Our cave-dwelling ancestor past is still with us today. Rather than sabre-tooth tigers though, we are reacting to anyone who argues with us or seeks to deny us what we want. The chemical cocktail in our bodies ignites passion, anger, mouth-before-brain outbursts, cursing, putdowns, sharp rebukes and killer comebacks.
Fleet of foot, our reactions once saved us from being lunch for predators, but today that same nifty speed can get us into trouble with those around us.
Common sense is not common. Crystal-clear communication goes unheard. The obvious is not obvious. There are no shortages of things in our world that can set off a chemical chain reaction in us—which we can come to regret.
The six-step devastation cycle plays out like this: event, interpretation, emotional response, physical response, attitudinal response and effect.
Event triggers could be mistakes; the result of stupidity; something that was said, overheard or reported; interactions with others; or a business crisis.
Our speed is astounding. We react in a nanosecond but we regret at leisure. Once the chemicals kick in, we are off. So, to maintain control we need to stop the chain reaction before it ignites.
You normally imagine that leaders are in their positions because they can be in control and, therefore, trusted. Someone who can’t control their emotions isn’t usually someone we want running anything, let alone big corporations worth very large sums.
I was amazed to see one of the captains of industry being hostage to his chemicals. His curriculum vitae was perfect, a prince of the first water. Yet he would explode with instant white-hot rage when he didn’t get the results he wanted and would viciously tear strips off the offending patsy.
We learnt to sit to his right or left at the end of the long meeting-room table, where it was hard to be seen. We observed that the innocent who sat opposite him got it between the eyes, every time.
I am sure we all have our war stories of demented leaders who couldn’t control their emotions. Maybe sometimes, in extremis, we have joined them ourselves.
How do we keep the chemicals in check when we are tormented by people who don’t do what they are supposed to do or when they are supposed to do it?
Five key steps
1. Recognise the response as chemically fuelled anger. When we know we have set off a chain reaction and the chemicals in the body have kicked in, we better understand that we have to take action to seize control back from the chemicals.
2. Suspend judgment, because we may not have enough facts yet. We may have been told a version of the events and there may be certain circumstances that would change our view. Before exploding, seek more data and insight—this will help us cool down a bit.
3. Don’t attack the other person. None of us are perfect, so keep that in mind before we set forth with a tirade about their shortcomings. Remember that every person we meet is carrying a heavy personal load—which we don’t know about. Who are we to assume we could do any better in their circumstances?
4. Before we launch forth, inject a pause, followed by a cushion. A cushion is a short sentence that acts as a chemical breaker to allow us to regain control. We might say something neutral such as, “Well this issue is an important one”. We neither agree nor disagree when using this statement, but we buy valuable time to remember to ask more about the background of the problem, rather than immediately verbally lacerating our interlocutor.
5. Walk away. If you feel uncontrollable molten lava about to start erupting out of your mouth, just say “excuse me” and add some physical and temporal distance to enhance your perspective on the lava trigger.
As ancient wisdom says, when faced with a killer issue, how we react is the real problem we need to solve.
You’re the boss
It is quite interesting that our clients come from just about every industry you can imagine, but we have noticed some common requests for improving team performance.
The four most popular areas are leadership, communications, sales and presentations. Although we started in New York in 1912, in Japan we deliver 90% of our training in Japanese. Also, having launched in Tokyo 53 years ago, we have been able to master how to bring global best practices, together with the required degree of localisation.
You’re the boss. Are you fully satisfied with your current results? If not, and you would like to see higher skill and performance levels in your organisation (through training delivered in Japanese or English), drop us a brief note at email@example.com.