Julie was now halfway through her coffee, and she suspected everyone else was, too. She looked over at James. He was just staring down into his cup. She looked across at Bugs, and their eyes met. They both realized that somebody had to say something, and she knew it would be best coming from Bugs. Apparently he did too.
He said to James, "It won't get better by itself, you know."
James looked up. "What won't?" he asked.
"You know…" said Bugs, "how Warren treats you. You have to say something to somebody."
"I know, I know." James sat up straight. "I have to get back." He stood. "See ya," he said, and left.
"I give up," said Julie. "I've tried everything. Four times."
Bugs understood. "Yeah," he said. "He'll do something when he does something. I'm just not sure I'd deal with it any differently."
Have you ever wanted to tell someone about a simmering problem, and dreaded it? Sometimes we get stuck. Time goes by, and we don't act. We don't seek advice; we reject what advice we get.
The stress of the task
can be so great that
we can't even think about itIt isn't always procrastination. The stress of the task can be so great that we can't even think. Our brains shut down.
That's a tough spot to be in, because when you have to address the really difficult problems, you're almost sure to need your brain. What can you do to get calm enough to engage your brain?
Begin by noticing the warning signs of shutdown. Here are some indicators of brain shutdown as you think about the problem you dread:
- You suddenly feel very warm or cold
- Your palms are suddenly dry or suddenly moist
- Your muscles have tightened or maybe you've gone limp
- Your heart rate is elevated
- You feel either hungry or nauseous or both
- You suddenly want to get up and walk around, or take a nap
- You want to talk to almost anyone who'll listen, about anything but this; or you just want to be left alone
These indicators are scary in themselves, but with practice, they become familiar, and control returns. To practice:
- Choose a safe and comfortable place
- Tell yourself that you can stop at any time
- Imagine having the difficult conversation
Once you've practiced several times, it will begin to get easier. Then make it more realistic by talking (out loud) to a stick figure stand-in, then maybe a Gumby or a teddy bear. Finally ask a buddy to play your partner's role, first mute, and finally as a role-play.
It might take many practice runs, but you'll gradually notice that you feel more comfortable, and that your brain is engaged. When that happens, you can think about how to act. Your brain is back. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Emotions at Work:
- Reverse Micromanagement
- Micromanagement is too familiar to too many of us. Less familiar is inappropriate interference in the
reverse direction — in the work of our supervisors or even higher in the chain. Disciplinary action
isn't always helpful, especially when some of the causes of reverse micromanagement are organizational.
- On Virtual Relationships
- Whether or not you work as part of a virtual team, you probably work with some people you rarely meet
face-to-face. And there are some people you've never met, and probably never will. What does it take
to maintain good working relationships with people you rarely meet?
- How to Avoid a Layoff: Your Relationships
- In troubled economic times, layoffs loom almost everywhere. Here are some tips for reconfiguring your
relationships with others at work and at home to reduce the chances that you will be laid off.
- What Enough to Do Is Like
- Most of us have had way too much to do for so long that "too much to do" has become the new
normal. We've forgotten what "enough to do" feels like. Here are some reminders.
- Managing Hindsight Bias Risk
- Performance appraisal practices and project retrospectives both rely on evaluating performance after
outcomes are known. Unfortunately, a well-known bias — hindsight bias — can limit the effectiveness
of many organizational processes, including both performance appraisal and project retrospectives.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
- And on February 5: Unrecognized Bullying: I
- Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.