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Shadows At Work

At times we can often find ourselves gripped by unexpectedly strong (sometimes perceivably irrational) emotions. This can often have a big impact on our relationships at work. The patterns of these emotions and their triggers often lie in the shadows of earlier life experiences, beneath what we are consciously aware of.

Given that these experiences can have a profound impact on our lives at work, the more we understand this process, the better. Most successful leaders are aware of, or make conscious effort, to become aware of how their earlier life experiences impact their present-day actions and reactions. Understanding and working with that which is below the conscious is a key aspect of sound leadership. What people fondly refer to as being aware of your own stuff.

It takes time to get there but working in the light yields more benefits than getting trapped in the dark by un-named shadows.

Seeing Feelings As Data

Paying attention to and being alert to our feelings (and those of others) as data is an incredibly powerful tool and very underestimated. When feelings seem disproportionate this is often a sign that there may be effects of shadows from the past. Notice and name what’s going on and sit with it as you try to make sense of it – be curious.

Understanding Transference

Transference is what happens when we transfer feeling we have from early life onto others. When our reactions or others reactions to us feel irrational, it’s helpful to ask;

1) Who am I representing for this person?

2) Who might this person represent for me?

Awareness of transference can help us manage our behaviour and reactions effectively and learn to live with those of others. Understanding what is there and what might be ours to own.

Reflectivity And Space

Creating a regular space to reflect on the “how” of relationships is a great practice. This can be done with a supportive colleague/s where you can co-consult with a peer/s and each person contributes by bringing an issue to discuss and hears others’ reflections. Often working on someone else’s issues can throw some unexpected light on your own.

What Are My Blind Spots? – Taking A 360 Approach

We all have blind spots, those attributes or behaviours we aren’t consciously aware of until it’s pointed out to us, until someone holds up the mirror. Reach out to trusted colleagues, respected leaders, your manager, direct reports and ask for feedback on your blind spots or development areas. Focus on how it feels to hear this feedback and what response it triggers in you? Remember not to personalise what’s being shared, this is all in the name of developing yourself as an individual but also as a leader.

Where Do I Get Hooked?

We talk about our egos getting hooked – something that triggers us and we react.

Think about the things that have elicited this response in you and trace them back. What does it feel similar to? Where has this happened before in earlier life? How do you feel physically when this response happens internally? How does that make you feel?

An Extra Bit… Links Between Past and Present

Relations to early figures continually resurface and any issues that felt unsolved there are likely to be relived in different forms. Whilst this work is best done with support such as with a licensed therapist, there is a lot that can be done in self-reflection and introspection.

Think about parental dynamics – your grown-ups in your life and what your relationships were like with them, how does that map across to people in authority in your work life now?

Sibling dynamics – can you identify the feeling and acting towards colleagues as you did/do towards siblings?

Equally think about where you took up certain roles such as caretaker roles, or particular events for example bullying and how similar dynamics play out.

These are only illustrative examples of what might be helpful to unpack some of what is being replicated in the organisation and relationship.

If you or a loved one is in immediate crisis...