Recently, on a phone call with a vendor, while attempting to articulate a situation gone south and deep in the details, I was interrupted mid-stream with a torrent of words – an imagined finger angrily wagging in my face.
The voice booming through the speaker on my phone was saying:
“I can’t believe what you’re telling me!”
“This isn’t what we agreed to!”
“It’s inaccurate, not to mention unfair!”
“What we need is . . . !”
And, “What YOU need to do is . . . !”
If you’ve ever found yourself on the receiving end of a rant, you know the kind of experience I was having that afternoon.
Stunned. Agitated. Outraged. Someone was yelling at me – at work, no less!
And, like me, you likely reacted.
I felt attacked. My heart rate increased; my jaw tightened. I felt defensive and thought “What the @#%*” while the adrenaline in my body had me primed to act.
In fact, I was straining to contain the words ready to pop out of my mouth:
“How could you?!”
“You don’t understand at all!”
“We had an agreement!”
When we’re distressed by an external event or comment, we react. It’s how we’re biologically wired.
We may feel triggered by something outside ourselves.
We might become defensive or expressive with an obvious outburst of feeling.
We can find ourselves in a defensive dance of excuses or blaming.
We likely notice we’re shutting down, distancing from the experience with stony silence or resentful resolve.
Or, we may simply think, ‘Get-me-outta here!!’
Believe it or not, your reaction can open a secret doorway into your own internal mindset about the situation and provide the key to handling it well.
Our mindsets reflect our accumulated, lived experiences – those that shape our attitudes and beliefs and actions.
The mindsets we hold reflect what we care about, though often we’re not aware until we find ourselves reacting!
Our reactions to being agitated certainly challenge us.
We can resist such perturbations or we can open to the reactivity with a willingness to examine our own common sense about the situation, and how we’ve constructed our way of thinking and behaving in such situations.
In my case, the rant opened up a review of my mindset about ‘how we treat people, especially at work.’
I know from experience that when I simply react, the results can leave me in a bit of a mood. Or rather, a lot of a mood. Moods that aren’t necessarily effective in offering an appropriate response.
Resigned. Resentful. Revengeful even.
When I react from those reflexive moods, I have to ask myself, “Does my reaction work in the moment to clarify the joint concerns? To move the situation forward? To stay in the conversation?
Not so much.
Chances are good that none of these typical reactions work well despite the fact they’re actually hard-wired by design in all of us; first and foremost to keep us safe and out of harm’s way.
Safety & Skill
Really? Safe and out of harm’s way?
This was simply a day-to-day workplace conversation. Safe? Really?
Yes, safe. You and I both know these situations happen all the time. Everywhere. Even at work. Especially at work.
As human beings, we’re wired to seek safety, as well as connection and respect.
Even at work. Especially at work.
The degree to which a person feels safe is largely based on their previous experiences which influence their mindsets about, well, just about everything.
With the rant, I didn’t feel safe in that relationship or working together.
Feeling unsafe we can’t think clearly, our emotional brain is on high alert.
Feeling unsafe we compromise our concerns, settling for less, tolerating more.
Feeling unsafe we avoid necessary conversations to move work forward, to be an effective team member.
When we simply react in situations that are difficult, we all suffer.
Research reveals that minding our own emotional reactions is key to our emotional health and well-being even if we’d really rather yell and stomp our feet.
It’s likely that you’ve already got some ideas about what you might do differently in the future when triggered. Maybe bits of wisdom or practices like:
- Pause and count to ten (interrupt your reaction, attend to something else)
- Take a deep breath or two or three(tune into your body’s sensations in real-time)
- Get up and move(movement shifts hormones which can shift perspective)
So first, when your find yourself reacting, pause to notice which reaction seems to be typical for you, your signature reaction – the obvious outburst, super silence, defensiveness dance, resentful resolve. (We all have typical tendencies under stress, by the way, so don’t sweat it. It’ll help you to know your own first reaction so you can choose to shift it.
Then, take that deep breath (recent research indicates it takes about 6 seconds to shift gears from reacting to responding), as breath will help your rational mind kick into gear, since it was hijacked only moments before.
Next, feel your feet on the ground as you move, feel your energy shift, keep breathing.
Finally, as you’re settling, ask yourself a few clarifying questions:
- What actually happened here?
- What most irritated me? The tone? A promise broken?
- What do I really care about here?
- What can I learn from this situation?
Writing out what occurred, and asking a trusted other to listen to the situation, can help you gain the clarity for your chosen response.
Pause. Choose to let your reaction go – on purpose. Shift gears and take the lesson.