MINDING OUR STORIES WHEN THE HEAT IS ON

One of my favorite training topics is about crucial conversations based on the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Al Switzler, Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, and Ron McMillan. This is because it provides a solid framework from which to navigate potentially energized human situations.  In a perfect world, leaders are 100% rested, engaged and focused.  Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.

When the heat is on, we multi-task (also known as attempting to do multiple things at once with the risk that only a portion of them will turn out right) and we become vulnerable.  Our workplace landscape has shifted in the last 8-10 years.  This is sometimes referred to as the New Normal.

We may triple-book the calendar to the point where it looks incoherent, respond to electronic communication at all hours of the day (or night), and have the hammer so far down we have forgotten when to let it up again.  In this attention-starved condition of sensory overload, is it any wonder that what comes naturally may not be our best?

“Deadlines and commitments…. What to leave in, what to leave out” Bob Seger.

Crucial Conversations defines a “Story” as our default position.  It is a response to the lens through which we view the world around us.  The images we think we see can become energized quickly when we are too

·       Hungry

·       Angry

·       Lonely or

·       Tired (HALT).

I have a colleague who has a son in college in the Midwest.  His phone rings a fair amount with his son asking for an electronic transfer of funds.  Naturally, the request comes with little or no warning and usually at a time when my friend is multi-tasking to the max.

After one of these requests, my colleague stopped what he was doing to fill out and copy forms, IDs, account numbers, addresses and sent it all off as instructed.  Then the bank called and said that the account was closed.  My friend’s Story about his son immediately surfaced. “You are so irresponsible!  You must take after your mother’s side of the family.”  (Apparently they can’t manage their bank accounts either.)

But guess what?  He was wrong.  Can you believe it?  He was the one who, in his haste, transposed numbers on a scanned form which resulted in the account closed message from the bank.  The happy ending is that my colleague put some new boundaries in place for his son.  He now insists that these requests come with respect for his calendar (and bank account.)  And so they do because his son recognizes these boundaries. 

The point is that my colleague jumped into the angry blasting mode because the circumstances triggered an internal Story.  This was his internal set of beliefs about a person or situation formed over time. This did not happen with a co-worker or customer, but it could have. The story was there.

According to Jon Kabat-Zin (1994) “Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way- on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”  It’s a good model to follow in our New Normal.

So when the heat is on, step back.  Go slow enough to allow yourself to respond instead of react.  You’ll be glad you did.  Especially if there is a story waiting to escape that could seriously damage relationships.