"You're making me sad," my son said accusingly last night as I refused
him a cookie before dinnertime. With a three-year-old, it's easy to see
that I had no intent to upset him, nor could I actually make him sad.
And yet, in the workplace we often encounter similar situations –
intents are misinterpreted and people get into a funk.
two lessons in here for each of us:
1. It's not about you
– too often we interpret commercial decisions from a personal
perspective. We project our own rationale on the reasons for a decision,
and believe that the ramifications for us were intended. For instance,
Jake didn't get a cookie and that must be because I don't want to give him
what he wants. In the workplace, decisions are rarely made which
deliberately cause harm or discomfort. Sometimes the implications simply
weren't envisaged or there was a greater good in taking a particular
course of action. We all get our toes trodden on sometimes – it's seldom
deliberate. When this happens to you, take a moment to get past your
emotional reaction and to put yourself in the decision-maker's shoes.
Why might they have done this? Is it possible there is something at play
you are not aware of? "Seek first to understand, then be understood,"
as Covey would say.
2. No-one can
make you feel happy or sad – or anything in between. Only you have
control over your emotions. That's right, you can select them, just like
you might select a gear in a car. It's not easy mind you. In fact, some
situations are so emotionally charged it's very difficult to exercise
this control. With practice though you can choose the right emotional
state to deal with a situation. For instance, some people get into a
decline when the weather is bad. This is odd since they have no control
over the weather and it really doesn't mean it. So instead of bringing
your own personal raincloud into the office, you could opt to be
cheerful. You could decide not to let the weather dictate what kind of
day you want to have. At the other end of the spectrum, psychiatrist and
Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl calls this the last of human
freedoms – "Between stimulus and response there is a
space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our
response lies our growth and our freedom."
I guess a third lesson
might be that to keep a child happy, you just need a large supply of
cookies. But that's probably not a great solution.