Relationship Styles: One Size Does Not Fit All

Each person brings something distinct to a workplace. Despite efforts to establish standard policies and procedures, despite efforts to treat people the same, people respond somewhat differently. They have a distinct style of reacting.

People have distinct styles about social relationships at work. According to attachment theory, the important dimensions for social relationships are anxiety v confidence and avoidance v closeness.

The anxiety end of the scale is a world of worry. It is dominated by feeling threatened. It is deeply concerned about the opinions of others and beliefs that those opinions are bad. Embarrassment is rampant. On the positive end of that dimension is confidence. There is little concern with others’ opinions, partly because one feels assured that those opinions would be positive. Why wouldn’t they be?

The avoidance/closeness dimension is about intimacy. On the closeness end of the scale, emotional connections with other people are essential; without closeness, life feels empty. On the avoidance end of the scale, emotional connections with other people are too fraught; relationships are troublesome burdens that are best kept to a minimum.

These two dimensions interact with each other. People can be anxious about being too close and they can be anxious about being too distant. Some people can feel content in the midst of a network of close relationships while others can feel pleased to keep a clear emotional distance from others. What results is a 2 by 2 table defining four styles of social relationship:

Low Anxiety High Anxiety
Low Avoidance Secure Anxious-Preoccupied
High Avoidance Dismissive-Avoidant Fearful-Avoidant

These styles have implications for how people manage their social relationships at work. They have implications for what constitutes a constructive relationship with a colleague or an immediate supervisor. The capacity to recognize relationships styles can be an asset in career development.

Future posts will explore these implications.

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