To say that the past two years have been filled with sadness, grief, and what at times likely felt like an insurmountable situation is an understatement. Each of us in our own way has been touched by this pandemic. While many of us are thankful as we return to work, others will be, shall we say, ready to lash out at a moment’s notice on an issue that before all of this would have elicited a shrug and likely dismissed.
For me, it’s all about expectations. Hope for the best and expect the worst is one of my coping mechanisms. It’s like rehearsing for a big presentation, being prepared, and nailing it. Realize that every aspect of your day may not go according to plan and be prepared with your “coping toolbox” (also known as humility and kindness).
Be Positive, Not Confrontational
When disaster strikes, diffuse the situation. Don’t pour fuel on the fire by escalating the issue into an argument—or worse. This applies to all your daily interactions with everyone from co-workers and clients to the drive-thru attendant who mistakenly put cream in your coffee.
It may be inconvenient, but it’s easy enough to go into the store and nicely request they correct your order instead of being confrontational. On the way out, I will bet you can’t stop yourself from smiling. What a great way to start the day. I know this may not seem relevant to your workday, but it is. It can set the tone for the rest of your day, which you want to be positive.
Now you’re at work, checking your emails and drinking your black coffee with a big smile on your face. Looks like some equipment came in the wrong color. Fingers are being pointed every which way, including yours. What do you do? Yes, black projectors will need to be shipped back and replaced with white ones.
No matter what is said, do not escalate the issue. Ignore all the pomp and posturing like it’s the end of the world and provide a solution. Diffuse the situation. Ask open-ended questions: “What would you have me do?” or “I’m glad you placed the order on time, but can you re-order it in a different color?”
You do not have to make yourself a finger pointer as well and make someone feel bad. Sure, after the issue is resolved, there will likely be an opportunity to find out where the fault was, if any. Then call (or suggest your superior call) a meeting about process and procedure, and discuss with the team how to prevent the issue from happening again. You might even volunteer to spearhead the initiative.
Theodore Roosevelt is credited with saying, “Complaining about a problem without posing a solution is called whining.” Think about that the next time you complain without a solution. That’s a challenge, by the way.
While all this is well and good, I have to say that it’s harder than it seems to change your habits. Let me share a couple of things I do to prevent myself from escalating an issue.
One of the worst offenders, in my opinion, is the ease at which we can send emails and texts instantly. In the past, the time that it took to reach someone would play to our advantage. When emotions come into play, it’s easy to overreact to an issue or someone’s comment without taking some time to process.
Recently, a client was complaining to me and wanted to change vendors because they did not reply to their email for five days. I made a brief call to the vendor and said I would send an email, which I did. Two days later, I received another call from my client saying they still had not responded.
Sure enough, I sent my email to their old email address (pesky auto-enter), so they never got it. When I contacted them, the client emails had gone to the spam folder. A relationship was almost destroyed over nothing more than relying on digital communication, whereas a simple phone call could have and did clear up everything.
In the event you do choose email to reply, do not send something right after you receive a message that at first glance may be considered inflammatory and pointed at your direction. No matter the timeline, resist the temptation to send out an immediate reply. I speak from experience. After you write your reply, go back to what you were doing. Then, come back to your email, re-read it, take out all the unnecessary verbiage, be direct, and again speak of solutions.
Another thing I do is change my perspective. Instead of being on the inside looking out when I write an email, I juxtapose myself to being on the outside looking in, changing my perspective to consider how I would react to the message I am about to send. I also have a rule to never, ever reply more than once when things turn negative. If you send a positive, informational reply and the response is inflammatory again, let it end there. Just pick up the phone or take a walk and talk it out. It’s way too easy to get caught in the email trap—and the last thing you want is get into a back-and-forth email battle (remember, it takes two).