What is Your Attachment Style?

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Denise Gibb

Hi, I’m Denise – Founder of Chat2Change and dedicated counsellor. My mission is to inspire change and enhance mental fitness by helping you overcome emotional roadblocks related to anxiety, grief, loss, and work stress. Let’s work together to transform your challenges into opportunities for growth and well-being.

Do you wonder why you feel insecure in work relationships? Or perhaps you notice that you always go the extra mile to please your boss? It could be due to your attachment style.

Attachment Styles: The Blueprint For Your Relationships at Work

Attachment styles, formed in early childhood, are deeply ingrained patterns of relating to others. They profoundly influence our personal and professional lives, shaping how we connect with colleagues, bosses, and team members. Recognising your attachment style can empower you to foster healthier workplace relationships and alleviate stress.

Four Workplace Attachment Styles

1. Secure Attachment: The Team Player

Secure individuals are the glue that holds teams together. These individuals are confident in their abilities, work well with others, and aren’t afraid to ask for help or offer support. Their positive attitude and willingness to collaborate make them invaluable assets in any workplace.

2. Anxious Attachment: The People Pleaser

Anxious individuals are often eager to please and go above and beyond to gain approval. These individuals may worry excessively about making mistakes or disappointing their colleagues. While their dedication is admirable, their constant need for reassurance can sometimes create extra work for others and lead to burnout.

3. Avoidant Attachment: The Independent Worker

Avoidant individuals are self-reliant and prefer to work independently. These individuals value their autonomy and may shy away from close relationships with colleagues. While their self-sufficiency can be an asset, their reluctance to collaborate or seek help may hinder team projects and problem-solving.

4. Anxious-Avoidant Attachment: The Unpredictable Colleague

Individuals with an anxious-avoidant attachment style can be a bit of a wild card. They may crave connection one day and push people away the next. This unpredictability can make it difficult for colleagues to understand their needs and build trust.

Take the quiz: Discover your attachment style

Uncover your workplace attachment style and gain insights into your relationships with colleagues and bosses by taking this quick quiz.

1. When a project doesn’t go as planned, do you typically:

a) Feel confident you can find a solution with your team’s help.

b) Worry excessively about what your boss will think and blame yourself.

c) Prefer to work on fixing the problem independently, avoiding collaboration.

d) Feel a mix of anxiety and a desire to withdraw from the situation.

2. When receiving feedback from your supervisor, do you:

a) Feel confident you can find a solution with your team’s help.

b) Worry excessively about what your boss will think and blame yourself.

c) Prefer to work on fixing the problem independently, avoiding collaboration.

d) Feel a mix of anxiety and a desire to withdraw from the situation.

3. In team meetings, do you tend to:

a) Actively participate, share your ideas, and listen to others’ perspectives.

b) Seek validation for your contributions and worry about being judged.

c) Remain quiet and observe, preferring to work on your own tasks later.

d) Speak up sporadically, sometimes dominating the conversation and other times withdrawing completely.

4. When a colleague asks for your help on a task, do you usually:

a) Offer your assistance willingly and collaboratively.

b) Agree to help even if it inconveniences you, fearing they’ll dislike you if you say no.

c) Decline their request, preferring to focus on your own responsibilities.

d) Hesitate and feel ambivalent, unsure whether to help or not.

Your Results

  • Mostly A’s: Secure Attachment – You’re a team player who thrives in collaborative environments.
  • Mostly B’s: Anxious Attachment – You value close relationships but may worry excessively about others’ opinions.
  • Mostly C’s: Avoidant Attachment – You prioritise independence and prefer to work autonomously.
  • Mostly D’s: Anxious-Avoidant Attachment – You experience a mix of anxiety and avoidance in relationships.

Remember, this quiz is just a starting point for self-reflection. If you want to learn more about attachment styles and how they impact your work life, consider seeking guidance from a counsellor.

Can our attachment styles change?

The good news is that attachment styles are not set in stone. With self-awareness, intentional effort, and sometimes a little guidance, you can shift towards a more secure attachment style in your personal life and at work.

Example of transformations

Here are a few examples of how this positive change can unfold, along with on-the-spot fixes for those moments when old patterns threaten to resurface:

Anxious to Secure

Sarah, used to send numerous emails to her boss seeking approval for every minor decision, often delaying projects and frustrating her colleagues who felt micromanaged. Through counselling, she identified this pattern as stemming from her anxious attachment style. She learned to trust her own judgment and communicate her needs more directly, significantly reducing her anxiety and empowering her colleagues to take more initiative.

On-the-Spot Fix: When Sarah feels the urge to seek approval, she pauses and takes a few deep breaths. She reminds herself of past successes and her boss’s trust in her abilities. She then clearly communicates her action plan, seeking feedback only when necessary.

Avoidant to Secure

Mark, a software developer, preferred to work on projects alone and rarely participated in team meetings, which sometimes led to misunderstandings and duplicated efforts. After attending a company retreat focused on communication and collaboration, he recognised the benefits of teamwork and started actively contributing to group discussions. This shift led to a more cohesive team dynamic, better solutions, and increased efficiency.

On-the-Spot Fix: When Mark feels the urge to retreat into solo work, he consciously tries reaching out to a colleague for a quick brainstorming session or simply to share his progress. He reminds himself that collaboration often leads to better outcomes and strengthens team bonds.

Anxious-Avoidant to Secure

Emily, a project manager, often struggled with delegating tasks, fearing both criticism and abandonment. This behaviour means she takes on an excessive workload and unintentionally neglects her team’s development. With the help of counselling, Emily identified this as a hallmark of her anxious-avoidant attachment style. She developed strategies for clearly communicating expectations and trusting her team members, resulting in a more empowered team, reduced stress for herself, and smoother project workflows.

On-the-Spot Fix: When Emily feels hesitant to delegate, she reminds herself of her team’s capabilities and the importance of sharing responsibility. Emily sets clear expectations and deadlines but also allows her team members the autonomy to complete tasks in their way. She practices self-compassion, recognising that mistakes are a natural part of learning and leadership growth.

Resolving Workplace conflicts and reducing stress: the attachment style advantage

Understanding attachment styles can be a game-changer for resolving workplace conflicts and reducing stress. In fact, research suggests that a significant proportion of workplace conflicts stem from clashes in attachment styles (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991). For instance, an anxious employee’s constant need for reassurance might clash with an avoidant manager’s preference for independence, leading to misunderstandings and resentment. Similarly, an avoidant employee’s reluctance to collaborate can frustrate colleagues with secure or anxious attachment styles. When these conflicts are left unaddressed, they can create a toxic work environment, increase stress levels, and decrease productivity.

Strategies for Resolving Work Conflicts and Reducing Stress:

If you’re a manager, team leader, or HR professional, identifying the underlying attachment dynamics at play in conflict situations can help reduce work stress for all involved. Here are few strategies to consider:

  • Raising awareness: Educate employees about attachment styles and their potential impact on workplace relationships. Workshops, training sessions, or even informal discussions can help individuals recognise their attachment patterns and understand how they might contribute to conflict and stress.
  • Individual coaching: Offer confidential workplace coaching or independent counselling services to employees struggling with insecure attachment styles. Confidential counselling provides a safe space to explore their emotions, develop coping mechanisms, and work towards more secure attachment patterns, reducing stress and improving well-being.
  • Mediation with an attachment-style lens: When mediating conflicts, consider the attachment styles of the individuals involved. For example, if an anxious employee feels unheard, validate their feelings and encourage them to express their needs clearly. If an avoidant employee feels overwhelmed by conflict, create a safe space for them to share their perspective without feeling pressured. Acknowledging and addressing the underlying attachment needs can facilitate more effective communication and conflict resolution, leading to a less stressful work environment.
  • Building a secure base: Foster a workplace culture that promotes psychological safety and trust. Achieving this starts with encouraging open communication, providing regular feedback, and recognising and rewarding employees’ contributions. According to Mikulincer and Shaver (2016), a secure base in the workplace can help individuals feel more comfortable taking risks, collaborating with others, and ultimately, performing at their best, all while experiencing reduced stress levels.

Whether you’re a secure team player, an anxious people pleaser, an avoidant independent worker, or an unpredictable colleague, working toward a secure attachment style reduces work-related stress and ultimately creates a thriving workplace culture where everyone feels valued, understood, and supported.

Conclusion

As a counsellor, I’ve helped individuals transform their workplace experience by shifting towards more secure attachment patterns. However, this journey involves developing self-awareness, learning new coping mechanisms, and fostering healthier communication.

If you’re ready to break free from unhealthy patterns and realise your full potential at work, take the above quiz and identify your attachment style. Consider counselling, or reach out to your HR team or Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Creating a more harmonious and successful work life starts with asking for help.

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