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Confusing roles at the workplace could cost you dearly

Balancing multiple roles within the same environment is delicate. Without proper precautions, you could be confronted to misunderstanding upon misunderstanding, to conflict and even to separation.

I was working recently with a woman who had expressed difficulties finding her place in the various jobs she has had and currently as well.

We decided to explore her first job situation, which happened to be in the family business. She was working for her father and, after many years of hard and loyal service, she eventually quit. Her father never really forgave her for her disloyalty. Many years later, the relationship between them was still strained.

With the method of family constellation, we discovered that both my client and her father had completely confused their roles of manager and employee with their roles as father and daughter. This influenced their business transactions as well as their family bond. And in the end, although it is quite normal that employees change jobs and companies, the daughter felt guilty and the father felt betrayed.

I witnessed the exact same confusion in a previous instance, this time through organizational constellation, between a manager and a member of his team. They both were also friends and the hierarchical relationship suffered as a result.

So what can you do?

  • Clarify for yourself how you perceive your relationship with your colleague, boss, employee.
  • Clarify with the other person if there is a risk of confusion.
  • Make it explicit in which capacity you are talking – and make sure it is content and context appropriate.
  • Agree on firm boundaries about what is acceptable in which role, what is not acceptable, and discuss anything outside both these categories.
  • Agree or make explicit any rituals you may have to indicate your role at any point in time:
    • The name you use to address the other person;
    • Your tone of voice;
    • The level of formality in words and sentences;
    • Etc.
  • Consult with a constellation consultant to help clarify your position and clear the system.
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