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Choosing Your Response (and Speed) (5 min read)

A few weeks ago I attended the Driver Awareness Course. I exceeded the speed limit by 6mph and was offered the course in place of a fixed penalty.

There were 20 of us on the course, with varied backgrounds, driving experience and offences ranging from speeding to traffic light infringements to inappropriate use of a SatNav (don’t ask…). Two gentlemen on my course have been driving for over 60 years. One of them, Pat, has never completed a driving test – Pat had learned to drive in WWII and then taught others to fly fighter planes: “This is the first time I have been caught speeding on the road. Just as well there is no Skyway Code and cameras hiding behind clouds!”.

In the “Attitudes” presentation, we talked about how thoughts and emotions affect our driving. How often do we drive while feeling rushed or upset or angry? What effect does our state of mind have on our judgment, behaviour and attitude towards other road users? Unsurprisingly, we all agreed that it is harder to be considerate and fully focused when our heads are full of negative thoughts and emotions. Similarly, commuting to work along the same route every day, it is easy to switch off to auto pilot and contemplate the looming deadline at work, last night’s argument with your partner or the mounting list of admin. Turning driving time into thinking and worrying time is not great for awareness and reaction time.

Since the course, I have been thinking (while not driving) about how our emotions affect our working lives. The answer very much depends on how you manage your thoughts and emotions. It is helpful to recognise that between the external stimulus (such as negative feedback from your boss: “Your last presentation was not as thorough as usual”) and your reaction there is a SPACE. This space is when you get to choose your response. First, your internal response (disbelief, anger, resentment), then your external response (a sharp retort, that you might well regret later). The key is to give yourself enough headspace to decide on a response that is effective, appropriate and advantageous to you in a given situation. Bearing in mind that sometimes the best response is no response.

How do you create that helpful headspace? Here are 12 ideas – both for in the moment and for longer term action:

  1. Pause. Do you have to respond straight away? Does your boss have a point or is the comment unwarranted?
  1. Clarify instead of mindreading. Rather than jumping to your own conclusions about what was intended by the comment, ask your boss for an explanation or even for evidence to back up his statement: “What specifically did you find less thorough?”. You are gathering information that might help you understand, so listen carefully to the answer and suspend judgement. Stay calm and collected.
  1. Generate time out. Even 5 minutes after the heat of the moment will give you a different perspective and help you to come up with a considered response.
  1. Create physical space. Go for a walk outside or leave your office floor. Simply leaving the conflict environment will help.
  1. Distract your mind. Make a cup of tea or check your emails for a few minutes.
  1. Reframe. What else could he have meant by this comment? What are his intentions for saying this to me? What upsides are there? How can I learn from this? One positive is that the boss thinks that usually your presentations are thorough – so there is a hidden compliment in the feedback.
  1. Put the situation into a wider perspective. How important is this in the bigger scheme of your work life? How much will it matter in a month? This is a good time to constrain the comment – put a fence around it. The comment is an opinion of one person about a specific presentation at work. It is not a comment on your general ability at work or on your worth as a human being. Try not to over-personalise the situation or victimise yourself, as this will make you weaker.
  1. See the situation from a different angle. What does the situation look or feel like from your boss’s perspective? How would your colleague react to a similar comment? What else is happening in your organisation that might shed light on the comment? For example, is your boss stressed about the falling profits and so expects extra commitment from his team.
  1. Apply your logical brain to the issue. Consciously shift your focus from the emotional indignation to the cold facts and details of the matter. What response will be most effective in the light of your work goals? In a mind management book “The Chimp Paradox”, Prof Steve Peters distinguishes between the emotional responses of the Chimp (limbic brain) and the logical responses of the Human (frontal brain). He advises that the key is not to wrestle with the Chimp but to understand how it thinks and behaves, to be able to manage its (ultimately your) actions and responses.
  1. Do regular mind training. Mindfulness and mediation techniques have been shown to help with mind and stress management. Seeing emotions and thoughts as separate from you helps you to disengage. A helpful visualisation is to imagine that you are watching a busy road from the side verge, the various passing vehicles are your thoughts – they come and go.
  1. Center yourself. Centering is a visualisation technique originating from the Aikido martial art. In simple terms, the idea is to redirect negative energy from your emotions into positive energy to help you achieve your goal. A bit like using the energy of the tennis ball coming towards you to hit it back to your opponent. There are 3 stages: (i) Focus on your breathing (ii) Find your centre, and (iii) Redirect your energy. The technique works best with regular practice and mind management.
  1. Behave as you want to feel. Scientists have shown that we can influence our emotions and thoughts through our behaviour – so a simple act of smiling can help us to feel more positive in a challenging situation.

These techniques can also be applied at home or in the car. I found that simply smiling at a driver who has just cut you up and expects you to go into chimp mode is curiously effective and satisfying. You are in control.

If you would like more information on coaching or mind management please contact Natalia for a free consultation.

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