Emotional reactivity (which comes in various forms) can render people “difficult to work with.” I previously noted that there are 6 common reactive patterns for individuals working in groups: Fusion, Conflict, Distance/Cut-Off, Over-Functioning, Under-Functioning, and Triangling. Let’s address these last three automatic reactive patterns.
For some people, when they’re under stress they tend to take over. Their immediate response is to “fix it!” Another term for this could be “micro-manage.” On one hand, though, it makes sense. There are times when a leader has to step in if someone is dropping the ball.
The problem is that for some people, over-functioning is their go-to response. Even when it’s not necessary they’re still jumping into the details. I find this to be especially true of technical leaders. They cut their teeth in the technical world and were good at it. Now they’re leading technical teams and the temptation to “get into the weeds”, especially under stress, is very strong. It’s their comfort zone, they know it well, and they go there very automatically.
If someone is over-functioning, then by implication someone is under-functioning. That is, they are letting go of responsibility and letting someone else take over. Chronic under-functioners abdicate a lot. They are afraid to take risks and assume responsibility. They second-guess themselves a lot and look for someone to give them approval every step of the way or close to it. They’re often relieved when someone just takes over.
Triangling is a major concept, but I’ll be brief for now. The idea here is that a typical two-person relationship is actually fairly unstable. As long as there is no to low stress in the relationship, it’s fine. But as soon as the stress begins to heat up, it’s very common for one or both to rope in a third person or entity (i.e. HR).
Triangles are very natural and not necessarily bad. The challenges are:
- To be aware of them
- To learn how to manage one’s self in them.
Gossip is an example of a poorly managed response to a two-person relationship. Rather than having a necessary conversation with the other, one person (or both) go to another and “dump their anxiety” on them. Rather than managed or absorbed, the anxiety is actually spread around.
Self-Leadership Tips – If you find yourself falling into these automatic reactive patterns, consider the following:
- Be Aware of Your Tendencies. Own the fact that you’re prone to over or under-functioning challenges and/or the pull to triangle in a third person; awareness is more than half the battle
- Think Before You React. Each one of these patterns can become highly automatic. Can you stop yourself before reacting and ask yourself some basic questions such as:
- Is my automatic response needed here? Is it the best response for the situation? (Actually, it might be at times and in that case it would not be reactive; it would be very intentional and appropriate.)
- If there’s a better response, what is it?
- Can I check with a trusted peer or my boss before I respond?
Keep observing yourself and watching for your own automatic reactive tendencies. I can’t repeat this enough. Become a student of yourself. This simple awareness has power in-and-of-itself. Engage in deliberate acts of objectivity!
Read Part 1 HERE
Read Part 2 HERE
Read Part 3 HERE