There’s an incident in which I lost it and which still burns in my memory.
I was on a train from London to Edinburgh many years ago in which I decided to do my accounts. My receipts and invoices took over a whole table and to my right there was a large cup of tea. An innocent passenger brushed past my table spilling the tea all over my paperwork and in an instant I combusted!
I shouted at her and the poor woman trembled not knowing what to do, other than to profusely apologise. In my righteousness I remember deliberately withholding an apology to her, wanting her to suffer for what she had the audacity to do to me, and the incident caused me great shame. Of course, it was my own fault that I had put hot tea so close to the edge and yet, in that moment, I was too quick to blame her who was doing what passengers do on trains which is to walk through carriages!
Anger itself is an interesting emotion. Channelled in the right way it alerts us to there being a problem and can fuel us to create positive changes.
The problem is the risk that when we explode, that causes damage to others and ourselves. Emotions are catching, the same as colds. No one wants to work with an unpredictable angry leader, and many a grievance has been taken out against leaders who do, harming their reputation and employability. We prefer to work with leaders who are calm and with whom we feel safe to make our highest contributions, and when we don’t, we leave them to find that leader we can feel safe with.
Self-regulation is therefore a key leadership skill to develop. What we mean by this is the ability when triggered to respond in an appropriate way.
This is not easy to do when our brains do not understand the difference between a genuine threat to survival (the woolly mammoth) and the emotional threats we experience every day in the average office (can I trust her? will my boss take credit again for my work?). The fight or flight part of the brain, the amygdala, is hijacked flooding the pre-frontal context which enables us to properly think. Our response is a dumb rather than an intelligent one.
The key then is to when not in the heat of the moment – and coaching conversations are ideal for this as safe containers where we are free to speak out our fears and vulnerabilities – think through the triggers that are personal to us, where that trigger might be coming from, and to choose new and better responses.
We know for example that what really triggers us is not the person themselves, nor the situation, true as that feels in the moment. The trigger lies in our interpretation of the situation based on past similar experiences which reside deep in the unconscious mind.
By making what has been unconscious conscious and in exploring new ways to see the situation and to act in it, and then by practicing our new path, we can break old habits and experience less stress and more joy and peace in our work.
Take my client Sarah who found herself getting edgy and stressed at her direct report Jonathan’s habitual lateness and her assistant Hema’s failure to call (instead of text) when she was sick. She had interpreted their actions to mean “nobody respects my standards” (because she had asked these two several times to be on time and to call” and “I feel out of control”. We explored what happened when she was triggered which was to tell them off the way a parent might a naughty eight year old, which then disconnected her with her team – and also herself, since she would then chastise herself which pulled her negative mood down further.
So I asked her what her intention was for her team, what she wanted to create instead in these relationships, and she spoke of trust and ease in working together. We then mapped out some alternative thoughts that would support her new intention (which included “my team does respect me – my 360 shows it” and “I could respect my team more”) and some actions and practices which would cement this using our vectors of change tool.
A few months later she reported that not only was communication better between the three of them but that whenever that old “respect my standards” thought came up, she able to notice it, stop it in her tracks and therefore stop other people’s actions robbing her of her sense of respect and control.
What is causing you to lose your head?
Who or what are you blaming, and would you like to regain your peace?
If you are interested in exploring some of these issues for you, why don’t we have a conversation about it? You can schedule a call with us here.