One of the best things I learned from my wife is to wait 24 hours before responding to things that upset or anger me. What a great piece of advice! Had I known that and put that rule into action years ago, I would not have suffered the grief, anxiety, frustration and embarrassment of firing off an angry email over something that turned out to be a misunderstanding. Here's what happened:
John (not his real name… and why I'm compelled to say that, I'm not exactly sure; it's not like you know this person or plan to track him down to verify this story) was a brilliant but moody project manager. He had some contentious relationships with co-workers in the past, but he was an excellent manager and leader. That's why it caught me off guard when he called me out in a very visible way during a leadership committee meeting.
John: Are you serious? This is what you're suggesting?
Me: Yes, why? Is there a problem?
John: F-ing brilliant; just great. Golden boy has all the answers.
Me: What did I do?
John: (Under his breath but just loud enough for me and a few people to hear) I can't believe this $**t! I'm outta here.
Me: What's your problem?
John: Shove it! (or sit on it, or pound sand, or words to that effect)
I went back to my desk and fired off an email, a flaming email – the mother of all email – and put John in his place. It just so happened that his place was close to the VP of Human Resources and, when John shared my little tirade with the VP, I was called on the carpet.
To make a long story short, I was way WAY out of line. Turned out that John's meltdown was not directed at me but at the fact that he had presented that exact same idea to management several months before and it was shot down. Suddenly the new guy comes in, presents the same idea, and looks like a hero.
I had to eat crow that day (actually I was under “anger management” scrutiny for several months). Had I known and implemented the 24 hour rule, things would have been dramatically different. I should have waited 24 hours to calm down and think about what happened. I could have then approached John and asked “Can we talk about what happened yesterday? I was a little upset after the meeting and I want to make sure I didn't misinterpret something.” I think the outcome would have been much different.
When something upsets you to the point of blowing a gasket, implement the 24 hour rule.
- Walk away and calm down. Whatever you do, don't take any action for at least 24 hours. That means no email (never, ever put anger into an email, especially at your place of employment. Email are permanent records for a lot of businesses and you don't want something like that getting a life of its own), no screaming phone calls or voicemail messages, no flaming text messages, and for heaven's sake don't share your anger with another co-worker. If this is a situation at home with a spouse or loved one, tell them “I want to talk about this but I'm a little too angry and hurt right now to be objective. Can we discuss it tomorrow?”
- Ask yourself some clarifying questions about the situation. What just happened? Could I have misinterpreted? Could I have missed something? Do I have my facts straight?
- The next day, approach the person/problem with a calmer heart and clearer mind. Offer an olive branch: “Sorry about what happened yesterday. Not sure what happened, but I wanted to clear the air. Do you have a few minutes?”
- Give them the benefit of the doubt. Understand that you are not the only person with stress at work, with difficulties at home, or money problems. Other people have life stress, too, and they may say things out of frustration that are in no way directed at you; or even if they are directed at you, they may not mean them personally. Also, your stress may make you hear things differently; you may perceive a threat or an insult where none existed. Remember that “inconsiderate” literally means “without consideration.” If someone is being inconsiderate it means they aren't even considering you, so how could their action be directed at you?
The 24 hour rule is the perfect solution. It allows time to put things back into perspective and allows you to calmly approach any volatile situation and find a resolution.