Rising to the Occasion: The Peter Principle in Relationships

Rising to the Occasion: The Peter Principle in Relationships

The Peter principle is a concept… which observes that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to “a level of respective incompetence”: employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another.


I’ve cited this book so many times on webinars about new manager training and leadership development, but it dawned on me that this applies to our personal lives as well. People become paralyzed when context switching all the time, much like a balloon getting stuck in a tree:

  • When your best friend becomes your roommate
  • When a colleague gets promoted to be your new manager
  • When you and your spouse start a business together
  • When a friend becomes a metamour (in a poly relationship)

It’s a frustrating concept. I can genuinely enjoy someone in one context but completely hate them for their incompetence in another. Who they are hasn’t changed–it’s just lacking the skils or knowledge to adapt. But is it their fault? After all, much like new managers in a workplace, we’re not usually offered guidance on what we need to learn.

With that said, I still hold a high standard for my friends. I tend to spend my time around those with the self-awareness and intellect to know when not to switch contexts or which questions to ask to make these transitions successful. There’s therapy, podcasts, and books–what resources do you leverage, and how do you effectively apply the content you absorb?

There’s no perfect answer for such unknowable and uncertain situations. It’s especially difficult to resist criticizing those that context-switch for enticing reasons like sex or money, but find themselves confused and paralyzed on the other side of the fence.

It’s something I’m constantly fascinated by, both in professional and personal settings. Many balloons pop or deflate over time once they get stuck. Others find a way to rise to the occasion and soar upwards on their journey to self-discovery and relational mastery. Either way, perhaps the only way to find out which one you are is to try.

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