Well that feels contradictory doesn’t it? It may be hard to believe but both of these statements can be true at the same time! Let’s break it down.
It’s not about you
As humans, we tend to think of ourselves as the center of the world. This is not a judgment about you – I do it too. We all do! It’s part of the human condition. But, as a result – when someone else snaps at us, has a negative reaction to us, or is generally crabby at us – our instinct is to try and figure out what we did wrong or to react defensively. The truth of the matter is, most of the time, the other person’s reaction is about them – not you! Here are a few things that could be impacting how they react:
- They are having a bad day and have high frustration levels before interacting with you. You just happened to be the one who caught the moment they could no longer keep that stuffed inside.
- Something you said made them feel guilty or sad about their behavior. This one is interesting, and harder to remember that it still isn’t about you. Even though you were the one that said something, they still own their emotions and their behaviors.
- It could be as silly as you wearing something that reminds them of someone or something they don’t like, and it is an emotional trigger for them.
- Something else that is happening in their personal orbit that is causing them to be in a bad mood, emotionally flooded, and have an outsized reaction to whatever is in front of them. Sometimes it might not even be something they are aware of. Or right now, it might just be 2020 is too much for them!
Most of us say we understand this logically, but emotionally – it sure feels like it is about us, because their reaction was aimed at us. Why does it matter that we remember it’s not about us? Because if we know it’s not about us, then we can reduce our emotional reaction to them and be less likely to be defensive or angry in return. It also makes it more likely that we can empathetic to them as a person and see their reaction for what it is – an outburst indicating that something else is going on in their lives and they need our patience, grace, and kindness more than ever. This is the perfect segue to why it is all about you.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.Victor Frankl
It’s all about you
What is your typical go-to move when someone else makes you upset? Withdraw, yell at them, make snarky comments, gossip behind their back, or de-escalate and offer kindness? If you picked the last option – good for you. You already know this – how you respond and show up is all about you!
If we are being honest with ourselves – none of us are perfect at this moment. The moment that requires us to respond, not react. The moment that requires us to know ourselves really well and manage our emotional reaction. The moment that allows us to choose to show up as our best selves and in alignment with our values.
This takes practice. And a lot of it. What does that practice look like? Try out these steps the next time you find yourself in a tough situation!
- Remind yourself it’s not about you. This is much easier to do when you are not in the heat of it – so find a catchy or funny phrase that helps remind you in the moment to ease back.
- Identify the emotion you are having. Think about where you feel the emotion in your body – chest, gut, flushed face, etc. What emotion are you feeling? Get more specific than angry. Anger is too broad of a term and doesn’t identify the reason for the anger – is it embarrassment, shame, anxiety, something else? Naming the emotion helps you see it as something separate from who you are and frees you to manage it.
- Take a few deep breaths. Deliberate breathing patterns have been proven to actually calm our nervous system and reduce your “flight or fight” natural instincts. I personally like the practice of breathing in for a count of 4, holding at the top of the breath for a count of 4, breathing out for a count of 4, and holding at the bottom of the breath for a count of 4. Do this 3-5 times and you will feel much calmer. Maybe something shorter works just as well, but it’s ok to take less than a minute to calm yourself down.
- Think of a mantra that anchors you back to your best self. Again, something catchy or funny works well because it breaks the momentum. You want this to be something that reminds you of your values, how you want to show up, and brings out your best. If a mantra doesn’t come to mind, think of a visual reminder or really anything that can act as that anchor.
- Think about what great looks like and then go do it! Once you aren’t defensive, can separate out your emotion, and are anchored back to your best self, you can more clearly see what great looks like. And, you can have more confidence that you know what to do next.
Now that you’ve read this far, I’ll let you in on a secret…this whole post is really about emotional intelligence!
All the EQ components are here: self-awareness, self-management, awareness of others, and management of relationships with others.
These are the skills many of my executive coaching clients are working on – because they want to be the best leader they can be, and they want to have a bigger, more positive impact. The good news is, EQ is a learned skill – which means deliberately working at it will make you better at it. But, just like any skill – it takes time, patience, and practice. It’s not easy, but it is possible!
I’d love to hear what your fun, catchy phrases are that remind you it’s not about you and anchor you back to your best self.
Jennifer is a seasoned leader and executive coach with more than 20 years experience including as a Chief Human Resources Officer overseeing the HR and Communications functions. She is a Professional Certified Coach through the International Coaching Federation.
HR4D’s mission is to ensure our client organizations fulfill their visions, by adopting their goals as ours, creating solutions that are right for them, and making the people who hire us professionally successful. Contact us to learn more!