Our next communication challenge is about controlling destructive emotions. I’ve created a simple little strategy for this. Name it! (recognize that you are in a situation that might push your hot buttons), Reframe it! (see yourself as a listener, learner, game player, or as a detached observer to detach yourself from a potentially emotionally taxing situation), and Tame it! (keep your emotions under control by buying time, paraphrasing what you’ve heard, avoiding vicious cycles like “what happened conversations”, making sure the conversation feels equal, and avoiding making assumptions.
When I posted this challenge, I was careful to suggest that we could tackle either experiences in real time or look back to events from the distant past, just in case our emotions don’t get stirred up in the next two weeks. My thinking was that events that stir up our emotions would be pretty rare. In fact, I expected that I would have to go back to ancient history to find an event to talk about.
Well I was wrong, wrong, 3 times wrong. We are only a few days into the challenge, and what I have learned already is that I let my emotions push me around way too much.
Here is what I have experienced. Driving through a city recently, I found that my lane and the lane beside mine were kind of merging together (although there was no indication on the road). Beside me there was a fellow driving a pick-up truck. He made it clear that he thought I was merging into his lane, and he wasn’t happy. Indeed, he gunned his F-150, and communicated his message non-verbally and quite simply (it only took one finger).
We have driving experiences like this frequently, and I’ll never see the guy again, but what I noticed was how much it bugged me. That simple incident, with a fellow I’ll never see again, hung over me for several hours, like a black cloud. I knew I shouldn’t let it bug me, but it did.
Second event: Sitting at my desk, writing, my phone at KU rings, and on the line is a telemarketer. I try to listen patiently, but she continues, (she also called me Joe) and since I knew I wasn’t interested in what she was offering, I politely explained that I wasn’t interested. She said OK in friendly way, but then before hanging up, for the benefit of her co-workers, she swore under her breath at me, and hung up the phone. Again, that little interaction with a complete stranger infected my day, like a nasty disease, and I felt down a notch despite my best attempts to put these events behind me. It still bugs me as I write this, actually.
What I am learning is that our interactions with others (even complete strangers) have a big impact on our emotional well-being. A complete stranger can move the needle back a lot, and random acts of kindness, I suppose, can move it forward. Somehow, though, the negative experiences seem a lot more potent than the positive.
Third event: I was in a meeting about a project, and it looked like someone on the team wanted to change our project’s direction. I started to get emotionally messed up (OK a little angry) inside thinking that the person was just making the recommendation without considering the data and the considerable work I had put into making the plan. Then I remembered our communication challenge, and it really helped.
I realized that I was just making assumptions, and I was getting all stirred up with no real idea about what my colleague was thinking. I reframed the situation so that I saw myself as a learner and shifted to asking questions. My whole experience of the meeting changed. Not only did I save myself from being rude, but I learned a lot (and I am continuing to learn).
I recognize now that much of what upsets me may have nothing to do with reality. My big take away so far is that I need to stop getting worked up about assumptions. By being the learner, by asking questions instead of assuming, I can get a lot more out of my interactions, and I can decrease the likelihood that I’ll act like a jerk.
So all in all, destructive emotions push me around a lot more than I realized, and the benefits of controlling those emotions are huge. What are you learning? Are your experiences similar or different? We’d all love to hear your stories.