Lesson 4: Topic 3 of 14
Sometimes the issue is cultural differences. On a plane several years ago, a coworker of mine sat next to a woman who was from a war-torn East African nation which had undergone decades of brutality. She had only been in the United States a short time. During their few hours together on the flight, the woman lamented that she’d recently been terminated due to a physical altercation. Another employee had insulted her; reacting strongly to a perceived loss of honor, she struck the offending coworker. For this she was quickly fired. “I didn’t know anyone could lose a job for fighting,” she said incredulously. “I just didn’t know.”
This may seem ridiculous from an American point of view. Consider, though, what her background was like. She had seen a great deal of physical conflict throughout her growing up years and had internalized it as normal. This continued well into adulthood. From her perspective, the need to restore her honor overruled the need for harmony in the workplace. Her worldview, shaped by a history of violent instability, had not yet adjusted to an entirely new context in this country. While hers may seem an extreme example, it illustrates the concept of “good judgment” varies from person to person when deciding what needs to be done in any given situation.
The workplace ideally should be supportive, safe, and nurturing. But this atmosphere should primarily support the employee in work-related ways to help her learn, improve, and get a job done. The problem arises when someone wants the job to provide what her parents did not provide for her: primary nurturing, relationship, self-esteem, and approval. Work is not set up this way, nor is it what the typical job asks of someone. The inherent conflict in this setup is this: the job expects adult functioning, and the person wants childhood needs met. These differing expectations will inevitably collide.Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend NAB NCERS CEU LPC LMFT NPC NAB NCERS CEU LPC LMFT NPC NAB NCERS CEU LPC LMFT NPC NAB NCERS CEU LPC LMFT NPC
Finally, there’s the act of transference. The American Heritage Dictionary defines this as, “The process by which emotions and desires originally associated with one person, such as a parent or sibling, are unconsciously shifted to another person.” On the job, an employee with a troubled past may act out toward fellow workers (most especially supervisors), not for anything directly work related but because what happens at work becomes associated with negative memories of different individuals and past events that were hurtful.
The good news is that transference can work in the opposite direction, too. If you’re a boss who reminds employees of good authority figures in their past, they may transfer those positive feelings to you as well, making them more likely to respect and appreciate your leadership.