Overcoming a tsunami of negativity

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I was talking with a friend yesterday, when she asked me if it was OK to vent about a work situation. I said sure, and she began…
“I was assigned a project a while back that I have been working on. I emailed the requested items to my boss and her boss, and we had a call about them today. They both tore into me with everything that was NOT in the reports I provided. I could feel my heart pounding and my head throbbing, and I felt AWFUL. They continued until I said, “Wait, I need to collect myself. I am getting upset.” My bosses’ boss says, “Don’t get upset”. DON’T GET UPSET! You are making me feel like an idiot and I am completely over the top frustrated and you tell me NOT TO GET UPSET? The call continued for about another hour, somewhat OK and somewhat tortuous. After the call was over I was completely drained. Can you believe that?”
I could. You know why? It didn’t happen to my friend, it happened to me. I was in a situation where my body was sending every warning signal that it was going to explode and I SO wanted to engage in a shouting match with them and talk over them and MAKE them see I was right. But I didn’t. I told them how I was feeling. I asked for a moment. I took a breath. I asked if I could explain my documents. They allowed it, and things progressed better after that. How did I not get caught up in that tsunami of negativity? I practiced.
Through my coaching I learned my triggers, learned to listen to my body, studied my coping mechanisms and practiced employing them. I learned to only talk about me and my feelings, because you can’t argue with someone about how they FEEL. You can tell them NOT to feel that way (like what happened to me), but I still got my message across. It sort of played out like this:
1. Perceived verbal assault (they were telling everything was wrong!)
2. Body giving signals of severe anxiety (heart pounding, palms sweaty, head spinning)
3. Shut it down by saying how I feel (I am upset. I need a moment)
4. Ask for help (allow me to explain the documents)
Expressing my feelings made THEM pause, even for a second, and although the immediate response was somewhat undesirable, there was a subtle shift in the air. Even over the phone I could feel it. Things settled down a bit and there was more question asking than accusations. More time for me to express my opinion. It was really quite magical.
So what would have happened if I went into attack mode? Nothing. As in nothing would have been resolved. It would have turned into a non-productive shouting match with everyone getting worked up and out of sorts, and no valuable discussions being had or decisions being made. I have worked hard on this project and I want to see it move forward to fruition. That would not have been possible if I rode the tsunami of negativity with them.
After catching my breath when I hung up the phone, I asked myself what my boss and her boss was experiencing that may have caused their initial reaction to my report. They are under a lot of stress to get this project done RIGHT, on time, with minimal impact to our clients. There are a lot of facets and systems involved and every outcome must be examined and addressed. I am relatively new to the firm and its culture, so they still may have some hesitation about including me on something so big. There could be a bunch of reasons, but noticed I didn’t say anything like, they hate me, they think I’m stupid, etc. I looked at it from their vantage point, which removes the personal aspect of it. It wasn’t ME they were shouting at, I was just the recipient. Unfortunate, but manageable. Which takes me to my next point.
It is my goal for us to COLLABORATE. We need to work together if we are going to make this happen. To mean that means my documents are drafts and we all contribute to adding and subtracting. We remind each other of things we may have forgot to consider, we ask questions, we DISCUSS. We are in it together and the success of the project will depend on how well we collaborate. Do I make an announcement that we will now start collaborating and it immediately starts? Nope. It won’t be easy, but I believe this situation has brought me new teachers. Through this process I will grow and learn, and I am betting they will too.
A rough call for sure, but I am proud of myself for how I managed it, how I employed empathy to make it not personal, and how grateful I am to have new teachers in my life. The destruction of the tsunami has been averted, and we all survived.
“There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.”
–Malcolm X

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