It’s funny but most people have no idea that underneath this calm, sedate exterior is a guy who can be temperamental. Folks close to me know that I rarely lose my temper. That doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated. When I do my sense of humor can get very acidic. I can easily say pretty hurtful things. I’ve learned over time though that doing so only causes more frustration. Most of the time it’s better to not say anything at all. Here’s how I do that.
Emotions are flighty. They come and they go. I meet some people who seem to live on a high, emotional plane. They are either super happy, super mad, or super sad. I think that would be exhausting. They probably think living my way is exhausting. Perhaps it’s just how you’re wired.
A few years ago I got mad about something and sent off a short, to the point, very direct email to a group of people. Quite literally no sooner had I pressed ‘send’ then my inbox chimed and it was one of the people emailing me to say they were sorry and that they would make the wrong right. Then they got my email. Those folks and I never really got over it. It damaged our relationship for the rest of the time we were working together. While I felt my temporal emotion was justified, expressing it wasn’t worth the cost. But how to keep from doing it again?
- If you write an email in frustration don’t put anything in the “To” box until you’ve had sufficient time to review. That will keep you from sending it before you’re ready. The harsher the email the longer you want to wait before you send it. This can be anywhere from 10 seconds (and after a very thorough proof read) to 4 days for me. I just leave them sitting in my ‘drafts’ folder.
- If I want to vent about something publicly I take a long time to think about it first. I’ve found my public rants rarely accomplish much. They make me look unstable. They make my customers nervous. When I’ve done this in the past I get the most random notes from people trying to help me. Then I have to reply to all of them. I worry more about the people who didn’t send a note.
- For bigger frustrations and even big decisions I invoke the 24 hour rule. I actually learned this from my good friend, John Zdanowski, easily one of the smartest guys I’ve ever known (though if you know him you have to get him to tell you the stop, drop and roll story). When we came up with a great idea or when we were greatly frustrated he would say, “OK, mandatory 24 hour cooling off period is in effect.” I still say that now. It works. In the end it saves me so much time.
- The 10 second rule works for me in conversations. When I’m starting to get frustrated I make a decision to slow down the cadence of the conversation. I hate saying things I don’t mean. I hate apologizing for things I’ve said. There is nothing more frustrating then being wronged and then having to apologize to the person who wronged you because you said something stupid. So now, I actually sort of lump all of this into one basic rule that we all heard growing up. Count to 10. I can count to 10 really fast. If I stop myself and actually have to think, 1 1000, 2 1000, 3 1000, 4 1000, etc. then that makes me think of something besides my budding anger. It’s amazing when I do this how often the anger subsides.
Luckily most people aren’t wired like me and so this is really idle advice. Some are though and if it helps in any way that’s great. Writing it this morning has helped me. Now I’m ready to get on to the next thing. After all, what’s next is what’s important.