Part II: Good Girls on the Line

Good girls can reduce anxiety and still raise their game.

Posted Nov 10, 2009

The last post on this subject described an emotional response pattern that SOME women have to one type of man: namely, the good girl's automatic, often barely conscious, knee jerk need to please a difficult Alpha male. (Not all Alphas are difficult, arrogant or temperamental. It just all the ones that you know.)

This good girl's response pattern may well be invisible to her audience. Mr. Alpha might be way too self-absorbed to notice that he leaves a wave of anxiety in his wake. On the other hand, he might notice and take a quiet pride in his impact. But let's leave his interpersonal problems for another post, and focus on her.

This woman's particular need to please frequently produces two opposing outcomes. Ironically, in order to fend off disapproval, a good girl can play way over her regular game. That stretch gets the professional best out of her and that is all to her career good and the good of her organization.

At the same time, the driving anxiety behind that performance might get the best of her, and that onslaught can be hideously wearing. The key question is how to reduce debilitating anxiety while maintaining a strong determination to produce an excellent work product? It's a narrow path, but walkable.

First, you'll need to recognize yourself in the dance. Here are some signs that you are caught in this kind of workplace pattern:
• You are making a stronger effort than is usual for you to anticipate the needs and preferences of one particular person.
• You find yourself especially concerned about how he might evaluate a project or an idea. You think about it at lunch, at home, at night. Sunday evenings are a worry fiesta.
• You feel anxious even before you open an email, or begin a meeting with him. What if he expresses displeasure?
• You anticipate his criticism or disappointment, even when it is unlikely to come.
• You care about all this, even though rationally you recognize that there is little he could do or would do to negatively impact your job. In other words, you care and you worry, though you KNOW there is no real reason to be concerned.
• You recognize that this is not the first such person to evoke this emotional response. You may have attached these feelings to other men at other work places, to earlier teachers, and originally, to your Dad.

If you recognize yourself in this pattern, recall first that there is an upside for you. Understanding that one is being emotionally driven does not necessarily mean you are being driven off a cliff.

Maybe you are working hard to please precisely the right person and you can thank your demanding Dad for providing early on the job training. Too, this cranky guy at the office likely has something to teach you and all your anxious efforts to produce will ultimately improve you professionally. Alphas were usually not annointed and frequently maintain their position through sheer professional talent (albeit packaged in Big Foot costume.) Work feverishly to meet his standards and over time you may have learned to make them your own.

If it doesn't kill you first. Probably in the good girl/alpha guy process, you are more over-focused and more anxious than you need to be. Sometimes just recognizing your pattern is enough to ease you out of it. See his e-mail, note the stomach cramp and remind yourself, "There I go again. Take a breath." Then take one.

Or you might need to talk yourself down in detail, reminding yourself that you are a great employee or a talented professional. Even if your success sometimes it feels like it rests on a perfidious smile of momentary approval, it is really built on the solid history of performance.

It helps too, to look behind the curtain and see Mr. Alpha for more of what he is: a talented, impatient guy, with maybe two sets of alimony payments, or a paunch that no amount of morning squash seems to diminish. If you pay attention, you might notice that he jumps to someone's string tug too - an idealized mentor perhaps, a threatening underling or powerful friends who need impressing. Seeing the whole man helps to diminish his power while preserving what might be his positive influence.

In the meantime, reread your resume, your recommendations or old performance reviews. Let them all remind you of who you are outside the penumbra of this particular magnetic shadow. You are a tightly woven tapestry of professional skills and strengths that have brought you to this point. You will not allow yourself to unravel at the tug of a string.

Plus, you have the life long knack of winning the hearts of Alpha men.

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