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projection meaning

What does “projection” in the workplace mean and how does it affect work relationships?

How do you pick up on projection in the workplace? What are the consequences? What benefits can you see by recognizing this defense mechanism?


Do you sometimes feel your boss has mixed feelings about you? Is there anything that bothers you (a lot) about certain coworkers? Do you think other colleagues are better than you because of something you don’t have? If your answer is yes to these questions then you may well be projecting aspects of yourself that you don’t like, or still have to work out, onto these people. Psychology defines projection as a defense mechanism through which a person attributes their own defects, virtues or deficiencies to another. Projection is also known as the “Law of Mirrors” and learning how to detect it can be an incredibly powerful weapon of self-knowledge with great benefit. So, let’s take a closer look at it!


Here are a few examples of projection at work and their effects on workplace relationships:


  • “Someone does not like me”. If you think someone doesn’t like you, you’re probably projecting. In this example, the projection occurs with the following meaning: you don’t like how a certain person acts, so to avoid feeling this animosity yourself, you project it onto the other person, and you feel they don’t like you instead. Obviously, this situation can lead to unsustainable workplace relationships, since the permanent judgment of the other person can cause tension and in turn, make us the victim.


  • “You are so selfish” or “you are so intelligent”. To better understand the meaning of the projection in this case, we will use an example that illustrates it perfectly. Point at something with your index finger. You’ll probably see you have three fingers pointing back towards you: the middle, ring, and little finger. What are we talking about? Well, it’s a way of saying that everything you say to others, you’re also saying to yourself but to a greater degree, both when you see negative qualities in other people, and when you see positive qualities too. Seeing these qualities is possible because you have them as well, otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to detect them. Therefore, co-worker A can have a very good relationship with co-worker B, but you don’t get on well with B, even though you do with A. These types of “labels”, such as “selfish”, “irresponsible”, “loud”, etc. can also lead to conflict. If you learn to listen to yourself and understand that when you feel someone is being “unfair”, “selfish” or “irresponsible” it is possibly because you are being selfish and unfair to others, and then you’ll succeed in being more compassionate towards different people and improve how your relate to them as well.


  • “It went wrong because of you”. As we’ve talked about before, this concept of “your fault” is a huge way of projecting onto other people which lets us off the hook. So, whenever you want to blame someone or someone blames you for something, try to switch the conversation into a matter of responsibility. From responsibility, we’re able to build but from blame, it’s very rare that anything positive will come out of it.


How to stop projecting onto others at work? 


The first thing we should do to stop projecting our own conflicts onto our colleagues is to work on our listening. Doing this will push us to be more compassionate towards ourselves and others. For example, if one day you find yourself in a situation in which everyone’s actions are bothering you, stop, breathe, and ask yourself: am I going through a stressful situation that may be magnifying my emotions? Is there anything about me in all of this that is getting to me, and how can I solve that? With these questions, we can detach ourselves from our emotions and detect what conflict may be being projected onto the other person and what is bringing about this discomfort. Does it bother you that people are wrong because you don’t let yourself make mistakes? Is it annoying when other people don’t say what they mean when perhaps you, yourself act in ways that aren’t so clear? Maybe you hold yourself back and you don’t even realize it? Try to always ask yourself these questions. Being aware that we often act in ways we wish we didn’t can be difficult at first, but it will help us to play things down and thus feel calmer and happier.


What may well happen is that, as you work on how you project on others, you end up realizing how others project onto you. For example, in that moment a colleague approaches you and tells you or rather suggests that you’ve been irresponsible, you’ll be able to take yourself away from the moment and detect that, in reality, it may be your colleague who hasn’t acted all that responsibly and doesn’t realize it.


So, as you may have noticed, working on how to detect projection means being honest and reconciling with your emotions to improve working relationships. Any thoughts? Leave a comment below! We can all learn from each other and between us, improve work dynamics.


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