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
The article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More
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More articles on Emotions at Work:
- The Fallacy of the False Cause
- Although we sometimes make decisions with incomplete information, we do the best we can, given what
we know. Sometimes, we make wrong decisions not because we have incomplete information, but because
we make mistakes in how we reason about the information we do have.
- Peace's Pieces
- Just as important as keeping the peace with your colleagues is making peace again when it has been broken
by strife. Nations have peace treaties. People make up. Here are some tips for making up.
- Be With the Real
- When the stream of unimportant events and concerns reaches a high enough tempo, we can become so transfixed
that we lose awareness of the real and the important. Here are some suggestions for being with the Real.
- Top 30 Indicators That You Might Be Bored at Work
- Most of the time, when we're bored at work, we know we are. But sometimes, we're bored and we just don't
realize it. Here are some indicators of boredom that might escape some people's notice.
- Not Really Part of the Team: II
- When some team members hang back, declining to show initiative, we tend to overlook the possibility
that their behavior is a response to something happening within or around the team. Too often we hold
responsible the person who's hanging back. What other explanations are possible?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
- Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenTZvBhNwiJpKqpuYEner@ChacoadUYxVEKcXACczPoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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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.