Attached and Detached. Are you overly at risk of “buying in” or taking things too personally? Or can you step back and deal with them “at a distance”?
When you visualize something how do you see it in “your mind’s eye”? Do you look at it through your own eyes? Or can you perhaps look at it “from outside of yourself”, that is that you see yourself in the picture? How “attached” are you to what you see? Or are you able to “detach” yourself from it, that is not to become emotionally involved?
In my coaching I often use this concept to help my clients keep a distance to some of the things they are dealing with.
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Being Attached (Associated)
To become associated with something is to become emotionally attached to it; to take it too personally. Let’s say you are involved in conversation that develops into an argument. Both people have a different point of view that they are trying to defend. If they become frustrated or angry, it is usually because their expectation of the other person seeing their point of view isn’t being met, right? They start to defend their position or point of view too strongly. Sometimes that frustration or anger can lead to them “losing their cool” and when emotion sets in, rational behaviour can suffer and things can start to get personal. This is where the risk of “playing the player, instead of the ball” can creep in. And the argument starts to become irrational. As blood pressure rises, this can lead anywhere, including harsh personal abuse, even resulting in violence.
The latter probably isn’t that often prevalent in the work context, although things can sometimes get pretty heated, can’t they? Is there anything wrong, particularly in the business context to agree that you disagree on that point? Perhaps it is appropriate at that point to agree to introduce a third party to “mediate” your positions, if it is vital that you need to come to an agreement or conclusion.
Being Detached (Dissociated)
This could already be the segue into the opposite of associated, namely dissociated. Let me use a picture to try and explain the difference. If you are sitting inside your car looking at something through your own eyes and looking at it from inside looking outwards through your windscreen you are associated; seeing it through your own eyes. You are not in the picture. You are connected, because you are looking “out of the picture” from within.
Conversely, if you were to imagine yourself outside of the car and seeing yourself inside the car and looking at yourself in the car through the windscreen, then you are dissociated: you can see yourself in the picture. This is simply another way of looking at things; looking at yourself or the situation from a different perspective.
So let’s go back to the above argument. Being emotionally attached to a view is being associated. Wouldn’t a great reframe in that situation be to try and look at it differently? From a different perspective. Looking out hasn’t worked, so how about I look at it from outside looking in? As in: “how might another person look at this?” That would be taking a dissociated view of the same situation. Interestingly, when we do this we usually also detach ourselves from any emotion and are often able to look at it more rationally.
Some practical examples of attached and detached
I often encounter this “being associated” when dealing with the management of change in an organisation. This became particularly evident where an individual was making the transition out of the group into becoming their leader. They are strongly associated with their people, very close to their people, and their objectivity can be blinded by the individual relationships and views and positions. They know each other very well.
If the work or structure situation now requires significant change in direction or approach or attitude, the new leader will need to detach (dissociate) themselves from the individuals within the team and look at the requirements the change dictates, without any emotional or personal attachment. Perhaps even to the degree that he or she recognizes that some of the individuals just won’t be “up to” being able to make that change. That’s a tough call for a new leader, and an often inevitable scenario. They will need to learn to become detached.
You have probably often heard it said that a doctor can’t become emotionally involved with the plight of their patient. They need to maintain a “professional distance” so as to remain objective to be able to rationally diagnose and provide the best options. To remain dissociated.
By the way, how do you handle a staff member in tears in the workplace? Same suggestion: stay emotionally detached, that is dissociated. I have learned to stay professionally empathetic but at a distance and allow them the space to personally deal with that emotion until they can regain their own composure. In a coaching conversation that can happen and I just ask them to tell me when they are ready to continue. The key here could be that the tears are a tactic, and that by “buying in to them” and that by trying to “rescue them” would play into that and we could lose our professional objectivity.
So on a personal note, when next you personally feel emotionally moved or even overwhelmed by a situation and may be struggling to maintain your composure (if that’s required) this would be a good time to: Using “the Gap” to reframe yourself by interrupting those emotional feelings with the question: “how can I look at this differently?” and step outside the situation and view the person who looks like you and sounds like you from outside yourself. Dissociating from it robs it of its emotional force.
Why not try and see how well it works for you? Alternatively, your coach will be able to teach and practice this skill with you. And if you just want to ask or discuss some questions, why not email me at and lets explore them, OK?