How Do Old Scripts Get in Our Way in the Workplace?

Note: Now, here is the real deal, no excuses. Previous installments of all previous blogs can be found on my website at

I am going to challenge you to answer the following question truthfully; "Do most people bring many of their unresolved conflicts and dysfunctional relationships from their early family life to work?" I believe it to be true, especially since our families are the first and primary social construct to which we are exposed. In addition the workplace is often similarly structured like a family unit, with a patriarch, a matriarch, with our siblings represented as our co-workers.

Next, let me introduce another concept that fits with the above and helps to support my belief. Have you ever wondered why you are seemingly drawn to or repelled by certain people? In the world of psychology/counseling, this phenomenon is called "shadows," the notion that people you meet today bear a strong (shadow) resemblance to people from your past (that you were attracted to or repelled by) and the emotional side, the affective side, of our brain decodes that as a "shadow" of a conflict that can be still positively or negatively unresolved.

Now that you have a new word in your vocabulary, here is another that fits with shadows - "mirrors."
This concept augments and can accelerate the shadow idea in counseling. Simply put, every person you interact with represents a mirror of yourself that they "hold" up to you to view. The people that you are attracted to show you mirror images of your personality through their actions and behavior that is pleasing and reinforcing.

Conversely, those that you don't like show you things about yourself in the mirror that aren't pretty and, as a result, you move away from them, either psychically and/or physically. And, obviously, one person can present you with both sides of your personality and life qualities, too.

A  Breakthrough - One Side Cannot Work Without the Other
We all have two side of our brains and our understanding of how they function interactively has increased almost exponentially just in the last decade. The cognitive side is fairly clear and self-explanatory; i.e., cognition is our on-board computer with an incredibly fast CPU, Random Access Memory capacity and with logic and processing capabilities that the Intel Corporation envies and is still striving to replicate.

The biggest advances in understanding about out brain have been on the affective side of our noodle; i.e. the "feelings" side. As recently as January of 2013, a University of Illinois team, led by neuroscience professor Aron Barbey,  made the first detailed 3D map of emotional and general intelligence in our brains. Although we tend to think of reason and emotion as being two different things, but it turns out that there may not be a choice between the heart and the head - the study proves a strong overlap and interdependence between general (cognitive) and emotional (affective) intelligence.

The Struggle - What Now?
Quite often, one side of our brain can dominate our behavior, and it usually is the one that we are indoctrinated with, at an early age, through our education system and the side of our brain our society stresses has the most value - the cognitive side.

The struggle occurs when we are presented with situations in the workplace that "just don't compute."

Your Workplace Family
Have I connected the dots between family, conflict, shadows and mirrors for you? Without self awareness, many people unconsciously attempt to turn their workplaces into a setting where they can resolve old conflicts with Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, etc. by locating peers that are shadows of their family members. 

How Does this Look?

  1. An old enemy appears in your life now, looks different, but acts in a similar manner as that old enemy did. Time for payback! Let's keep going with this thought and bring it into the real world:
  • At a meeting in your office, one of two rivals on staff for a promotion throws out an idea to increase efficiency. The other contender for the promotion interprets this as criticism. He attacks. He points out that something similar was attempted before, but didn't work because it confused people and increased costs. Other rival counters with an example of when the first guy didn't try something new and the company lost market share.

Does this sound familiar?
Were you ever sitting at the dinner table with your family and have your brother go after you for why you didn't mow the lawn or take out the trash in front of your parents? What did you do? Probably attacked him right back by letting everyone know he was smoking cigarettes on the front porch late last night.

Can I Fix This?
The short answer is "YES!" Let's pull some of last week's post on scripts into this mix. Your family wrote and helped you to write your scripts for your life's psychodrama. If you follow those scripts and do not re-write or create your own, especially for the workplace, then you are very likely to be still fighting with your brother at the dinner table.


Next week: The Lizard Brain