Now Don’t Get Mad

angry-2766265_640Many years ago, I worked with a guy named Gene. A genuine, likable man, Gene had been the warehouse manager at a Chicago-based business where I ran purchasing, customer service, and marketing (it was a smaller company at the time). Our job roles were such that we were each constantly orchestrating projects and processes that affected the other.

Over the course of fourteen years, Gene and I came to know each other very well and we got along famously, yet it was inevitable that from time to time, one of us would do something that displeased the other, to put it mildly. Between the two of us, Gene was much more even-tempered. He was older and more experienced than me, plus he had survived a bleeding ulcer that nearly killed him. As such, he had learned to keep a more even keel, no matter what happened in the course of our day-to-day business dealings.

Back then, and for decades that followed, I was not nearly so even-keeled. Whenever I got angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed, it showed. It showed at once. You would see it in my eyes, a silent flare of intense, negative energy. For whatever reason, I continued to let things get to me and in no time at all, I was the one munching antacids like candy. Gene picked up on this and in his own simple-yet-subtle way, helped me avoid earning an ulcer of my own. How?

After a while, without explaining why he was doing so, Gene would use a code phrase to alert me that I was about to receive potentially upsetting news. Before delivering the blow, so to speak, he would look me in the eye, smile gently and say, “Now don’t get mad.” When he first began using this phrase, I would indeed get mad but after a while, I became conditioned to steel myself for whatever came out of his mouth next. Simple, right? But it worked.

portrait-4573464_640To become frustrated, angry, upset, whatever, is an emotional response to some sort of stimulus. Whether that stimulus takes the form of an external event that actually happened or something that was merely imagined is quite immaterial. In either case, the stimulus is very real. And a negative response, especially one left unchecked, is rarely if ever a good thing for anyone involved.

Case in point, I have spent decades letting my emotional response be my first response in environments where individuals looked to me for leadership, support, and guidance. Bad idea. In doing so, I let them down every time. Mind you, I did no favors for myself, either. In letting my emotions get the best of me time and time again, I sabotaged my own career and probably derailed the career paths of a few others in the process.

IMG_7074It’s not only about business, either. I can recall another instance when, following an abrupt breakup with a person very near and dear to me, I woke up the next morning so emotionally distraught that I repeatedly (and quite painfully) sliced into my face while shaving, as the result of my inability to control my own shaking hands. Let those words sink in: my inability to control. To be controlled by one’s emotional state instead of the other way around, that’s such a bad place for anybody to be. To whose advantage my rage? I’ll tell you: nobody! Nobody at all.

Emotional responses, positive or negative, come from within. They have nothing to do with whatever happens — actual or perceived — out there. Good days, bad days, nice people, mean people, good fortune, misfortune, sunshine, rainstorms… stimulus. It’s all bullshit. Only you can determine your response. And your response is everything because that more than anything determines your results.

guy-2617866_640I’ve learned a little trick, if you’re interested, a four-step method to crafting a more structured response to whatever stimulus may hit you. I developed this with the help of two valued mentors and several published sources. It’s simple, yet effective. Check it out. Whenever you sense something causing you to lose your cool…

  1. Stop — Slam on the brakes. Call a time out. Do whatever you have to do in order to prevent any reaction at all, if only for the moment.
  2. Analyze — What has actually happened? Gather any real facts you have and weigh whatever options you can identify.
  3. Choose — Out of all the responses you have available to you, which is the best choice? Act on it.
  4. Close — After you have resolved whatever the problem was, then decide how you feel about it. By then, much if not all of that initial flare of emotions will have passed. And since the issue has already been acted upon, the world has already moved on. So should you.

Will this work every time? Unlikely. But with practice, we all learn. We can all get better.

Hey, have you stuck with me through this entire post? I’m grateful. Thank you for hanging with me.

Emotional Stimulus and Response

 

IMG_7056

I was sitting in a managers’ meeting at work a few weeks ago when the facilitator posed this question to each of us: “Are you more about facts or emotions?” He then proceeded to go around the table, which was essentially populated by the leadership team of the company for which I work, extracting an answer from each of us without passing judgment one way or the other. The responses were mixed, which made it very easy to be open and honest when my turn came. Without hesitating, I said, “I’m a walking, talking bag of emotions.” I couldn’t have fibbed if I wanted to, since the facilitator also happened to be my mentor. After everyone had answered the question, I seized an opportunity to return the question. “What about you,” I asked our leader.

“I’m a very emotional person,” he admitted, “but I make my decisons based on facts and I don’t allow my emotions to control me.” My mentor’s response caused my perception of the man to shift somewhat. Oh, I knew he was all about facts and I knew him to be a genuinely happy person, but if this guy was “very emotional,” he was so in a way that was very different from me. When I think “very emotional,” I think in terms of swings and this man is not given to emotional swings. This was a learning moment for me, one of three that would unfold in the space of a week’s time.

man-1465525_640

My second learning moment came during a much smaller meeting when my mentor revealed to me something that should have been obvious — it had been right in front of my face for decades — but hadn’t been obvious until then. For many years now, at various companies, co-workers have looked to me for help, guidance, or outright direction even if they did not answer to me. The late Dr. Stephen Covey referred to this quality of leadership as “moral authority,” which differs from formal authority in that the latter invokes authority by title. And here is the second learning moment that my mentor handed me: Because people look to me in this manner, when I display adverse emotions, I profoundly affect others. As God is my witness, this had never occurred to me.

IMG_7169

Now let me back up and explain why this matters so much. Because I have never seen the potential harm it can and does cause, I have never been one to contain my initial emotions. Keyword: initial. For example, let’s say I have been working for several hours on a time-sensitive project that is nearing deadline. There is a substantial queue of equally time-sensitive projects right behind that one. At that moment, someone approaches me with three more such projects, each of which appears to disrupt the current priority and order of events.

My initial emotional reaction is to flare, to outwardly exhibit my displeasure. Without using words, the look in my eyes says, “Are you serious?! What is this, some sort of test?!” Moments later, the emotional flare has passed. I’ve already processed all the facts and revised the order of my business in order to make sure all the deadlines will be met, an accomplishment for which I am revered in consistently achieving.

car-1967698_640

No harm done. Right? Wrong! Sure, I’m moving along my merry way again, not even giving that emotional flareup a second thought. But those who look to me for guidance and direction saw their leader falter — and that is the problem. People may feed on that, especially those close to me or who look up to me. Whatever they see, be it fear, anger, resentment, whatever, I just set the tone for the rest of their day, if not longer. What if I caused them to begin withholding vital information about new projects? What if I caused someone to stop coming to me for much-needed help? The results could be devastating for that individual, the department, even the company. Such is the far-reaching impact of my response, however short-lived it may be. Wow. How many casualties had I left in my wake? I silently vowed to myself, “No more!”

forest-4099730_640

My third learning moment came during a one-on-one session with my mentor. We had been talking about events — those things over which we have no control — and our responses, which are the things we can and should control. I don’t recall the specifics, but at some point I opined, “You aren’t afraid of anything. I wish I could be more like that.”

His next words stopped me in my tracks. “What do you mean? I’m afraid. I’m petrified.” I looked at my mentor, dumfounded. How could this be? The man sitting in front of me was a virtual Rock of Gibraltar. Nothing ever phases him. Nothing. In the midst of a challenge, he smiles. Even laughs. Scared? Petrified? What’s the secret, I wondered.

“I simply don’t let my fears stop me from pursuing my results. I contain my emotions. I control them. They don’t control me.”

IMG_6211

And there it was, my path to a better outcome, presented in three realizations.

  1. I can be emotional without being a slave to my emotions. My choice.
  2. Understanding that emotions are contagious and that I am a carrier, I can spread joy and gratitude just as effectively as I can spread despair and frustration. My choice.
  3. I can be scared as all hell and still move forward if I understand what I am moving toward and why — and others will follow me. Again, my choice.

IMG_5507

You know, it’s pretty cool to be at this stage of my life and my career and to realize that I am still learning, still growing both personally and professionally. I am a work in progress, absolutely not perfect, and that’s okay. I am always learning, always growing.

Sometimes putting my thoughts into words helps me to understand them better so if you’re still reading, thanks for hanging with me.