In this series of posts, I have been looking at how you can build meaningful work relationships. A theory of adult attachment can give some strong insights to how that process works. In the last post, I made a good description of my most common roadblock of building those relationships as someone who fits a dismissing typology. In this post, I will look at opposite side of the spectrum of someone who had a positive model of others and a negative model of self. This is commonly called “preoccupied.”

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The phrase preoccupied is a good description of this typology and is a concise description of the condition that leads to not building meaningful work relationships. The negative model of self creates an environment where someone is constantly second-guessing or focusing too much on inadequacy to interact in a meaningful way. They person is so focused on the negative model of self that they fail to engage the other groups in any meaningful dialog or activity.

There are three keys ways that someone behaves when encountering information that may not fully understand. The positive behavior of this situation would be for the person to ask intelligent questions, read the relevant policies, try to learn the information, etc. Another behavior would be to ignore the information and substitute one’s own opinion or information. This would fall more into the category of dismissing (positive self/negative others). A preoccupied person would shut down because they would feel that could not comprehend the information or even engage in the conversation in a relevant way.

Someone in the preoccupied typology would have difficulty building meaningful work relationships because there would be a lack of people willing to engage in the activity. If someone who needs information knows that when they ask the question, the person may or may not answer based on the comfort of the situation, slowly they will find other methods to gain their information. People will seek a path of least resistance. If they think they may or may not get a response, they will find a better path that will give them a higher chance of getting an answer the first time. This can create avoidance and thus more preoccupation with the negative model of self. Ultimately, this is a spiral of constantly losing confidence.

A preoccupied typology could also be considered someone who lacks confidence in their work. They can seem defensive or aloof based on how they normally react to an uncomfortable circumstance. There are more aspects to this typology than just what happens at work. In a very broad sense, self-confidence is not something that is bred and nurtured in a work environment. Self-confidence is a behavioral trait that needs growth and presence outside of the workplace. Self-confidence, or the lack of, has larger implications of both nature and nurture. If this were a root cause analysis, I would categorize this as “other causal paths would be more beneficial”. Solving self-confidence is not something I can or am willing to tackle. There are ways that someone can become more confident in their work environment, though. Forbes posted a really nice article that gives some nice examples of how to build self-confidence in the workplace (click here).

The information revolves around slowing growing into a method of making decisions and being okay when making those decisions. Self-confidence at work comes from accomplishing tasks that makes the person slightly uncomfortable and building confidence with those tasks. For example, someone has trouble fitting in with the quality team because the measurements are overwhelming. It becomes important that they have more time to ask questions and work with the tools of department until they gain more confidence with the process. They are doing something familiar but forced to be slightly outside their comfort zone in a safe way they helps them learn. The key is that they have to feel safe even thought they are uncomfortable and most importantly there has to be knowledge sharing.

In a similar context, I have also found that becoming a teacher of a topic is a great tool to increase confidence. For someone to teach a subject, they have to know that subject along with answering questions and having to convey the subject in a meaningful and relevant way. I am not saying that someone in this circumstance should be required to teach an auditorium full of people on a topic they do not know. I will speak from experience that when I started in the safety profession, I had to gain certainty in conducting training. I started with small classes and topics that I have a relative comfort with. The engagement with the classes helped me to become a better mentor and better acquainted with the topic. There are still times that while conducting a training, someone will ask a question that I do not know the explicit answer to. I have to research the topic and respond back later with an answer. This is a system of continual growth for learning and engagement. Through becoming a teacher/mentor/training someone can gain self-confidence in a topic. Most of all they are building strong working relationships with those people who are being taught/mentored/trained. This is one of those times where a solution can help in two ways. It helps in creating a better sense of confidence in a topic along with helping to build meaningful relationships with various members of a team.

Even though self-confidence is not just a single aspect behavior, there are some methods that can be taken in the workplace to help someone with a negative model of self to build really strong work relationships. It is important to start small and to start in an area of relative comfort. The goal is to not shock someone in to a positive model but to help guide them into feeling more comfortable and secure in their abilities.

The background information comes from the Third Edition of Broderick and Blewitt’s textbook “The Life Span.” The photo of the chart is taken from the same text. The theory is Bartholomew’s Adult Attachment Typology Model.