Turn a Heated Response into a Cool One in Five Steps

Business team working together in an office.

You are suddenly warm all over. Your temples have started pounding to match the pounding in your chest. Your muscles are tense and you feel like running. You recognize that you are in “the moment.” You know the feeling when several different people are coming at you from all different directions; you begin to feel as if you are trapped and can’t breathe. They expect your full attention; wanting you to have an immediate answer for them. Normally you are able to handle the onslaught, but at this very moment it’s different. Your supervisor just gave you a huge task and it needs to be finished by the end of the day. You are also dealing with your own stuff.

The scenario may not be much different as you drive home. You hope to have a bit of peace as you drive home. Traffic is cooperating and you will be home in 10 minutes. This will give you about 30 minutes to unwind and relax before you have to start dinner. Your daughters are teenagers and will be working on homework; they should give you your space.

On your way home, however, you get a call from your husband telling you that he did not have time to pick up his suit from the cleaners. He is going out of town tomorrow and needs the suit. You turn around to go to the cleaners. Before you arrive, your daughter calls saying that she went to the coffee bar after school with her friend. She knows that she has a project due in American Government, but she says they are only staying a few minutes. Can you pick her up? You are faced with having to make a decision on the fly.

You are literally saved by the bell, because your younger daughter is calling you as well. You put your older daughter on hold to take the call. Your younger daughter needs kite string for the kite they are making in her science class. Yes, she took coffee stirrers to share as instructed. Her partner used all of the kite string, so she has to get her own so she can finish her kite.

These scenarios are frustrating. You are asked to take action, make decisions and respond immediately to the urgency of others. Stop what you are doing; change plans; stop thinking and make a decision about something else while changing plans; think about changing plans while thinking about making a decision before making another decision.

Overwhelmed and frustrated you just want to scream. You know that screaming won’t help, so instead of screaming, you get that little testy tone in your voice. Your youngest daughter responds with “that’s why I call Dad instead of you because I know you’re going to get mad.”

These scenarios repeat themselves throughout the day and are a source of frustration for those of us who are on the receiving end. Our response makes us the bad guy. Here are five suggestions to curb the negative effects.

Breathe: Breathe when faced with multiple issues at one time or when faced with a difficult situation. Stop what you are doing and begin to take long, slow, deep breaths. Focusing on the breath will calm you and provide you with an opportunity to order your thoughts and response.

Take a moment: Before responding or addressing the concerns, take a moment for yourself. Deal, if needed with your feelings about the issue, the person, or the situation. The way you feel often drives the response. Take some time to put your feelings and the situation into perspective.

Finish your task first: Complete your task or get to a point where it is convenient to take a break before addressing others’ concerns. Some of us are programmed to address others’ needs first. We put ourselves and our needs on the back burner. Putting others first should be balanced with taking care of ourselves.

Is the building burning? Is someone critically ill? Has there been a serious accident? Triage the requests and address them according to importance or impact on your life or functioning.

Triage: Triage is a term medical personnel use to describe the process they use when assessing an emergency situation. As they assess the injuries, needs and situation, they determine the best use of resources that will garner the best outcomes. More directly, they decide who has the best chances of survival based on the resources that are available?

Perform a triage when faced with multiple requests or situations at one time. Determine the best outcome for yourself and assess your available resources. Time is a valuable resource. Willingness is a resource as well. Determine how to best use your resources to gain your desired outcome.

Delegate: Allow others to find their own solution. Provide parameters if needed or refer them to someone else for help. It is ego boosting to be the go to person, however, that role can stunt others’ and our own growth.
You may find that after you have taken a moment and finished your task, that others have found a solution to their concerns. This is a particularly effective method to use when teaching children responsibility.

I help social workers and other professionals to “get through the day without losing it.” I would love to hear from you. You may join the conversation by commenting on this post on our Facebook fan page REAL Social Workers Online Magazine, joining the “Social” Social Workers Project or connecting with me on LinkedIn. Learn more about HappyHalfHour.club and receive notifications about our 7 day “Get Through the Day Without Losing It” challenge.

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