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What do siblings have to do with the workplace?

In the workplace, you deal with your peers. Who were your peers for the first 18 years or so of your life?
(You probably didn’t get any weekends or vacations away from them.)

Siblings are a life-time deal, unlike coworkers, friends and spouses. Researchers are studying how as young children we learn to negotiate, to get along with our siblings. And how that carries on in later life.

The cover story for the Time magazine of July 10, 2006 was “How your siblings make you who you are”

Here are some interesting workplace pieces of that story

“You learn to negotiate things day to day…Adulthood, after all, is practically defined by peer relationships--the workplace, a marriage, the church building committee. As siblings, we may sulk and fume but by nighttime we still return to the same twin beds in the same shared room. Peace is made when one sib offers a toy or shares a thought or throws a pillow in a mock provocation that releases the lingering tension in a burst of roughhousing. Somewhere in there is the early training for the e-mail joke that breaks an office silence…. "Sibling relationships are where you learn all this," says developmental psychologist Susan McHale of Penn State University. "They are relationships between equals."

“McHale studied a group of 384 adolescent sibling pairs and their parents. Overall, she concluded that 65% of mothers and 70% of fathers exhibited a preference for one child--in most cases, the older one.

Think you're not still living the same reality show?
Think again. It's no accident that employees in the workplace instinctively know which person to send into the lion's den of the corner office with a risky proposal or a bit of bad news. And it's no coincidence that the sense of hurt feelings and adolescent envy you get when that same colleague emerges with the proposal approved and the boss's applause seems so familiar. But what you summon up with the feelings you first had long ago is the knowledge you gained then too--that the smartest strategy is not to compete for approval but to strike a partnership with the favorite and spin the situation to benefit yourself as well. This idea did not occur to you de novo. You may know it now, but you learned it then.

“From the time they are born, our brothers and sisters are our collaborators and co-conspirators, our role models and cautionary tales…They teach us how to resolve conflicts and how not to; how to conduct friendships and when to walk away from them…..Our spouses arrive comparatively late in our lives; our parents eventually leave us.

“But as much as all the fighting can set parents' hair on end, there's a lot of learning going on too, specifically about how conflicts, once begun, can be settled.”

So what’s the lesson here?
Just be aware that our siblings helped shape us. And maybe it’s worth asking your coworkers about their siblings if you don’t know.

P.S. I’ll send my sister a notice about this entry so she can rant and rave once again about how mean I was. And I’ll remind her how tired I got of her being the cute little sister. And then we’ll go back to sharing e-mail jokes, the joys and concerns of life.

P.P.S.You could be working with a sibling. (Brothers & Sisters on ABC—Writers blogs are quite interesting, if you get to the real comments on the writing http://blogs.abc.com/brothersandsisters/)

“I do not believe that the accident of birth makes people sisters and brothers. It makes them siblings. Gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood are conditions people have to work at. It's a serious matter. You compromise, you give, you take, you stand firm, and you're relentless...And it is an investment. Sisterhood means if you happen to be in Burma and I happen to be in San Diego and I'm married to someone who is very jealous and you're married to somebody who is very possessive, if you call me in the middle of the night, I have to come.”
Maya Angelou, American poet (1928-)