Unwanted behaviours have far-reaching impacts

I have been coaching a manager for some time who has had several challenges with her director.  My wife and I decided to take a Friday night away from the family for a little rest and planning for the New Year. At about 12:30 am my client called to tell me that she had texted her boss and quit her job. I was shocked and somewhat disappointed with her decision. I tried to help her see the upside of all she had been able to accomplish, but her mind was made up. Her experience of unwanted behaviours of her boss was too much to bear.

When I asked her why she had decided to leave she responded with tears in her voice, “For two and a half years I have been yelled at and belittled in front of others. I have zero confidence. Or, I feel like a glass that is totally full and running over. I can’t hold anymore. I just can’t take it any longer.”

Lack of awareness is the culprit

The next day, the boss called a meeting with my client to understand why she had decided to quit. When she shared her feelings at how she had been treated, she was met with highly reactive unwanted behaviours and defensiveness. The boss crossed her arms, turned red, and increased her volume as she said, “I guess I am old school. When I tell someone to do something, I expect them to do it. I realize that I am passionate at times, but I expect people to do as I ask without complaint. You need to man-up and learn to take a little heat during the battle.” Despite all of the director’s pleadings, my client did not feel like she could continue with the company.

Experiences like these are far too common. I often have people that I am coaching ask me for assistance in how to handle an individual that resorts to “hot” emotional outbursts and belittlement when things don’t go as planned. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize when they are even engaging in aggressive and unwanted behaviours. For example, those who are more assertive may not realize how an increase in volume is often interpreted as yelling. Add in a sarcastic or patronizing tone and a few expletives, and you have a recipe for disaster. Whatever you decide to do when you are angry or frustrated, you have to know that yelling at people will not fix the situation, in fact, it could end up creating more resistance and challenges than remedying the current situation.

Eight tips for managing your emotions and feelings

If you are a highly emotional individual, here are some tips to help you manage your own reactions to the unexpected or the unwanted situations that arise:

1. Be more aware

Spend a moment thinking about and reflecting on your behaviour. Ask yourself and answer these questions: “In what situations do I become emotional? With whom do I express my feelings most forcefully? What do people end up doing when I begin to become emotional with them?” Increase your awareness of your own behaviour.

2. Notice your thoughts

Positive thoughts lead to positive actions, whereas negative thoughts usually lead to negative action. Most individuals don’t take the opportunity to notice their thoughts. Remember that thoughts are more easily identified by recognizing the emotion that follows the thinking. For every negative emotion, there is a thought that precedes it. Use your emotions to identify your thoughts.

3. Understand what is driving you

When you can identify with whom you begin to become emotional, you need to uncover the specific thinking that is driving your behaviour. “Hot” emotion in human interaction is the signal of perceived violated value. Because the efforts of others are often a reflection on us or our leadership, it is not uncommon to become frustrated or upset when our expectations are violated. But your emotions are only the tip of the emotional “iceberg.” What is below the surface is some very distinct judgments and opinions about a person or the situation. You can surface your thinking by finishing the sentence, “I am angry because…” as many times as you can. Try writing your statements on paper. Doing this will make visible the thinking that is underneath the emotion. Look to yourself to understand the source of your emotion.

4. Check your thinking accuracy

Once you have a fairly substantial list of statements that support your emotions, you are in a position to validate the accuracy of your thinking. For example, if you made a statement, “I am angry because this person doesn’t know what he is doing!” You might ask yourself, “Is this statement absolutely true?” If you can find one piece of data that serves as evidence that runs contrary to your judgment, you need to realize that further consideration and exploration of the situation or the person’s behaviour are warranted. Look for evidence to support your thinking and don’t believe everything you think.

5. Clarify your expectations

Before you start to go ballistic, you might find it helpful to think about the specificity of your directions. If you did not get what you wanted or expected, it could be because your request was not clear or specific enough. A lack of specificity on your part allows for misinterpretation on the part of your listener. Get clear on what exactly you think.

6. Focus on the process and not the person

Belittling others, particularly in front of others, will not increase results in the long term. You want to understand what process was followed, how the results came about, where things went awry, and what might be done differently in the future. Berating an individual does not help you to identify or fix the problem. Improve the process to change your results.

7. Notice the reactions of others

Because we have difficulty seeing ourselves as we are seen, ofttimes the reactions of others serve as a mirror for us to examine our own behaviour. So if someone is becoming emotional or defensive with you, you would do well to recognize what you are projecting to them and to ask yourself if their behaviour is a reflection of your behaviour in the given situation. Observe others as a reflection of yourself.

8. Check your results

Our results reflect perfectly what we think, feel, say and do when we deal with others. If you are not achieving the desired results, you would do well to reflect on your own behaviour, what you did or didn’t do, that might have contributed to your results. Use your results as a step to understanding yourself.

There is nothing wrong with being passionate or enthusiastic about what you are doing. However, when your emotions are used to berate, belittle, and demean an individual your intent is called into question.  This is when you must confront the fact you allow your feelings to result in unwanted behaviours. The focus of our conversations must be to uplift, encourage, and inspire others while maintaining a sense of respect and dignity for the individual. Yelling and demeaning others are not the keys to achieving results and building relationships.  No amount of justification serves as an excuse for such behaviour.

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John R. Stoker has been immersed in organizational development and change for over 20 years. He is the Founder and President of DialogueWORKS, Inc. In these roles John has worked extensively with a number of companies, helping them increase their capacity to enhance effectiveness and improve results. John is also the author of the popular groundbreaking book Overcoming Fake Talk, which was released in May of 2013.
John has vast experience in designing strategic change and in creating and implementing training curriculum in support of company-wide improvement initiatives. He has worked with numerous organizations as a change management consultant.
DialogueWORKS was founded in 1998 and is headquartered in Springville, Utah, with affiliates throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.