The 3 Scripts of Difficult Co-Workers

comfortDifficult co-workers are running their “programs for comfort” (to paraphrase Thomas Keating) with too much priority. We are all running one of these “daemons,” but in the best case, they share urgency with the classic, cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance and courage. Keating identifies the daemons as 1) safety and security, 2) power and control, and 3) affection and esteem. They define our comfort zones everywhere, but especially at work where our egos typically have the most to gain and the most to lose.

Each program aims to get a legitimate need met, but when that need has not historically been addressed, a debt can build up and the payments can be steep – hence the increased urgency. Those running safety-and-security want everything to stay the same. New proposals threaten them. The power-and-control people need to keep everything in front of them and moving slow enough so that they can either buy in or make changes. Exercising power reminds them that they exist and they matter. Affection-and-esteem folks frequently need to be reminded that they are worthy and good, and so will go out of their way to engineer or claim a stake in favorable moments.

Yes, all of these people are terribly ego-centric, but only because they do not have a strong, resilient and confident ego in the first place – just the opposite of what you might expect! When seen as maladaptive attempts to self-comfort, these programs can evoke compassion from those whose comfort is more deeply installed.