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:
- Stay in Your Own Hula Hoop
- Do you tend to commit to too many tasks? Are you one who spends too much energy meeting the needs of
others — so much that your own needs go unmet? Here's how a hula-hoop can help.
- Blind Agendas
- Effective meetings have agendas. But even if a meeting has an agenda, the hidden agendas of participants
can cause trouble. Another source of trouble, less frequently recognized, is the blind agenda.
- Sixteen Overload Haiku
- Most of us have some experience of being overloaded and overworked. Many of us have forgotten what it
is not to be overloaded. Here's a contemplation of the state of overload.
- Not Really Part of the Team: I
- Some team members hang back. They show little initiative and have little social contact with other team
members. How does this come about?
- Toxic Conflict in Teams: Attacks
- In toxic conflict, people try to resolve their differences by eliminating each other's ability to provide
opposition. In the early stages of toxic conflict, the attacks often escape notice. Here's a catalog
of covert attack tactics.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
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- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
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- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
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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.