WOMEN IN BUSINESS: Are you a peacekeeper, pleaser or survivor? Childhood roles lay foundation for working style

“I never thought it was acceptable to speak up. Somehow I got the message as a child that good girls do what they are told and follow the rules. This message stayed with me, and I believe that I allowed myself to be taken advantage of at work in order to gain the admiration of my superiors,” said by Ilene–a Pleaser. As a girl, Ilene, now a 44-year-old assistant vice president at a financial services company, was respectful, obedient and followed the rules.

In “Winning Roles For Career-Minded Women: Understanding the Roles We Learned as Girls and How to Change Them for Success at Work” (Davies-Black Publishing, 180 pages, softcover, $17.95) the authors’ goal is to help women understand why they function as they do in their professional lives and to guide them in changing their behavior, if they feel it is necessary or desirable to do so.

The authors are Dr. Binnie Shusman Kafrissen, an organizational psychologist specializing in leadership development, executive coaching, and organizational design and development, and Dr. Fran Shusman, a licensed counseling psychologist and a clinical associate in the Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania.

The authors believe that when women understand why they think and act as they do, they will be able to redefine themselves, consolidate their strengths, and apply those strengths in all areas of their lives.

The basis of the book is that the roles women assume within their own families as children and young adults lay the groundwork for their adult professional roles. Cognitive Therapy is used in revealing the distorted beliefs that prevent the maximum level of effectiveness.

The assumption is that thoughts affect how one feels and consequently behave. A different perspective is recognized once distorted thinking is neutralized. The authors interviewed 30 women between the ages of 23 and 65 for this study.

The book is divided into two parts. The first is a discussion of the six roles women play starting as girls and young women (and then the consequences in the workplace).

1. The Peacekeeper: the one who liked to keep everything functioning smoothly in the family; she was the stabilizer. 2. The Maverick: she has always been her own person and intuitively knows what is best for her.

3. The Pleaser: she’s so anxious to please everyone else that she never develops or expresses her own thoughts and neglects her own needs.

4. The Caregiver: played an adult role early looking after everyone in the family.

5. The Survivor: she was withdrawn and easily overwhelmed and felt powerless but managed somehow.

6. The Entrepreneur: she was strong, independent, and took opportunity; she pushed herself to succeed and to overcome all obstacles.

The role of the Pleaser, for example, is Ilene. As a child she wanted to be accepted and liked. The reward was praise and approval. In the workplace she accepts any task given to her regardless of how she feels about it. She cannot say “no.” People use this to their advantage.

Positive aspects of this personality are her ability to get along with people and develop agreeable relationships. Cooperation, diligence, and a sense of responsibility mark this working style. A negative aspect is a reluctance to take risks or commit to an opinion regarding any issue. She puts her own professional life on hold to please others. She tends to get involved in too many projects. Her difficulty in setting limits often leads to stress. When faced with conflict or disagreement, she seeks to appease rather than risking alienation.

The second part of “Winning Roles” discusses how to understand and change behavior. A discussion of leadership, company culture, and communication in light of the six roles begins this part. Included are identification exercises; the authors ask that the reader determine the benefits and costs of their particular role. They don’t suggest changing who one is, but to consider self-perception. After the process of changing one’s thinking comes changing behavior. The exercises will help recognize and determine which behaviors to stop and which to begin. Examples for someone like Ilene would be to stop being afraid of authority figures.

The authors have prepared a well-organized and jargonless book substituting labyrinthian language with workplace words. They have also injected what at first seems like redundancy, but is reiteration for learning. An understanding remains after the book is read.

“Winning Roles” helps women become aware and, by so doing, become more effective and happier in the workplace.

Alex Moore, formerly a book packager for independent presses, is the Review Editor of ForeWord Magazine, a Traverse City-based journal that reviews books from independent and university presses for booksellers and acquisition librarians across the county. BIZNEWS