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 Tweaking CC
- When did you last receive an email message with a "tweaking CC"? Probably yesterday. A tweaking
CC is usually a CC to your boss or possibly the entire known universe, designed to create pressure by
exposing embarrassing information.
- Avoid Typing Under the Influence
- When we communicate, we can't control how other people interpret our communications. Accidental offense
is inevitable, and email is especially likely to produce examples of this problem. What can we do as
members of electronic communities when trouble erupts?
- September Eleventh
- Because of the events of September Eleventh, and out of respect for the dead and bereaved, Point Lookout
didn't appear this week. I hope we can all find a way through our pain to a place of peace and respect
for all. Please take the time that you would have spent reading Point Lookout and use it to move us
all a little closer to that goal.
- When You Need a Lift
- When we depend on praise, positive support or consumption to feel good, we're giving other people or
things power over us. Finding within ourselves whatever we need to feel good about ourselves is one
path to autonomy and freedom.
- Hurtful Clichés: II
- Much of our day-to-day conversation consists of harmless clichés: "How goes it?" or
"Nice to meet you." Some other clichés aren't harmless, but they're so common that
we use them without thinking. Here's Part II of a series exploring some of these clichés.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 27: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: I
- In meetings we sometimes feel the need to interrupt others to offer a view or information, or to suggest adjusting the process. But such interruptions carry risk of offense. How can we interrupt others safely? Available here and by RSS on June 27.
- And on July 4: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: II
- When we feel the need to interrupt someone who's speaking in a meeting, to offer a view or information, we would do well to consider (and mitigate) the risk of giving offense. Here are some techniques for interrupting the speaker in situations not addressed by the meeting's formal process. Available here and by RSS on July 4.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenKFURWMvMoeVpPaavner@ChacsjAtGwOmTMWZglEboCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
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- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
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- The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald
Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen
had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished.
As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important
lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product
development. Read more about this program. Here's
a date for this program:
- Ohio National Insurance, 1 Financial Way, Blue Ash, OH: July
Monthly Meeting, Cincinnati
chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis. Register now.
- Ohio National Insurance, 1 Financial Way, Blue Ash, OH: July 17, Monthly Meeting, Cincinnati chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis. Register now.
- 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.