In the first of a new 5-part blog series on mindful leadership and organisational culture, Sarah Carter, Director of Wisdom Fish, explores our dominant sub-personalities and how they impact our productivity, working relationships and behaviours.
Do you have someone in your team who constantly seems to sabotage or criticise every idea you or others come up with? Is there another who just wants to keep everyone happy and so says ‘yes’ to everything? The guy in IT who does nothing but gossip or the fundraiser who turns everything into a joke?
The truth is every one of us can probably be all of these things and more at one point or another in our working week – or even over the course of one working day. We all have particular triggers that can make us behave in certain ways, situations that bring out the best or worst in us, behaviours or circumstances that stress us out and so make us react more acutely to a situation or individual rather than respond more mindfully.
These ‘subpersonalities’ are normal. We all have them – in fact, psychologists say a healthy individual can have up to twelve – and they can play an important role in our working environment. You might want to have someone in your team that can see the flaws in a plan clearly, another that will lighten the tone when team spirits are down. But, you’ll want to understand what those subpersonalities are; both in ourselves and in our colleagues.
Most of us will have one or two dominant subpersonalities. They evolve from the different roles we assume in life or from ways we have learned to behave in different situations, perhaps from when we were children.
When we’re aware of them, when we don’t allow them to dominate, they can serve us well. Over the years, they’ll have protected us, enabled us to survive and navigate through life and our relationship with others. While they can be positive and a healthy part of us, if we’re not aware of them and if we let them take over, they can be destructive and overbearing. They can have a negative effect on us, on those around us and on the teams we lead.
The People Pleaser
Let’s look at one example of a subpersonality: The People Pleaser. For a leader, being a People Pleaser has its positives: people will like you – they’ll want to work with you; you’ll be sensitive to those around you, their buy in will be important to you. But if you let that People Pleaser subpersonality dominate your relationships and the way you lead, it could be disastrous.
What allowing my People Pleaser subpersonality to dominate doesn’t allow for is that keeping everyone happy ultimately keeps no one happy, least of all me. Whilst it might receive a positive response in the moment, all it potentially does in the long term is undermine my role as a leader – or as a friend or as a parent, in fact in any role in life.
Here’s another example of a subpersonality. Imagine that a colleague gives you some feedback – your conduct and input has apparently been inconsistent and erratic. He says that you’ve not been listening to others and have just been doing your own thing. It can’t go on; something has to be said as it’s impacting on the rest of the team and their ability to deliver quality outcomes.
How do you feel? How do you respond? Rather than listening, reflecting and being objective, you might feel angry; that it’s not your fault, everyone else hasn’t been pulling their weight. This is The Critic subpersonality kicking in – a defence mechanism for coping with confrontation.
And how do those on the receiving end of The Critic feel? That they are not listened to, impotent, unable to bring about change. It might impact their trust in you as a colleague and on your ability to work together as a team. All of this will determine our success or failure.
Think too about how another colleague in the same situation might respond to criticism by making light of the situation (the Joker), while another might feel set upon (the Victim). The People Pleaser might seemingly readily accept criticism, while inwardly being deeply upset or affronted by the feedback.
Keeping control of the reins
There are lots of potential subpersonalities within all of us. The Critic, Saboteur, Judge, People Pleaser, Joker, Care Giver, Destroyer, Storyteller and Victim, to name a few.
We might take steps to keep ourselves in check and be mindful of our behaviour in different circumstances, particularly in the workplace, but it’s important to understand what our natural behaviours and tendencies are likely to be. The result of not being aware of our subpersonalities, particularly during more stressful situations, can be catastrophic. Only by understanding what our subpersonalities are and how they can help or hinder us, do they begin to lessen their grip.
And the point with subpersonalities is this: don’t try to get rid of them or pretend they don’t exist. Instead, be aware of them (in yourself and in others), when they might kick in and what the impact – both positive and negative - might be. Do we let them dominate? Or do we take a moment, consider the consequences and take control of our own behaviour and consider how we might more effectively lead and influence those around us?
First published by Fundraising Convention.
Sarah has 25 years’ experience of developing communications & learning for some of the world’s biggest brands.