Sometimes our fight/flight instinct is really easy to spot – like when we’re in complete procrastination or avoidance mode, or when we’re gripped by email rage (like road rage but with email).
Other times it’s more subtle. It doesn’t look like panic or rage. It looks more like resentment, defensiveness, feeling got at, taken advantage of, overlooked, or simply WTF or FFS!
Here are a few that came up in recent conversations:
- Can’t you see how hard I’ve been working? (on being inundated with questions immediately on return from a heavy shift)
- It’s as if they just expect me to drop everything and jump on a call (on being asked by a client if they could jump on a Zoom call in 15 minutes)
- There’s another person taking the piss / I can’t trust (when a new recruit isn’t performing as expected)
- I don’t think I’m in their good books anymore
When we take a closer look at these statements, they all have a common underlying story. A story that has sides. They’re either for me or against me. A story that adds meaning or judgement onto someone’s behaviour.
- They’re taking the piss.
- They don’t like me anymore.
- I can’t trust them (or they don’t trust me)
- They think I’m… (I’m being judged)
- They just don’t care
It all puts us on the defensive, where our lizard brain goes to work defending, protecting, distancing – trying to keep us safe.
Except, what if it’s not a fight?
- What if that question that’s got us feeling put out or put upon is just that – a question, not a demand, or even a request?
- What if that gap in performance has more to do with a gap in clarity, skills or expectation – than wilful disobedience or incompetence?
- What if that person’s abrupt message doesn’t mean they’re pissed off with us – but is just a short message?
I remember years ago, finding someone really hard work to interact with. They were so abrupt I always felt like I’d offended them in some way. It made me feel on edge, as if any moment they were going to turn on me.
What helped me back then was naming the behaviour, rather than the intention.
“He’s just doing direct” I’d tell myself.
I found out years later that he’d been struggling with alcoholism, which explains some.
But in any case, deliberately choosing to just label the behaviour as “he’s doing direct” meant that I was able to interact without being drawn into battle (or appeasement) mode. It made the whole thing less inflammatory.
More recently, a colleague was making a change to one of our slides, when our MD asked us Ninjas the question “is this slide used in other decks?”
I responded to say ‘yes’ but I didn’t know which ones off the top of my head. I’d have to look through all the decks to be able to say.
I remember feeling a bit irritated at the time. I had a lot going on that day, and while I’m familiar with the decks because I use them, I felt that the responsibility for looking after them, knowing them well, and knowing where updates needed to be cascaded fell with our other colleague. If someone needed to check through the decks it should be them, not me!
But guess what?
Take another look at the question: “Is this slide used in other decks?”
The answer is yes. Just yes! The question wasn’t “which decks” – I’d read that into the question!
Next time you find yourself resentful – ask yourself – what have I read into this that’s causing resentment? What story am I telling myself about this?
And even if I’m 99% convinced that story is true – what perspectives, responses, possibilities might be open to me if I choose not to rely on or run with that story?
Let me know if this resonates with you.