Recently on a phone call with a vendor, attempting to articulate a situation gone south and deep in the details, I was interrupted, mid-stream with a torrent of words, imagined hands waving in my face.
“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.
And, like me, you may’ve reacted. With an Obvious Outburst, perhaps paired in a Defensiveness Dance. Or, with Get-me-Out–Gladys! With Super Silence. With Resentful Resolve.
In these kinds of situations, I’ve found myself at times feeling reactive and defensive, forehead tightening and jaws clenched, straining to contain words ready to pop out of my mouth:
“How could he?!”
“She doesn’t understand!”
“I thought we had an agreement!”
“Doesn’t he get it?”
When I react, however, the results can leave me in a bit of a mood. Or maybe a lot of a mood. Moods that aren’t necessarily effective in offering an appropriate response.
Resigned. Resentful. Revengeful.
When I react from those moods does it 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 super 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.
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 dignity. Even at work. Especially at work.
Feeling unsafe we can’t think clearly, our emotional lizard brains on high alert. 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. We can react in-kind, dismissing and blaming the other.
When we simply react in situations that are difficult, we suffer. Moreover, the conversation—ultimately the relationship—will suffer too. The words we speak in haste will become the house we live in, our word-out-of-mouth ratio the building blocks.
So if your reactions don’t work as well as you’d like, what will?
It’s likely that you’ve already got some great ideas about what to do differently. Maybe bits of wisdom gleaned from some wise elder in your life like:
Count to ten
Take a deep breath. . . . or two, or three
Walk it off
Laugh it off, kiddo! (my dad’s favorite)
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. Minding our words-out-of-mouth ratio, is essential to responding to stress, to rants-by-others.
That said, to do so we have to be aware enough to tune in to our own experience, hard to do when you feel like you’ve been hit by a Mack truck of nasty energy coming at you—it can take your breath away!
So first off, notice which reaction seems to be your typical one–the Obvious Outburst, Super Silence, Defensiveness Dance, Get-Me-Out-Gladys! 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 up).
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. Feel your feet on the ground as you walk it off.
As you’re settling, ask yourself a few clarifying questions: What actually happened here? What most irritated you? The tone? A promise broken? What can I learn from this situation? Writing out what occurred, asking a trusted other to listen to the situation can help you gain the clarity for an appropriate response.
Then, be bold. Choose to let your reaction go, on purpose. Request a conversation with the ranter. Listen. Mind your word-out-of-mouth ratio. Notice what house you’re living in.