Exaggerated reactions and what they mean to you as a leader.

We all operate on information, we make decisions based on information that we have or that we gather. We react to things, comments, and situations based on what we believe we know in that moment. We often, and I suspect by nature, disregard what other contributing factors may be influencing what we are seeing, or experiencing.

Let me make that clearer. I think sometimes, we assume that we have all the information we need when we are making a decision about something or someone.  Like the phrase goes – walk a mile in his/her shoes – as a way to expand our empathy and gain a better understanding of where someone has been or what they are going through before we judge them. In other words, consider that we may not have all the information.
Maybe sometimes we don’t care if we have all the information, maybe sometimes we want to be angry or critical or uninterested. Maybe sometimes we need to vent, let it out, and don’t care that the shrapnel may hurt those around us, maybe sometimes we have so much junk in our brains that the only way out – is out – in a stream of words, animated hand gestures and possible stomping feet. 

As a leader, whether on a project or in everyday operations of a company, consider that your team is acting on a variety of things simultaneously and that is a form of multi-tasking. Most people start their work day in a routine – alarm sounds, wake up, get up, shower, eat, make lunch, drive to work, begin your work day. That or some variation of it is what we form to reduce stress and help us get to work on time. The things we potentially do not consider everyday are the other items we are coming to the office carrying; marriage issues, child rearing issues, money issues, family issues, illness issues, schedule issues, tiredness issues and the list goes on.

I see it in my own life and I hear about it in my professional life. People overreacting to situations and making mountains out of molehills. I believe we are doing that because we all have compound fractures. So what is a compound fracture?

Take for example a person who worked in a remote location away from the main company to which she was employed; she had always been a very solid employee – great work ethic, great work product, low sick time, high level of commitment to the company, pleasure to deal with, and then, suddenly, or maybe not so suddenly; became argumentative, unresponsive – not returning correspondence or phone calls, missing deadlines etc. Management was bewildered, they couldn’t understand the sudden change so they did what most of us would do; had hard conversations, discussed consequences, reiterated expectations, all in an attempt to get her back on track, all to no avail. Why wasn’t their approach working? What happened?

A partner decided to travel to see this employee hoping to gain a better understanding of what had fractured her commitment to their company. There was a bit of a chill at the commencement of the visit, but he soon got to the bottom of what started the cluster of dissatisfaction that led to her insubordination – her chair. Yes that is right, her office chair. She had experienced some trauma and subsequent injury to her lower back, which prompted a request for a new chair, several times, because no one had responded, no one had actioned the request, approved the request or even go so far as to ask her about her injury. Nothing was done and no one had cared. And there was the heart of the issue, she felt her commitment and care for the company was not reciprocated, that all her efforts had gone unnoticed or didn’t matter because they couldn’t even bother to buy her a proper chair so she didn’t have to work in pain. And that lack of care began the cluster of moments and frustrations, which created her fracture.

The fix was easy, a new chair ordered. The ripple effect from the compound fracture was less easily fixed, but both parties agreed to work harder at hearing each other and not making things mean something, they perhaps, don’t mean.

The next time you see someone lose their cool in a situation that appears inconsequential ask yourself, what has gone on to precipitate such an exaggerated reaction? What is the real issue? Do I have all the information I need to make a decision on how best to proceed? What does this person need that we have not provided, what have they said that we have not heard, what have they done that we have not noticed?
The reality is that sometimes people are out of control, multi-tasking so many emotions, leaving little room for reason or rationality. Sometime people just need a break or a nice word, or some help. Sometimes, as leaders, we are the ones to make the drive to see our person who is acting so obviously out of character. Sometimes as leaders, we are the ones who have to remain calm, single-minded emotional masters while we help the rest of our team grow empathy and learn to circle around each other when we fall down, not walk away.

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently. – Warren Buffett
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