People hear screaming behind closed doors and no one discusses it. “Everyone” knows you’re not supposed to spend more than five minutes getting your morning coffee. “Everyone” knows that in order to get ahead, you need to volunteer to lead employee teams even if you hate groups.
There are all types of bizarre and unspoken rules in workplaces, each unique to the situation. There’s often something that unifies them at the core: they look a lot like the rules in dysfunctional family systems.
There are many versions of dysfunctional family rules out there, so I’ve chosen my favorite – an interpretation of John Bradshaw’s rules by Katherine Owen of A-Spiritual-Journey-of-Healing.com:
Control – one must be in control of feelings, behavior and relationships.
Perfectionism – Be right about everything.
Blame – When things don’t go the way you want them to, blame yourself or someone else.
Denial of the five freedoms – Deny feelings, thoughts, perceptions, wants and imaginings.
No Talk Rule – Don’t talk honestly about any of the above.
Myth-Making – Look on the bright side. Pretend everything is OK. There isn’t a problem.
Incompletion – Stay upset and confused without resolving the differences.
Unreliability – Don’t trust anyone and you will not be disappointed.
Sound familiar? It’s likely to, because most of us grew up in dysfunctional families, and most of us work. If we haven’t done a lot of therapy/healing work (and, honestly, sometimes even if we have), we bring these patterns to work. It’s not part of my personal mission to heal dysfunctional workplaces, but it is part of my mission to help you navigate whatever you need to after you transition out of therapy, and dysfunctional offices are often on that list.
One of the very first steps is to clearly see your workplace rules and step out of the drama. To help, I have a four step process for you:
Step #1: Open Your Eyes
Go back and read over the dysfunctional family rules and see where (if) they show up in your workplace. These questions might help you get started:
- Are you expected to be perfect?
- If you ever do make a mistake, are you expected to blame someone else or assume all blame yourself?
- Are you expected to not mention incredibly obvious things?
- Should you – at all times – appear to be so happy to have your job?
- When you have a conflict with your boss or a coworker, are you supposed to just ignore it?
- Do you have to carefully mark who you can trust? Is it safe to trust anyone at all?
Step #2: Adopt A Mantra
My recommendation: “None of this shit actually matters.” Because it’s true – it really doesn’t matter. If you were to die tomorrow, would you care in the slightest that Steven informed your boss that your work was sub-par? I hope not.
Choose your own mantra – you might want a more refined version than the one I suggested. Just make sure it helps you to remember that nothing that happens in your office is really all that important.
Step #3: Play the Game
It’s easy to get sucked into workplace drama, but you don’t have to let it get to you. Once you’ve got your mantra down, the next step is to turn this into a game. Imagine that your workplace is a group of people playing a game together (because that, too, is basically true.) Go back to the “Open Your Eyes” step to see the rules of the game, and play. I think it will help if you add in your own rules as to what you’re willing to do – a general “and it harm none” clause might go a long way here.
The key is to detach enough that you don’t have a smidgen of emotional energy attached to the game, you’re just playing for fun (and profit!) and learning as you go. Martha Beck once wrote (and sadly I can’t remember where to quote her) that when playing a game, you accept the rules. In basketball, for example, it would of course be easier to just run across the court while holding on to the ball. But dribbling is part of the game. Players don’t rage against the pointlessness of dribbling.
I’d like to suggest something similar for you. While you’re being paid to be there, there’s no point in wasting any energy raging against the rules. Of course if the game is truly terrible, I am all for you getting out of there. However, even as you look for another game to play, taking your existing situation less seriously will help a lot.
(If the game starts to look like this, get out!)
Image courtesy of Naypong/ Freedigitalimages.net
Step #4: Become a Stealth Love Agent
If you’re reading this, I’m going to bet you are someone who wants to make a difference in the world, and that’s part of the reason why playing this pointless work game can be so hard. However, you can absolutely turn it into something really fun. Once you have detached from the drama, play with adding love into your workplace. Do something unexpected for someone in the office. Perform a loving kindness meditation for the office shark. If you want to play with this further, try my free guide, “How to Live Your Purpose Even if You Haven’t Found Your Passion (Yet).” Click here to get your copy of the guide.
If you have any trusted friends at work (and if your workplace is so dysfunctional that you don’t have anyone to trust, I really would consider getting out of there), share this with them and discuss the rules of your workplace. Together you can make playing the game into something hilariously entertaining.
I’d love to hear a rule from your workplace – leave a comment below and share one. Feel free to do so anonymously!