Friday, May 28, 2010

ACOA Management Training

Or why growing up in an alcoholic home prepares you for success:

First it makes us what therapists call “high screeners”. It’s kind of an evolutionary adaptation. Kids in alcoholic families can hear what’s happening two houses away. At work this means we don't have to leave our desks to hear coworkers grumbling or gossiping.

It also means we have powerful intuition. In fact it’s our survival screening again: we have learned to read the slightest shift in a facial expression. We can read subliminal expressions which are the tiny, almost minute, changes to a person’s face that occur before they are able to naturally adapt to a socially acceptable expression. That’s how we know someone is angry even when they insist in a terribly professional voice that, “No, I’m not angry at all, just concerned.” (Research has shown that those expressions are on one’s face for less than a tenth of a second so only a highly trained psychologist, interrogator, psychic or ACOA can read them.)

In addition to faces we read mood, tone of voice, body language and changes to patterns as if our life depended on it. (Because of course, our young lives did depend on it.)

For managers, team leaders, and especially people in sales, this is a  gift.

Another gift from the alcoholic home is our corresponding attention to detail. We’re great proof readers, designers, event coordinators, and sales people. Yes, basically perfectionists. A big plus and minus there. We can tell the difference between Newport Blue and Marine Blue in 10-point type and when told that you need six identical packets for a proposal, they are identical!

This characteristic can also doom one’s career if taken too far. Years ago I worked for a manager who terrorized her staff with requirements to iron out creases in paper table cloths and who nightly drove around the building to ensure that the window blinds –in all 26 offices—were pulled to an exact (not off by a half inch, dam it!) center mark so that the building had a “pleasing symmetry” to any passerby. I was not surprised to learn that both of her parents “drank too much.”

There are more skills that we gained in our alcoholic homes. We'll figure these out. In the meantime this can be the start of another gratitude list for the circumstances that gave us these skills and for the subsequent recovery program that kept them from ruining us as well.

How about in your life? What are some work or business skills you gained as a result of a difficult start in life? What qualities that were once part of the problem are now part of your success?

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