How many people do you know that are “owners” of issues or tasks? Those that tend to say “yes” anytime something needs to be done or that you hear saying “I’ll do it myself” every time you offer to help?
Conversely, I’m sure you’ve met people who tend more to feel they aren’t in control of what happens. They might say things like “management around here makes my job hard to do” or “nobody ever thinks about me!”
It’s interesting how some people tend towards accepting responsibility, perhaps even when it is more appropriate to let others have it, and then others tend to blame others for many things, failing to see their part in the problem. In short different people have a different sense of where the “centre of power” lives in any relationship.
Lately I’ve been spending a fair amount of time doing EQ assessments for people and this aspect of self-other orientation has been prominent. Ideally we have a sense that this centre of power moves from situation to situation but on balance lands with self or other equally.
Often this isn’t the case, as the examples above point out. It turns out that this orientation is quite a powerful aspect of our emotional intelligence. What’s fascinating about it is that it our unique orientation manifests in us by the age of two!
Its roots are in Attachment Theory, which has to do with our emotional relationship with our primary caregiver. Where that relationship is secure and dependable, we learn a balanced sense of power. If you’re interested in seeing this in action, have a look at this YouTube video showing it at work in toddlers.
When our relationship with our primary caregiver is characterized as emotionally avoidant, we learn that we have no power to change the relationship and thus tend toward the other orientation of the second example above. Adults who are other oriented will tend to be an excellent “fixer”, focusing more on the problem than the relationship and might withdraw from relationships in times of stress.
When the relationship with our primary caregiver is inconsistent or ambivalent, we learn that it is up to us to make the connection and we tend to become self oriented like the first example. Adults who have a self orientation tend to take high levels of responsibility for issues and for relationships, moving towards a relationship when there is a break or a wound. As a result, these adults may have difficulty with creating appropriate boundaries and personalizing things that aren’t theirs to own.
It’s quite amazing that a time of our life we can’t even remember can have such a profound impact on how we show up in the world as an adult. But since we can’t change the past, it is helpful to understand what we can do now to achieve or maintain a balance in this dimension.
Here are some ideas to help manage your own personal balance of power: