Our subconscious programming — developed through our youth and on into adulthood — plays a huge role in how we survive or thrive at work. Here’s how your “attachment style” may affect your office relationships.

Your better mind knows exactly how to manage your time better at work but a primal, seemingly uncontrollable urge to do the opposite overtakes you.

You know you should say no when you’re asked to take on that new project, but you say yes. Or you know your boss said your report was good enough, but you work until midnight perfecting it. Or you’re just stuck — wanting to do better but unsure that trying will help — so you do nothing.

If you are frustrated with your seemingly irrational behavior, the root issue may be deep subconscious programming known as your “attachment style.” Your attachment style dictates how you relate to other people, particularly in situations that trigger stress.

Attachment style discussions typically arise in relation to the bond between parents and children or romantic partners, but in my work as a time management coach, I’ve seen that individuals can also “attach” differently in the workplace. Here’s how to identify your attachment style, and take control of how you manage your time.

A fear of upsetting others drives individuals with an anxious preoccupied attachment style. This fear-based approach leads to counterproductive behaviors — for example, struggling with a compulsion to check email incessantly to make sure everything is “O.K.”

If you operate from an anxious attachment style, you will have at least two major time management struggles. The first is that your attention will get hijacked whenever you experience a perceived “threat.” You will feel negative bias — the email from the client must be a complaint and the lack of acknowledgment from the boss means she is already looking for my replacement. Although these thoughts may be true, they likely are not. But your anxious brain jumps to negative conclusions and gets obsessed with issues until they are resolved.

The second time management issue is a severe allergy to setting boundaries. The idea of saying no may terrify you.

To improve your time management, you’ll need to calm your nervous system to get out of fight-or-flight mode every time something happens at work.

The best calming strategies include positive self-talk and peer support. In terms of self-talk, it may sound something like “Let’s wait and see what happens” or “Everything will be O.K.” If you still feel agitated, you may need to ask for support to get clearheaded enough to move forward. That could mean addressing the situation directly with a client or colleague or talking to an outside person for reassurance.

Individuals with dismissive avoidant attachment at work tend to think they are smart and everyone else is stupid. Well, maybe not exactly stupid, but definitely not as smart as they are. They most likely decide what they should do and then ignore what others want. This leads to conflict and mistrust. This mistrust can lead to others attempting to micromanage and monitor them, which just makes them more annoyed and more likely to dismiss input.

For those around you, your biggest time management issue is most likely that you miss deadlines and don’t do the work that they consider most important.

From your perspective, the biggest time management issue tends to be working late. Long hours usually arise when you get fixated on doing a particular project really well. Or they can happen because you want to work on what you consider to be important first and then you also have to complete work for others.

To make a change, you need to start by acknowledging that other people may have a point. You may not agree with their stated priorities, you may think you know better, and you may even think that the work is stupid.

But if you want to achieve greater success, have people micromanage you less and work fewer hours, there will be times when you are better off listening to and doing what other people say. To make this shift, you may need to consciously work on your emotional intelligence, including recognizing that an idea different from yours is not necessarily wrong and that there is value in working harmoniously with others.

“Stuck” is the best word to describe those with a fearful avoidant attachment style. They have the fear of those with anxious attachment without the confidence that they can make things right. Someone with anxious attachment would quickly open a potentially “threatening” email and reply to it as quickly as possible to avert danger. Someone with a fearful avoidant attachment style would see the email, freak out about it and then never open it. Never reading the email creates a compounding paralyzing dread. They fear bad outcomes so strongly they never discover if the email from a client was simply an F.Y.I. or a full-out tirade.

They don’t trust themselves or the system, so there is an undercurrent of “why even try?” in their day-to-day work.

You tend to spend most of your time in a state of being overwhelmed because you fear everything and feel very little power to do anything about your fears (much less the work that is also piling up). This leads to your trying to avoid all of it and escape, get lost in social media, try organizing and reorganizing your desk, and perpetually think about how to explain why your work isn’t done.

If you fall into this pattern, you’ll need a two-prong strategy. The first involves reducing your fear response. Try some of the calming strategies we suggested for people who have an anxious attachment style, such as positive self-talk and support from colleagues or friends.

Then you will need to take gentle action to get your work done. Set some goals for yourself. It may start with opening one email a day that scares you, or with working just 15 minutes on a project you have avoided for weeks — or longer. Small bits of progress where you realize you can do something and it didn’t kill you lead to greater success later.

Those with a secure attachment style at work take tasks as they come, do what they can and address issues that come up easily. They work hard and do not fear saying no when they feel they need to. They know they are capable, and they are confident that others will respond well to them.

You generally fare best when it comes to managing your time. You are comfortable prioritizing tasks and asking for help when you need it. You also feel comfortable setting healthy boundaries and pushing back when necessary, and you do not often engage in fear-based behavior.


If you have a secure attachment style at work, you are most likely managing your time well and achieving good work-life balance. Stay secure but be aware. Regularly ask for direct feedback so if there is something that you need to work on, you can make changes. Also, if you notice something seems really off, for example a big downgrade in the quality of communication with your manager, don’t dismiss it as, “Oh, she is just stressed.” Do a quick follow-up either in person or via email, saying: “I noticed that we’re not communicating as well as in the past. Is there anything I’ve done that’s contributed to that shift?”

Although attachment style is not the only factor influencing your time management, it may play a significant role, particularly if you find yourself repeatedly compelled to act against what you “know” to do. As with attachment style in your personal life, attachment style at work can vary based on situation or circumstance. In one job or with one particular person or project, you may have an anxious attachment style, and in another circumstance, you may display more secure characteristics. Wherever you find yourself, improving how you manage your time starts with identifying what kind of attachment style you have and then taking steps to address it.

For more help with better understanding your attachment style call now or visit www.courtenaymonfore.com.