It is common knowledge our childhood has an impact on our adulthood. Those human connections are explored even further in Peter Lovenheim’s new book, The Attachment Effect: Exploring the Powerful Ways Our Earliest Bond Shapes Our Relationships and Lives.
Lovenheim dives head first into understanding how our attachment styles, which are developed in infancy, impact how we connect in any relationship — including with coworkers and your boss. One important development through his research that he shares is how businesses thrive on the strengths of their secure, anxious, and avoidant team members, more so than workforces comprised of secure people alone.
Recently, Ladders asked Lovenheim a few questions about his book:
Q: Why did you decide to have a chapter in the book regarding the workplace and attachments?
A: “I believe it’s important for people to understand that the ways in which we relate to others in the workplace — with colleagues, with customers, with managers — are all influenced by our individual attachment styles. Attachment style also affects how we choose a career path in the first place, how satisfying we find work, how we deal with job stress, and whether we stay at a job or quit.”
Q: How do early formed relationships shape our personalities at work?
A: “People who come out of early childhood with a secure attachment will, as adults, tend to be trusting of others, self-confident, comfortable working in groups, and resilient in the face of setbacks. Secure adults will bring these traits to the workplace and in their interactions with others. Research shows that secure individuals make the best managers.
Those with insecure-anxious attachments, however, will find it harder to trust others, may lack self-worth, need constant reassurance they are valued by others, and in the face of setbacks may lack the resilience needed to cope. Those with insecure-avoidant attachments, on the other hand, will tend to shun close relationships—just not be comfortable with intimacy and find it hard to trust others—and instead favor independence and self-reliance.”
Q: Please give a type of personality or trait and how it can manifest itself at work and what can be done to prevent or mitigate circumstances.
A: “An employee with an anxious attachment style may tend to feel underappreciated or misunderstood in the workplace. A manager aware of this trait can help by giving the employee extra reassurance — shout outs in meetings, regular awards, etc. On a team, this type of employee should be paired with someone with secure attachment who can regularly provide encouragement and support. In stressful situations, the employee with anxious attachment should definitely have the support of a secure partner rather than be tasked with handling the entire job on their own.
In contrast, an employee with an avoidant attachment will prefer not to work as part of a team and instead by happiest — and most successful — working independently. The manager who understands this will look for opportunities to give an avoidant worker more freedom and the chance to work on his or her own. Secure people, by the way, tend to make the best managers. In contrast with those with insecure attachment styles, they are generally able to trust others, be the ‘stronger and wiser’ leader that can instill confidence in others and inspire them to do their best. When faced with the constant challenges of management, secure people generally show great resilience, patience, and an ability to cope.”
Q: What about from an employee perspective? What are some tips on how to handle concerns at work based on early relationships and how things are interpreted, specifically at work?
A: “If you’re asking how a person with anxious attachment can better cope at work, I’d say that the first key is to know your own attachment style so you can understand that at least some of your behaviors at work stem from your attachment style.
Whether it’s an anxious attachment that leaves you often feeling under-appreciated or distrustful of colleagues and bosses, or an avoidant attachment that causes you to feel resentful when required to work on a team, understanding the source of these reactions is a first step toward learning to regulate your emotions and work around behaviors that may be self-defeating. The Attachment Quiz in the appendix to my book takes just five minutes to complete and will give you a good estimate of your attachment style.”