Life has a funny way of working. Today I knew that I would be writing about a paradoxical way of leading under pressure. And sure enough, an opportunity arose this afternoon for me to apply this technique.
Here’s what happened. I am in a monthly professional development program with a class of 30 people. We are arranged in teams of six to do small group work. The most recent meeting was on Saturday, and our team was presenting. But at least one of my teammates was really unhappy with how the class was run, and how that impacted our presentation. I thought things went well in the end. Fine.
But here’s the twist. She wrote an angry e-mail to the
to the program organizers, “unofficially” on behalf of our team, without checking with us first. And this e-mail said some things that I didn’t agree with, and furthermore did it in a style that I think could have professional fall-out.
I was steamed. And so I found myself needing to lead in the face of pressure.
My first impulse was to pick up the phone, but that wasn’t practical in this case.
So my next impulse was to respond to the e-mail right away. And I did write a quick reply, but then I did a very smart thing: I didn’t send it. Too emotionally driven, too angry. I stepped away from the computer, took a break, and came back to it a few minutes later.
Thus came my second draft of the e-mail, or I got more clear about what I wanted, and less accusatory. Normally I would have stopped here, but I knew that I could do better in this situation.
You know how with the benefit of time, you can look back at a situation that was troubling back then and actually laugh about it? The key idea is that if I can get to that point right now, instead of a few years from now, around that issue then I can be a lot more effective and flexible in how I deal with it.
If a conflicted situation is a fire, then adding more intensity is gasoline on a fire. And levity, being able to really be connected to the situation, and yet laugh at that can be water on a fire if it’s done right.
And so I applied some of the techniques from yesterday’s blog to calm down, and that helped. And then I looked at the overall situation and tried to get enough emotional distance from it to see the humor in it
Frankly it was tough. I was thinking “damage control” at that point more than anything: basically driven by fear. But I did manage to get a little bit of distance, and inject a little bit of humor into the e-mail. Among other things, it helped me realize that my teammate hadn’t been trying to make trouble for me on purpose. She just been doing what she thought was the right thing.
While in this situation, I realized one of the big challenges about the “levity” approach: it’s hard to do in short notice. And yet taking it on makes me look squarely at my own intensity and say, “What’s hooking me here?”
So I got the e-mail as far as I could get it in the time that I had, and I sent it. In striving for levity, I calmed down, found a broader perspective, and literally got wiser.
My teammate replied, apologized for sending the e-mail, and let the meeting organizers know that she was writing for herself, rather than on behalf of the team.
We’ll see how the situation ends up, but so far it looks like the “levity” approached helped. I’m working on getting better at this going forward.
© 2008 Paul Konasewich