A person I know was telling me about her boss who drives her crazy. She said that he often, in very dramatic fashion, accuses his staff (and her) of making mistakes when, in fact, he’s the one misunderstanding what’s going on and is in the wrong. After giving more than a few examples of his emotional outbursts, my friend then added, “But I’ve learned to overlook a lot of his hot air because I know we’ll figure it out and he’ll be joking around with me later.”
I hear that a lot—about bosses, about spouses, about family, about friends. I think sometimes people don’t know how they’re coming across to others and that the recipients of hair-trigger responses aren’t always comfortable asking someone to simmer down while the pot’s boiling over. In the moment certainly isn’t the best time to point out poor reactions but bringing it up later can feel just as uncomfortable for some because they’re fearful of yet another exaggerated reaction. I’ve written my fair share of articles and blogs about how to bring up tough subjects so for today I think I’ll bypass that approach and instead concentrate on the hothead.
Here goes. We get that things make you mad and irritate you. Self-censoring may not be your strong suit and yet we’d like to request that you wait just a second or two between any inner thoughts you’re experiencing and the reactions you show us. If you could wait and use that time to put those thoughts through some sort of interpretation sieve that would be great. For example, if a friend’s political facebook post raises the roof on your blood pressure, wait just a second before you type in a nasty comeback. Ask yourself how you might make your point without throwing everyone else into a tizzy or causing someone to run for the hills.
Give some thought to your willingness to accept whatever consequence comes your way because of your knee-jerk reactions. If you’re okay with alienating people, then continue to react poorly and try to make up for it later. But, if waiting just a second and repositioning your irritation ends up preserving a relationship or keeps you from spending time explaining yourself, might I suggest waiting just a second before speaking is a good thing to try. Need some examples? How about these:
You notice the day before it’s due that the report you’ve been working on for months doesn’t include key information a coworker was responsible for. You think, “Seriously? Why can’t anything ever go easy around here?!?” You say, “I see that the information I asked for isn’t in here, do you know where it is?”
Your friend complains for the umpteenth time about her lousy boyfriend. You think, “For the love of everything that’s holy, will you break up with that loser once and for all?!?!” You say, “I’ve noticed that you share a lot of negative things about Joe and I’m wondering how long this will go on between the two of you.”
Mom comes over and starts criticizing your kids, house, husband, etc. You think, “Get off my back! You never have anything nice to say to me and you’re life isn’t that great either, you know!!” You say, “Mom, let’s talk about to share your opinions with me in a way that doesn’t make me so defensive.”
Waiting just a second and rethinking how you’ll rephrase an emotional response isn’t easy. I know this from experience. I also know that doing so gets me more of what I want and makes for less mess to clean up later. As the old Life cereal commercials used to say, “Try it…you’ll like it!”
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