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Why Romantic Attachment Style Has Its Place At Work.

Key Takeaways

  1. Your attachment style can play a strong role in how you work with others, respond to threat, and workplace satisfaction.

  2. There is no right or wrong attachment style to have - each has its own merits and drawbacks.

  3. By understanding others’ attachment styles (what triggers them and what supports them) you’re better able to communicate and understand your colleagues effectively.

Are you a bit of a lone wolf at work, living by the phrase, “This meeting could have been an email”? Or, are you familiar with re-reading your emails five hundred times before you actually commit to hitting send? Better yet, are you a mix of both examples?

If so, you might be interested to know that a lot of the above can be explained by your “attachment style”. Born out of attachment theory, this analysis was developed in the 1950s by child psychiatrist, John Bowlby. Broadly, there are secure attachment and insecure attachment which has three subsets (anxious, avoidant, ambivalent). If you don’t know yours already, visit this link to find out.

Since the original conception, attachment theory has evolved into an understanding of how adults behave in romantic relationships. But even more recently, researchers have begun to consider how our attachment style impacts us at work.

Fortunately, the majority of people are securely attached (66%). But that also means there is a significant proportion of people who are not securely attached which has implications in the workplace, as attachment style can predict our satisfaction, well-being and how we interact with other colleagues.

At Untapped AI, we don’t believe that people neatly fit into rigid boxes. However, we also believe that people have a remarkable capacity to improve themselves which starts with becoming self-aware. In our approach to clients, we consider a plethora of academic and psychological thinking. It all adds up to the overall richness we bring to the personal experience.

So, we’re going to take you through each attachment style, how they show up at work and how they may help or hinder you.


If you’re anxiously attached, you might…

Place a lot of your self-worth at work in the hands of others. Disharmony with others may ignite catastrophising (worst-case scenario thinking), and you might push yourself to unreasonable lengths in order to keep the peace and not ruffle any feathers.

You’re great at building workplace relationships and value them deeply. However, you find yourself needing frequent reassurance that you are indeed valued and liked by your colleagues which stems from a fear of rejection.

So much so that if your boss sends you a Slack message saying, “ok” instead of “okay!”, you might be fretting for the whole afternoon wondering if you’re about to be fired.

How this may help you at work

  • Being able to foresee the potential risks at work and acting in accordance with mitigating such risks.

  • Placing a high value on your relationships with others at work and endeavouring to make those relationships work.

  • Putting deep thought and effort into your work, collaborating with others to make it happen.

How this may hinder you at work

  • Needing reassurance about your work may lead you to be less efficient and self-sufficient.

  • Struggling to set boundaries and being the “yes” person may lead you to experience burnout more regularly than others.

  • Regularly experiencing doubts about your value and self-worth at work which may result in lower workplace satisfaction.


If you’re avoidantly attached, you might…

Find that making and maintaining strong social bonds at work isn’t front of mind. You may feel more secure at work by holding people at an arm’s length - just being left alone to your own devices to get the job done.

Since you also probably don’t like asking for help or relying on others, you may also put a lot of pressure on yourself to bring tasks to fruition all on your own. It’s not necessarily that you view others poorly, but have learned that it’s difficult to fully depend on others

Likewise, you may not love others calling upon you for help which might result in the triggering of a “flight” response (i.e., withdrawal from the situation) meaning that it can be difficult in leadership situations where others rely on you for your input. However, due to a sense of keen threat perception, you know how to step up when it’s really necessary.

How this may help you at work

  • Being more independent means that you’re less likely to need a lot of reassurance from others when completing work, thus maximising workplace resources.

  • Goal orientation and task completion will be high on your radar meaning that things are always moving.

  • Being one of the first to step up and respond in times of trouble.

How this may hinder you at work

  • Being very independent may mean that you miss out on asking for others’ perspectives which might be valuable when solving a problem.

  • Struggling to trust others may lead you to doubt others, and may impact your ability to effectively collaborate and build strong workplace relationships.

  • Hyper-independence and lacking trust in others may lead to undue criticality of your workplace and its leaders.

Ambivalent (Anxious-Avoidant)

If you’re ambivalently attached, you might …

Relate to both the anxious and the avoidant attachment styles. Since the two are on polar ends, you are therefore likely to be somewhat inconsistent and embody blowing “hot and cold”.

Broadly, you may find it hard to trust others and ask for help. Yet in the same vein, you crave those workplace relationships and feel like you’re part of a team. You may enjoy working alone on tasks, but find yourself seeking support and help from others if you’re struggling.

You’ll also probably have a keen sense of threat-detection, just like the anxiously and avoidantly attached. Your reactions to threat, however, ultimately depend on where you fall on the anxious-avoidant continuum.

How this may help you at work

  • Despite having a preference for working alone, you will still likely call upon others for help when necessary.

  • Forming strong relationships at work is important, which means that you’ll probably work hard to maintain them.

  • A strong sense of threat-detection means that you are likely to be good at pre-empting issues and warning others about them.

How this may hinder you at work

  • You are likely to be perceived as confusing, with colleagues not being entirely sure of where they stand with you due to “hot and cold” behaviour.

  • Due to a strong sense of threat-detection, you may experience more severe reactions to conflict than securely attached counterparts.

  • Being unsure of whether you can truly trust your workplace and colleagues can lead to feeling easily dissatisfied at work.


If you’re securely attached, you might…

Find that forming and maintaining relationships at work come relatively naturally to you. You will generally have a trusting and positive view of your workplace and leaders, and your workplace satisfaction is likely to be relatively high.

You are also less likely to feel the need to prove yourself as a result of fearing rejection from your colleagues and are likely able to assert appropriate boundaries.

While threat perception may not be front of mind in the work you do, you are generally very responsive to resolve any workplace issues and are quite consistent in your approaches to work.

How this may help you at work

  • You are able to form and maintain healthy relationships at work.

  • Setting healthy boundaries comes quite naturally to you, therefore you are less likely to suffer from burnout.

  • Generally being more trusting towards colleagues and leaders.

  • Being comfortable working independently and also collaborating with others.

Closing Thoughts…

Did you find yourself mentally saying “yep, me” to the anxiously attached? Or, did you sit back and ponder about how you actually might relate to the avoidant?

It’s all a continuum of course and is apt to change over the course of our lifetime. So if you felt dismayed at relating to more of the insecurely attached end, don’t fret. Because there is no right or wrong attachment style to have - each of them has its own respective strengths and weaknesses. By understanding our own attachment style, we can begin to better understand the repeating patterns we engage in - it’s another tool in the self-awareness belt. By understanding others’ attachment styles, we can also increase our capacity to effectively communicate and relate to others too.

Want to find out more about the work we do? Check out our website at this link to see how we can help you and your company level up by improving your self-awareness.

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