Someone or Something Push a Button? Don’t React Right Away!

Almost without exception, when I have felt regret over something I have said or done in the workplace, it is because I reacted quickly in the “heat of the moment” rather than taking time to carefully evaluate the situation and to shift from “feeling” to “thinking.”

Feeling is every bit as important and valid as thinking. In fact, sometimes feeling carries with it the passion or emotion that generates deeper levels of commitment, creativity, loyalty, etc. However, strong feelings can also get us into trouble. Typical work environments tend to value thinking over feeling because thinking is more “objective,” predictable, and measured. Moreover, when we are experiencing strong feelings, we tend to say and do things that we probably wouldn’t say or do in moments of less passion. In fact, the more powerful and visceral our feelings are, the more likely we are to say or do something we later wish we hadn’t. As a result, the more “fired up” you are, the more important it is to wait before acting—before hitting “reply” on an email or making an important operational decision.

So, what precisely can you do to avoid making mistakes in the heat of the moment? The first thing is to give yourself a restriction on how soon you can act. For example, if you get an email in the morning that makes you really mad, tell yourself that you cannot send a response until a specific time in the afternoon or even the next day. You can even begin to write a response but don’t send it! I even remove the recipients email address so I can’t send it by mistake. Revisit the communication a couple of hours later and see how you feel. If you’re still in a highly emotional state, then extend your restriction on responding to an even later time. The same applies to voicemails, instant messages, and even face to face communication, etc.

There have been cases in which I have revisited an email or other communication several times over several days. Sometimes I have decided to send a response that looks very different than it did at first and sometimes I choose not to send it at all. The same goes for making other kinds of decisions. It is generally not a good idea to act on a personnel or budget or procurement decision if you are feeling angry or highly frustrated, etc. Take a deep breath and work on something else until you are in a place where you can make an objective decision. If not, you are likely to wish you could take something back later and that’s not a good place to be!

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