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Difficult co-workers may have learned behavior in childhood

May 3, 2010

We have all worked with at least one office jerk, the type whose behavior annoys co-workers and destroys teamwork. As The Wall Street Journal reports, these difficult co-workers and bosses often formed their personalities in childhood, as the result of family environments. But now some managers and coaches are using new techniques to identify the origins of this harmful behavior at work, and then purging it through training or outright bans.

Sylvia LaFair, a White Haven, Pa., psychologist and leadership coach, has identified 13 patterns of office behavior and the family dynamics that might have shaped them. As the Journal reports, these types include the “persecutor,” who micromanages or abuses others and may have suffered abuse or neglect in childhood. The “avoider” is aware of problems but won’t talk about them, and may have grown up in a judgmental family. The “super-achiever” breeds resentment by walking over other people, and as a child may have been forced to compensate for family shame or tragedy. The “martyr” does his or her own work and everybody else’s too, and then alienates co-workers by complaining. The martyr’s parents may have given up their dreams for the child, who is now repeating the pattern.

To defuse bad behavior, Dr. LaFair recommends offering truthful observations in short sentences, without blaming or attacking the offender. Wait for the comments to sink in, listen to the response, and then ask questions. Such an approach can help the co-worker understand how his or her behavior is affecting others — the first step toward change. — Greg Beaubien


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