Life in general, and the workplace in particular, seem designed some days to test our ability to deal with frustration--our own, and that of others.
It takes awareness and skill to behave well—rather than react—when facing a frustrating/angering person or situation. Since there’s no shortage of these, it’s well worth it for a leader to develop strong mental muscles for handling them.
When someone or something has you triggered, you actually have a choice about what’s next: to react or respond? With the exception of actual life-and-death situations, responding is simply better than reacting. What’s the difference? How does it work? Let’s consider them both:
REACTING IS A MAGNETIC PULL TO TAKE ONE BAD STEP: When something sets you off the desire to react is a strong impulse that can feel like a giant magnet. Before you know it, you may be picking up the phone, sending a nastygram, calling a meeting, or posting something you may later wish you hadn’t done. In the moment, your alarm system wires fired off, and rather than resist, you complied. You lost track of yourself and any greater good just long enough to react.
RESPONDING IS FIVE BETTER STEPS THAT TAKE PRACTICE: Burn this into your brain: a sudden, negative state can fire your wires and cause an unwanted reaction. That’s the new muscle to develop— catch it in real time and resist the "reaction magnet" for just a second. That's all you need to make a better choice for what comes next:
- NOTICE you are upset, and that you’re going to be tempted to react;
- PAUSE before taking any action;
- FEEL the spike in your feelings;
- WAIT until the spike passes through you; then,
- RESPOND to the situation when you feel more poised. Whether a minute, an hour, a day, or a week, your response is better grounded in your best thinking and feelings: “What do I know in my heart of hearts about this?” / “What’s needed here? What’s best for all involved?” Those questions--powerful and pragmatic--simply can't occur to you when your in the full pull of the reaction magnet. They will guide you to be at your best.
Remember that no matter how strongly you may feel about something, you always have a conscious choice. The five steps to responding, rather than reacting, can make a stronger, more fulfilled leader, and cut down on the wear and tear for all involved.