bearing.
Then rewrite the scene – put on your professional, grown up hat and think about how you might have handled the last situation differently.
For example my client, who felt he “wasn’t allowed” to talk to someone in another group, observed that it must make his boss nervous. He then thought through what his boss’ concern would be and how he could make him more comfortable with the situation.
He concluded that regular updates on what he and that other person discussed, and the progress they were making toward the boss’ goals, would easy the insecurity.
He took control and felt like he could alleviate the whole thing if he had a confident, grown up conversation with his boss instead of stalking off annoyed.
My client with the controlling colleague came to a similar conclusion.
She decided when ask to attend a meeting at the last minute, she’d ask what the meeting needed to achieve and what her role was. Then she’d decide if she could add value, thinking it through before she got up from her chair.
With an Adult mind set, she also concluded it was helpful for them both to see potentially conflicting correspondence so she’d continue to send hers but request the same back from her colleague.
She felt like a professional again and decided she just needed to keep that “adult” filter on all her dealings with this particular person.
Most of the time, just recognising that you’ve fallen into this state is enough to help you rethink how you want to interact with that person.
Hang onto your professionalism, bring your best game and remember to pull up your socks.