If you’ve read other articles here, you’re probably beginning to recognize that there are frequently patterns in how we behave at work. And apart from the carefully thought-out choices we make, “automatic behaviors” in the workplace can also step up to play a major role. Especially when it comes to finding success and happiness at work.
Automatic behaviors don’t arise overnight. Over the years, we learn a number of things that help defend us from the unknown. Or at least our subconscious believes these behaviors can protect us in some way. And so it sees them as a good thing — and works to keep them around.
How these automatic behaviors take over
Once, when we were very young, these behaviors may have been useful. But our subconscious becomes smitten with these defenses (that it created). And so it often works hard to protect them, even when they no longer do us any good. So these behaviors stay with us, becoming old “friends” ready to pop up — even when they might be least helpful.
For example, sometimes the way someone talks to you or behaves triggers reactions inside of you that you can’t control. Your boss might have a well-worn phrase that sounds and feels like nails on a blackboard to you. And it never fails to put you on edge. That feeling arises automatically inside of you, even if you wish it wouldn’t.
Or let’s say someone tells you that your work isn’t good. You might go right to red-hot anger. Even though the person may simply be offering an opinion as part of work you’re doing together. But for whatever reason, there’s no in-between for you. Just nothing … and then major fireworks!
How automatic behaviors work against you
Maybe you get nervous every time your boss or a person in authority talks to you. And because of that, you leave an impression that doesn’t serve you well. An automatic behavior that probably has (parental) roots much further back in time. But there it is, getting in your way now.
Or you might have a fight or flight feeling when someone confronts you. Another automatic behavior rearing its ugly head. But you know either choice is wrong at work. And so you’re left feeling frustrated and off-balance, even if you know the best choice is to hang in and take positive action.
As an added drawback, when these automatic responses are triggered, very often your filters kick in as well. And you stop listening the way you normally would or taking in important information. As a result, you may look lost or even stupid in meetings.
Automatic behaviors in the workplace get in your way
Your otherwise healthy responses are thrown off balance by these triggered behaviors. And so you’re now functioning below your optimal performance level. And you may not even realize what’s happening.
Worse yet, when your job starts to bug you, there’s an increase in the number of things that trigger these reactions in you. And once again, you are participating in the creation of even more negative experiences for yourself.
Bob doesn’t like his boss, mostly because his boss has a tendency to get angry when he thinks Bob isn’t understanding him quickly enough. As a result, whenever his boss approaches, he says he’s “thrown off center” and feels like a deer caught in the headlights.
And the real Bob gets thrown under the automatic behavior bus
So Bob starts to sweat and remains uncomfortable during the entire encounter. He knows he has trouble taking in all the information or responding as intelligently as he otherwise could. And, as time goes on, he becomes more and more resistant to many of the things his boss tells him. Communication just feels so off!
The net effect of these sessions is that his boss is getting more frustrated with Bob. And so he doesn’t come to Bob to strategize or discuss important business. As a result, Bob feels even more frustrated with his boss and his job. And he really is getting left out. Despite all he has to offer.
He wants to be recognized for his ideas. But he won’t get anywhere at this job or anywhere else unless he can get a handle on how he is responding. And the beginning of change for him — or any of us — is awareness.
What else can you do to help yourself?
Does any of this feel familiar? If so, catching yourself when this happens can begin to sap power from automatic behaviors. Each time you see the behavior rise up, just call it by its name (in your head). This helps momentarily break the automatic connection that’s been hardwired for so long.
Then, to help bring you into the present, take a few deep breaths and slow yourself down. Make an effort to be fully in the moment — and not in the behavior. Keep telling yourself “I’m here now.”
And do your best to respond to what’s really going on, at the level it deserves. Without any automatic triggers feeding it and letting it take over the moment. It takes time, but you can begin to short-circuit automatic behaviors in the workplace using this technique.
And to help things along, practice when you’re home alone too. Imagine yourself in situations that trigger automatic behaviors for you. You can write them down if it helps. Then practice responding slowly — and with the real you rising to the top!
Some more posts to help