I was running my staff meeting last Monday and it was going fine until we got to “John.”
We went around the table and everybody was prepared with their updates but when it was John’s turn, he was clearly winging it. I was more than a little angry and I really let him have it.
I told him right then and there that he needs to shape up or else. My boss was sitting in for this meeting (which he almost never does) and I wanted my boss to know that I wouldn’t tolerate that sort of sloppy and disrespectful performance.
Afterward, my second in command pulled me aside and told me that I overacted and based on that overreaction, I was the one who ended up looking like the problem.
How is that possible? He wasn’t prepared and I’m running the show!
Sign me Perplexed.
Years ago, I was out to dinner with a group of friends and “Sally” was being very difficult with the waiter.
I was embarrassed by her and I overacted and in a such a big way that it was I who became the problem. I’d like to think it was because I was extremely hungry (or “hangray”) but there was really no excuse.
As the attention shifted to me, the group completely forgot about her behavior and focused only on my behavior. It was a tough and valuable lesson.
Here’s what I know: whenever I am upset and I take the time to figure out why, it is always about my fear. It may not look like that on the surface but if I’m honest with myself, a layer or two underneath, it’s rooted in fear.
In broad terms, I am afraid of losing something I already have or, of not getting something I want.
My friend Anne took this idea one step further and said imagine a two-column grid like the one below where:
- Relationships are personal in nature
- Status is our public image
- Security is about our financial wellbeing
Now when I get upset about something, I look inside and try to figure out which of these six buttons is being pushed. It’s usually more than one.
Seeing what fears are being stirred up and looking at the dynamic with some distance and objectivity helps defuse the charge of an emotional — and fear-driven– reaction.
To apply this thinking to your situation, what buttons do you think the situation with John pushed? And, how did having your boss there influence it?
I would guess at a minimum that John’s lack of preparedness pushed the Status and Security buttons in the Losing column. You reacted strongly because you thought he was making you look bad (Status). This reaction was intensified by your boss being there.
Because your boss was there, I think your Security button also got pushed. It would be easy to have a thought pattern that goes something like this: If my boss doesn’t think I can manage my staff, especially when he’s present, he might think I can’t meet our goals. Maybe I’m not the right guy for the job. I could lose: a promotion, a raise, a bonus, or maybe even my job.
As all change starts with self-awareness, noticing our emotional reactions is a good place to begin. Self-management is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence and a valued competency in the executive suite.
So, take a step back and see what buttons are being pushed.
The challenge is to just notice and let go.