Summary of “Your boss is not your mother”: Just because you search for a culprit doesn’t mean that you can solve a conflict, it’s better to try to understand how individuals’ function, because group behaviour is influenced by personality and one’s own experience.
By Brian DesRoches, 1995, 320 pages.
Note: this column is a guest column written by Evan Boissonnot, author of the blog Parent entrepreneur.
Chronicle and summary of the book “Your boss is not your mother”
To build independence, be respectful and successful at work.
Chapter 1 – Create a family atmosphere within the office
At the start of this first chapter, Brian DesRoches shows us a typical example of what it’s like to be in business.
It’s a fairly regular occurrence, and yet people seem to get overwhelmed by it.
Brian DesRoches tells us from the start that we will have to reflect on our past, our family history.
More importantly, he reminds us that work is the major cause for stress. If you then add management problems and emotional disputes, then business becomes a hotbed for all kinds of unexpected or even childish behaviour.
And no, you can’t blame your boss for all of it; they also have their own problems, with events from their past possibly casting an ominous shadow.
Whatever happens, there are certain times when our behaviour will be childish, as it was with our parents or siblings. But now that we’re no longer children, we spend our lives and work with other adults. The response reactions that we developed as children are involuntarily triggered in business situations. Thankfully, it wasn’t only ill-considered responses that we were taught as children. However, the author tells us that for the majority of the time it is the negative responses that are triggered when in a group or in a business situation.
Brian DesRoches asks us to consider the strategies we used as children to find the security we wanted, to get what we wanted (a sweet, a hug, …). And, as an example, when these strategies kick in as an adult, they will sometimes bypass our heightened awareness of how we react.
In Brian DesRoches’ opinion, it is very useful to apply family practices to businesses, to help everyone understand where we come from and who we are today, in relation to business.
Brian DesRoches warns us that we might react in various ways, maybe point-blank rejection or incomprehension, in regard to this assertion and comparison by the author. Some people will question whether it is plausible that events from more than 30 years ago can influence what happens to us today?
To conclude this chapter, Brian DesRoches outlines the harmful effects of such counter-productive responses: less productivity, more anxiety, with a reduced level of objective acknowledgement, constant tension.
One solution is to resign (or ignore the predicament), but there is an alternative way to deal with these unpleasant situations and unfortunate responses.
We can change, and aim for a proactive and positive approach to achieve a healthy work environment. It takes guts to do so, but it’s really worth the effort, says Brian DesRoches.
Chapter 2 – Why your boss reminds you of your mother
The workplace is a mixture of cultural backgrounds which stir up mixed emotions and experiences from the past: the office is a source of stress, emotions are often kept in check, and there is hidden world in the company where everyone confronts each other.
A good introduction by the author for this second chapter.
The stage is set, let’s move forward with the example of Barbara’s story.
Barbara noticed that someone new had joined the company. The arrival triggered feelings in Barbara that she felt that she needed to hide. Having spotted competition, she decided to tell her colleague about it, which resulted in an emotional triangle, that she didn’t notice. The fact that she was critical of her new colleague behind her back, meant that she soon found herself alone, lost, and in a state of confusion.
In this chapter, Brian DesRoches expands on the 5 prerequisites he described at the start of this chapter:
- The office is a hotbed for stress, where the problems we have to solve in a given timeframe cause us emotional distress.
The emotional state of distress causes us to retreat into the habits we developed as children.
- He quotes Will Schutz, author of The Truth Option, who points out that we all have three needs in business: to belong and be recognised, to be competent and enjoy work, and to be accepted and appreciated by others. These needs often go unfulfilled in the workplace.
- People feel they can’t express these feelings whilst at work as that’s taboo. And what happens when we aren’t able to express our feelings? We fall back into our childhood patterns, and cause the potential for self-destruction (physically and emotionally).
- Are there some things that you can never say at work? There’s an unspoken and mostly unseen environment within work which is very different from the company’s public message. These differences are viewed through different lenses: roles, rules and relationship patterns (the author talks about them later on in the book and in more detail).
- There are certain people at work who cause reactions within us more so than others. It’s they who are most likely to cause us to fall back into our childhood mode.
And yet, at the end of this chapter, Brian DesRoches informs us that we have an important role to play in this soap opera that is played out at work. We must be aware of this in order to analyse and alter our own defensive reactions more effectively.
Chapter 3 – Seven Warning Signs to help you identify your own family-related responses
At the start of this new chapter, Brian DesRoches tells us that at times it is very difficult to determine whether an angry reaction is a negative reaction from childhood or a normal, healthy reaction.
Brian DesRoches highlights several warning signs to help us identify these negative reactions:
- First indicator: repetition. If you always react the same way, even if you have changed companies, you always find yourself in the same situations, the same roles, the same positions, this is a strong signal to help you identify family-related reactions.
- Second indicator: obsess about and blame others. Do you have the sense that it’s always the other person’s fault, your boss, your colleagues? Even if at times the blame is warranted, ask yourself how things could be if you didn’t use phrases such as “it’s such and such’s fault “, “everything would be better if”.
- Third indicator: we have a lot of fear, anxiety and anger. At this stage, we should analyse what role(s) we play.
- Fourth indicator: be drawn into disputes that do not concern us. Do you have the tendency to want to resolve disputes in which you are not involved?
- Fifth indicator: Does it feel like the pressure of work crushes you? You need to put on a brave face, don’t show anger.
- Sixth indicator: Water flows from the top down. Does stress from the top tend to spill down to all employees?
- Seventh indicator: Change is on the way and rather than embrace it, you stay stuck in the old rules.
These symptoms then trigger negative reactions:
- Management is on the defensive,
- Management’s vision is vague and it conveys very little or no information to its employees,
- The firefighter effect is too dominant,
- It is unacceptable to discuss problems and express feelings.
Chapter 4 – An omnipotent father – life with an authoritarian leader
What happens when you’ve grown up with an authoritarian or omnipotent father?
Brian DesRoches says that we tend to choose one of these three roles (often subconsciously):
- The rebel,
- The victim,
- The saviour.
And when we come across someone who fits the profile of an authoritarian father within a company, whether it’s a superior or a peer, the author’s view is that we are inclined to revert to the role that we were coerced into as children.
- The rebel
They always react against authority or anyone else as they don’t want to be controlled, or be subjected to scrutiny. Rebels are often seen as troublemakers.
- The victim
They are afraid of conflict, seek refuge from criticism behind the backs of those who oppress them. They often put work before their own needs. Victims are often seen as people who lack self-confidence.
- The saviour
They are inclined to want to resolve any kind of problem within the company.
They sympathise with victims and are prone to create emotional triangles.
Saviours are generally viewed as very selfless.
Chapter 5 – Martyr mothers: manipulation based on guilt
Brian DesRoches shows us a behavioural reflex that some people may exhibit in times of stress: become a martyr.
Create guilt, shame and confusion to “control” others.
This kind of behaviour is one of the most likely roles to come across in business. Always in search of recognition, martyrs always think they do too much.
Martyrs generally appear in three different guises:
- A kind boss,
- Colleagues who pay a lot of attention to others, who are almost too perfect,
- Employees who give a lot and, in return, expect a lot.
The martyred child/parent is created when they learn how to sow guilt and confusion for their parents, brothers and sisters. The cause of this would generally come from overworked parents who do everything possible to make their children feel guilty. The author explains that this behaviour is not acceptable, nor is it healthy or positive.
Chapter 6 – Sibling rivalry: Vie for position
Often we see employees fight, bicker and squabble for their boss’s attention. And often we behave like children, in one of these ways:
- Need to be top of the class
- Get attention and always be the loudest
- Often the eldest child
- The brat
- Do everything wrong to get attention
- The joker
- Regarded as irrelevant, shallow
- The wise guy
- You don’t notice that they aren’t there, so it draws attention
- They’re “good kids”
Chapter 7 – Do as I say not as I do: mixed messages
Brian DesRoches reminds us of the almost inevitable presence of mixed messages within companies. These mixed messages are one of the main causes that trigger defensive responses.
These messages are sometimes used to deceive and mislead company employees, for example, to dismiss obvious evidence of problems within a company.
Brian DesRoches tells us that from our early childhood there has always been a need to be accepted by others. As soon as we sensed a difference between what was said and what was done, the tendency was to react in one of two ways:
- To oppose the system: cause trouble, be a vigilante, even quit,
- Accept the situation: give in to this contradictory situation.
Chapter 8 – The high-handed approach: a secret power game
Brian DesRoches points out that the use of power games is often a sign of a lack of power or a fear that you will lose the power that you have.
These power games are separate to the power held within the hierarchy of the business.
They can be a knee-jerk reaction towards a colleague.
The temptation to react, to take the bait can be very strong, warns Brian DesRoches. It takes mental strength and willpower in order to not respond or not be manipulated.
The author describes 7 power game strategies in the workplace:
1st strategy: Innuendo
Try to reduce the position of others through the use of sarcasm, innuendo, with no sense of responsibility for the outcome.
This strategy demonstrates a fear that someone might find you out.
2nd strategy: To voluntarily withhold information
With the increased importance attached to information these days, if someone keeps it to themselves it’s a strategy that makes the more powerful.
It’s often the case that the parents of someone who uses this strategy, withheld information from them as children in order to protect them.
3rd strategy: Threats and abuse
Often in families where the pressure to make yourself heard was high and you were up against your brothers or sisters for attention: fights, screams, and domination were the only ways to survive.
If you face strong competition within a company, it is easy to go back to your childhood instincts.
4th technique: Embarrassment and ridicule
Try to make the other person miserable to get what we want. People who are prone to embarrassment or ridicule will always find themselves in difficult situations.
These strategies are often experienced within a family, and this is then easily transferred to the workplace, often subconsciously.
5th technique: Cold War
Nobody listens to you, you feel ignored, not able to talk to the other person about how you feel, these are feelings that are hard to deal with when you are victimised.
It is one of the most prevalent power games in the corporate world.
6th technique: Bribery
The strategy of the carrot and stick to get what you want is one that everybody is familiar with. It is used by parents on their children and vice-versa.
7th technique: Be condescending or patronising
A more vulnerable or less experienced person will be subjected to childish remarks from someone who is often at a higher or more senior level.
Chapter 9 – As far as we’re concerned, there’s no problem: denial, evasion and self-delusion.
Writer Brian DesRoches warns us that there is also a type of reaction that can trigger problematic behaviour: denial, dismiss the current issues.
Avoid negative emotions, don’t discuss them, as we did in childhood, which leads us, as adults, to repeat the same pattern.
In fact, there are three ways to hide, ignore the truth or the problems:
- Denial: refuse to acknowledge a situation,
- The evasion: not to deal with the problem, however obvious it may be,
- Self-deception: only see other people’s problems and not your own.
Brian DesRoches gives an example of a family where one parent is very busy and does not want to take time to deal with the problems and issues of their children. The parent’s only reaction was: “I will sort it out tomorrow.”
Done this way, we show and teach our children that in a difficult situation the best way to deal with it, is to ignore it and hope that it goes away.
Chapter 10 – Take Charge: Thirteen Tips to Regain Your Power
In this chapter Brian DesRoches shows us thirteen ways to liberate ourselves from the past:
- We all share responsibility for what happens. Let’s no longer blame each other.
- Become an objective observer, stand back from the situation without judgment, without blame for others or oneself, so that we can figure out our own role and the rules which we need to apply to the situation.
- Be aware of the serious dangers caused by stress and the detrimental effects that may have on how you deal with it, …In order to cope with it, it’s often a good idea to go back to the point where the stress occurred. A couple of questions to help you in this scenario: is the state of your health linked to difficult situations at work? Do you avoid specific people at work?
- There are three steps required in order to liberate yourself from harmful emotional three-way relationships at work: recognise the emotional triggers and avoid the relationship, deflect the potential stress, and encourage the person who created the triangle, to talk directly to the other person.
- Use “I” to communicate in order to rapidly help improve relationships at work by using “I” rather than “you” to navigate around the “blame” effect that can trigger stress. If you use it at the most stressful points, you can reduce natural automatic responses, but you must be careful to use an “I” based request at the right moment in time.
- Clarify unclear messages, explain how you perceive the situation, what you think of it, before you ask something of the other person. Ask your questions without any interruption. Don’t respond to any suggestions that aren’t totally clear.
- Develop your skills to deal with problems. Read other books to get more tips about how to handle these situations with confidence, and put it into practice regularly. Remember that your primary concern is to always deal with people’s needs and emotions first. Communicate respectfully.
How to prevent power games with no effect on those around you. There are four ways to prevent power games:
- Learn how to pick up on the distinctive characteristics, such as agitation, rigid thoughts, …
- Think back to what those hidden power games were like as a family,
- Remember that these invisible games only have a short-term impact,
- Practice, and every time you are successful, do it again.
- Focus on solutions rather than problems. Frequently, we attempt to focus on the elimination of these issues. When you succeed it’s a relief, but the issue will return. The issue is actually part of the bigger problem for which we need to address the source, in order to find permanent solutions.
- The change from an outward to an inward based reality. If you change your focus to what you think of yourself rather than what other people think of you, you will be more in control of how you respond to the world around you.
- Keep roles, rules and relationships flexible. Flexibility within business will make it easier for you to deal with both new situations as well as past ones that trigger reflex reactions in you. It takes a lot of practice and patience to become flexible, and takes a lot of hard work to overcome old childhood attitudes and habits.
- Build your self-confidence. So as not to always be on the back foot, you need to have a good level of self-confidence. This is based on how we perceive our own values in relation to others, and it helps us to deal with situations in a better way because of what we have learned when on the back foot.
When you become the captain of your ship, when you learn not to strive for the impossible and seek to grow within yourself, your relationships with other people will become much more fruitful. It’s at this point that we take control of our lives.
In this third and last part, Brian DesRoches suggests different steps, with practical tips, to shift from our dependency on how we react to situations to one of personal empowerment.
Chapter 11 – Step 1: Draw up an overview of the emotional dynamics within the business
We look at this through the eyes of Alice, an employee of a fictitious company, with her own journey towards improvement.
Brian DesRoches encourages us to draw up a chart to show the company hierarchy.
Then to identify:
- Each person’s role within the business,
(the top performer, the victim, the saviour, the martyr, the brat, the joker),
- The functions we perform and with whom in the company,
- Relationship patterns of each individual,
- The ways in which we interact with each person.
From there, Brian DesRoches suggests we list the emotional triangles that exist within the business, and plot them on the chart that has already been put together.
Next, list the unseen & unspoken rules (hidden information, company taboos, etc, …):
- For each person in the company,
- From the top down.
And to complete the review the author asks us to make a list of the rules we also give ourselves (e.g., perform better each time).
And finally, he suggests that we make a list of all unclear instructions, and to apply the same principles.
This is all designed to highlight the emotional dynamics within your company.
Chapter 12 – Step 2: Draw up an overview of the emotional dynamics within the family
Brian DesRoches says that we need to apply the same analysis to our family.
He says that the dynamics that exist within a business will often reflect those found within the family.
Finally, once completed, we can then compare the two:
- Are there dominant areas?
- Which behavioural patterns have been brought into the company?
Chapter 13 – Step 3: Risk Assessment
Now that you are prepared for change, the temptation to put your head down, crack on and force others to also change their approach to match yours, is very strong.
In this chapter Brian DesRoches warns us that we need to assess the risks before we commit to the changes. We need to acknowledge that we can’t change others and that we have to change ourselves in order to make it happen.
Brian DesRoches gives us a number of exercises to determine what we could change and with whom these changes will be easy or difficult.
1st Exercise: be aware of the most critical issue
- Identify the individual who is under the most stress,
- Know where you stand in the relationship with other people, and if you feel included or not
- Specify if you feel you are competent compared with another person and your expectations of them in relation to these skills,
- Finally, if you feel that the other person likes you or if it’s just a front…
To complete these 4 tasks of the first exercise, Brian DesRoches encourages us to answer the questionnaires from Will Schutz’s study.
2nd Exercise: understand the risks involved
The purpose here is to create two lists to determine how risky the changes you want will actually be, and which ones to choose first, based on the difficulty and the risk involved.
In order to assess:
- The emotional impact we have on the people at work,
- If there’s flexibility and how well it works?
The two lists above reveal four groups of people:
From a level of very little flexibility with little emotional influence (where it is easier but not really worthwhile to make changes), to a high degree of flexibility and a high degree of influence (it’s these people who need to be taken into consideration when it comes the change in relationships).
3rd Exercise: potential risks that could have an impact on your business
Brian DesRoches then suggests that you consider whether the changes you want to propose will be readily accepted within the company.
This means you need to work out:
- The level of stress in your company,
- The level of stress in your department,
- The amount of flexibility within the company: the result of the first two tests,
- Your company’s readiness to cope with change.
So, even though the second exercise revealed which areas you should work on first, this latest one will help you determine the level of risk involved in the changes you propose to implement in regards to you and all of your work colleagues.
Chapter 14 – Step 4: Decide on your changes
Brian DesRoches urges us to follow the first three steps and choose the changes we would like to implement.
First, it’s suggested that you identify three or four people with whom you would like to try to achieve this transition. You don’t want them to change, it’s rather your behaviour towards them that will alter.
For each person, you will have to put together a relationship template which includes this information:
- Personal attitudes (roles, rules, relationship patterns, with that person),
- The possible changes (that you can apply to yourself),
- The speed of implementation (repeat the work done in Step 3),
- The risk factor (level of stress and risk involved in this change).
Brian DesRoches advises us that, luckily, there’s no need to change everything all at once. It’s better to introduce them step by step, and to be able to properly gauge the changes. The best thing to do is to establish a plan of action which will help you to implement the changes: changes in attitude, to future plans, and subsequent adjustments.
Despite the best laid plans, sometimes it is better not to change how things are and how they work within the company: you always have the choice.
Chapter 15 – Step 5: Anticipate potential problems
Now that you’ve made up your mind, it will seem more straightforward and the changes you want to implement are bound to be beneficial.
But it’s not necessarily the case for the people with whom you wish to implement the changes.
They may even develop some degree of resistance to change (as with any change within a company).
Therefore, you need to be prepared for such opposition, so that you’re ready in time for any decisions that you make. It will happen, so you need to figure out when that might be, rather than ignore the possibility or not plan for it.
Brian DesRoches also reminds us that opposition can also come from within ourselves.
We have to bear this in mind when we implement change.
The author tells us that different people will react in different ways when faced with change: those who will embrace change immediately, those who will have their doubts but will try them out, those who will be very apprehensive, and those who will do everything in their power to prevent any change (irrespective of the changes themselves).
The same will apply in relation to similar situations for changes to family attitudes and behaviour.
At the end of this chapter, Brian DesRoches gives us some tips to anticipate such opposition: consider all possible forms of opposition from each person and write them down in the lists that you have created. Most importantly, he suggests possible solutions to calm harsh reactions, or even point-blank refusal.
Chapter 16 – Step 6: Change and evaluate the results
Ready to make the first change?
The author encourages us, before we start, to follow this advice to ensure that the initial change is successful:
- Monitor your progress,
- Do the right thing at the right time,
- Show respect for each other,
- Avoid power games,
Once you’ve decided on your first change, you have to consider what Brian DesRoches calls the emotional system.
When you change a system, it will cause a certain amount of stress, which may lead to old habits from your family background to resurface, in you and in others.
Brian DesRoches tells us at the end of this chapter that any changes involve four basic steps:
- Commitment, when we decide on change,
- Disorientation, everyone loses direction,
- Integration, the new vision starts to fall slowly into place,
- Reorientation, attitudes and behaviours become routine.
Chapter 17 – Hidden results
Thanks to the changes you’ve managed to start to implement, your work relationships will be stronger, healthier, and more relaxed, Brian DesRoches assures us.
And you will also see additional benefits:
- Finally cut the ties to the family traits,
- Embrace who you are, and your responsibilities,
- Make your claim to centre stage,
- Allow others to lead their own lives,
- Quite simply, freedom,
- Ability to direct your own thoughts, your own life,
- Value who you are,
- Discover more about relationships between people,
- Improved self-confidence.
And the best result from all of this would be if the company that employs you (or that you created, ed. note) enables you to learn and allows for these changes and this flexibility in order to adapt their approach.
Companies that take this approach can then become visionary institutions that adapt new skills , encourage passion, creativity and well-being. Brian DesRoches believes that this is what is required in order to create more honest, open and responsible companies and individuals.
Book critique of “Your boss is not your mother”:
Throughout my career as an employee, I was obliged to observe patterns which I copied.
To start with, and with no reason, I noticed that even if I changed companies, I would repeat certain behaviours, and I often found the same kind of characters in my professional environment.
This is when, just before I started my business, I began to notice the uncanny resemblance between my family and the company environment in which I worked.
Once I started my own business it all became very clear. Even though I was the director, I noticed certain standard common behaviour and reactions.
That was my lightbulb moment: I was certain that behavioural patterns were similar within a company as well as within a family.
It was when I started to write about this idea that I stumbled upon Brian DesRoches’ book: Your boss is not your mother.
It was a revelation when the author documented everything that happens in the workplace and he provided a reason for it: our family routines. He suggests we work really hard to change.
You cannot expect others to make this change, it must come from you. Because if you want to see changes, you have to start with yourself.
Brian DesRoches doesn’t claim to be a teacher: he doesn’t judge what we have done in the past. He presents himself as someone who observes things, as a therapist (his profession). He is there to look for the causes for the problems that we have, to help us overcome them, with the use of practical and relevant research methods.
When you have read the book, you are ready (if you have implemented the suggestions and followed procedures) to start the changes you seek.
Even without the application of the suggested methods, this book is still a goldmine to help us better understand our reactions in the workplace, which can sometimes be a bit over the top.
Without Brian DesRoches’ book, it takes years to appreciate that you can and must change, and a lifetime to implement the necessary changes….
It provides us with the necessary impetus to question ourselves, and to ask ourselves: what if I were to finally initiate change?
The perspective of the entrepreneurial parent
This book has been a revelation to me, from the point of view of both an employee, which I was when I started my professional life, and also as a boss, which I am now, as well as a dedicated father.
When we take note of all the habits and attitudes that we have accumulated throughout our childhood, we begin to reflect on the changes that we could make to improve ourselves.
As a father
As a father, I’ve changed my views on the education of my children, more than I thought I would. When we see the long-term consequences of what we can subconsciously teach our children, we convince ourselves that we can do things better from an early age.
However, it asks even more of us as parents. We believe (too much) that every action can affect our child negatively.
However, if we apply enough effort to improve ourselves, we can definitely enhance our relationships with other people and, as a result, with our children.
Generally, how we react in stressful situations at home (tiredness, anger, children’s screams, …) highlights the habits we developed as children.
Brian DesRoches offers much more than a plaster to cover up the problems, but instead offers a means to change to a more fulfilled, more receptive family and business life.
The entrepreneur’s vision
As soon as I read the title of the book, I knew I had to buy it because I felt it reached out to me.
Be it the father, the mother, or the siblings, the company is an ideal breeding ground where our past resurfaces, often out of control.
When we create a company, we create some sense of value; and we provide it with a vision of where we want it to go. Values and vision that are shared by the new employees who will work with the CEO to move the business forward.
So, what happens when an entrepreneur becomes the main cause of stress within the company? What then happens if it’s their childhood traits and attitudes that become the most dominant?
The biggest risk is that employees will turn against their superiors; and will not reflect on the root causes of the abusive and often out of control reactions.
However, everyone is responsible for their own childhood behaviour:
- A boss who creates, consciously or subconsciously, a stressful atmosphere (with mixed messages, strict rules, …),
- Employees who still blame their bosses rather than try to change their behaviour.
Brian DesRoches, in this book, brings a new perspective to bosses on what their mission should be:
- Become a visionary company,
- Create a healthy, friendly business environment,
- Allow the company to turn itself into an environment free of stress and hardship.
It’s down to us to make this the company goal, to make it the best we can and for the well-being of employees.
Therefore, I recommend this book to any entrepreneur who has a business or is about to start one. This book is not only aimed at entrepreneurs; it is also suitable for anyone who wants to improve their current business environment.
After I read Marshall Rosenberg’s book; this is the second book I have featured in my list of books for successful parenting and business.
It’s a book that everyone should have: improve yourself, your environment, your business and your family.
- Easy to read
- Clear and precise examples
- Clear distinction between the theoretical and practical parts in the second part of the course.
- You gain a real sense of awareness when you read this book
- Once you have read it you have a genuine desire to make changes, to improve yourself
- The first part is a bit too long.
- In the first part, Brian DesRoches extols the solutions in the second part of the book a little too often.
- The illustrative fictional story is a little brief
- Detail is lacking on what happens after you start to implement the changes
- A corporate perspective would have been a good addition
My rating :
Have you read “Your boss is not your mother”? How do you rate it?
Read more reviews on Amazon about “Your boss is not your mother”
Buy on Amazon “Your boss is not your mother”