Have you ever received an email or a text message from a boss, co-worker, or even a client that triggered negative, even hostile feelings? Perhaps you interpreted the subtext, the meaning behind the words, of the sender as condescending, for instance. A natural, primal instinct is to respond immediately to this email. Too often, this speedy response contributes to an unnecessary rise in frustration, resentment, or anger, possibly for all parties involved. Sometimes, feelings of regret, embarrassment, and even shame can result soon after the “Send” button is prematurely pressed. In this example, the freeze step has been ignored.
Remember, our spinal cortex can often be incorrect. Humans have vast imaginations which can be used for good as easily as it can be used for destruction. The stories we write in our minds, as convincing as they may be, do not always rely on facts, but rather feelings. Although your feelings are valid, they are not necessarily based on factual reality. Next time you receive such a message, freeze! Allowing yourself time to find facts and rationalize the story you have written in your mind could save you a lot of grief. In other words, do not immediately respond.
Try the following four steps to employ the power of your frontal lobe:
- Step 1: Freeze. Just stop. Pause.
- Step 2: Breathe. Think yoga. Breathe long, slow breaths. Breathing will feed your body with oxygen, a necessary ingredient for thinking with a clear head, and the ability to remain calm.
- Step 3: Walk away. While maintaining your yoga breathing, walk away from your computer. Talk a walk around the block if you are able. Listen to some music. Talk to a friend about something completely unrelated to the troubling message you received. If possible, sleep on it; let it rest for a day. All of this will allow you to ask yourself some reflecting questions such as, what emotion(s) am I feeling? Why exactly am I feeling these emotions? Is my ‘why’ possibly part of the story I have written in my mind? Who could you ask to find more information, more facts about this situation? How can I discover if the sub-text I have perceived to be true in their message is what was intended?
- Step 4: Act. By now you will have probably come to a slightly, if not extremely, different response than the one you wanted to write initially. You can pat yourself on the back, knowing that you took the necessary steps to respond in a way that will help build the relationship, rather than the opposite.