Cara is held in high regard by leaders at the highest levels within her company. She is bright, funny, an acknowledged SME in her field. She is known for getting things done quickly and effectively. Her direct reports love working for her. Her bosses often get on her nerves when they do “stupid stuff”. When I asked her to define “stupid”. She laughed and said, “Anyone who has a different opinion than me.” I told you she was funny. We dug into her comment a bit. We found that she actually was very open to her direct reports when they presented an idea or approach that differed from hers. She had more difficulty when a dissenting opinion came from her boss or someone else at a higher level. She wasn’t really sure why. As we unpacked things she began to come to the realization that there were certain things that impacted her staff and others in negative ways that she couldn’t control. She was very protective of those who worked in her downstream but quick to become frustrated by those above. She understood when the higher ups changed course or asked for last minute changes, her team might end up missing a deadline. They’d be adversely impacted because the people waiting on a deliverable don’t care why they aren’t getting it on time. They need it when they need it.
She felt terrible about being the conduit for this kind of frustration. It wasn’t fair to others and she was the one who would have to deal with those others. So what triggered her in these situations? I heard over-responsibility. So I tried that out on Cara. I asked her, “Who are you responsible for?” Well, me and 30 thousand other employees.” She laughed. I replied, “You are responsible for you. You may be responsible to many others but that is not the same thing. Your bosses are professionals and your direct reports are professionals. You’re not responsible for the decisions your bosses make and you’re responsible for the way your direct reports interpret and react to those decisions. They can and will deal with whatever comes their way just as you do.”
Identifying this trigger was a good start for Cara. It helped her raise her awareness about why she became impatient in this type of situation. We continued to work on a number of other triggers. As with most of us Cara got triggered when people violated one of her closely held assumptions or what I call her Personal Commandments. These can cause us irritation and impatience in a heartbeat. When one of our PC’s is violated we generally go right to the nuclear option because we are in the limbic (emotional) part of our brain, not the part of our brain that specializes in reasoning.
So, it’s important that we not only gain awareness of any inclination we may have to become impatient but also that we figure out what it is that is likely to set us off. So what is it for you? Do you go limbic when people don’t do what they say they will? Do people with a personal agenda set you off? Do people who “don’t get it” drive you nuts? How about people who take credit for the work of others? For many, it is when others seem to be attacking their expertise. This is a popular path to annoyance. What about people who are too slow, too fast or are in over their heads? The late comedian George Carlin used to say that, “Anyone who drives slower than me is an idiot. Anyone who drives faster than me is a maniac.” What about those who got promoted because in your opinion, their uncle owns 50% of the stock or they are a woman or a man, or a person of diversity? Take time examine what happened the last time you got plugged in emotionally- besides the obvious fact that you may have felt quite out of control. It’s essential that we ride herd on our limbic system almost all the time.