Don’t Get Emotional When You Read This- If You Can
I received an email from a colleague last week. It was brutal. Blistering. Vitriolic even. Anger oozed out of it. Accusations abounded. My heart sank. Because I knew what would happen next. I knew the outcome. And it saddened me. Do you? Here it is.
I once worked with a very wise man, Paul Cocks. In fact, we’re still colleagues- just one step removed. I owe him much, and love him dearly. He was an important mentor to me a decade ago. His insight into people is what I remember most. And he quickly sized me up as a hot head- someone who would fire up quickly, get emotional, and attack.
His advice, which he gave me many times when he saw steam coming from my ears, was this:
“Give it the 24 hour test.”
It was as simple as that. Before reacting, before sending that blistering email, sit on sending or making your response for 24 hours. Re-read it 24 hours later, and – guaranteed- you will be shocked at what you wrote, and change it dramatically.
Emotions can be your friend or your enemy. They can drive you to glory or to destruction. They can galvanize or confuse you. Fatigue, emotion and greed will cause bad decisions. Know it. Watch out for it.
Now, I have learnt it does not need 24 hours to make a better judgment. Two hours is fine. I have trained myself to recognize the signs of my emotional explosions, to say ‘Chris- there it is, here it comes- now, take control,’ and then what I do next is to vent- I like to write the response email, with all its harshness and fury, or make notes on what I will say to someone, and expletives abound. This makes me feel so much better. And then I park it- for even two hours. That’s all it needs for a more measured, sensible, appropriate and smarter response to become apparent.
Now- if I was really able, I’d be much more mature in controlling the way I respond to things in the first place. But I have not got there yet. I still respond instinctively, and often that is to get emotional. I am, though, getting much better at understanding myself, managing that emotion, pausing before reacting, and making better judgments after that pause. Not yet a poster boy for it- but getting better.
And that’s why I felt sad when I got my colleague’s email. I knew, from the moment he sent it, he was thinking: “Oh shit- that was possibly not the smartest thing to do. Wish I could withdraw it. I wonder how Chris will react?” He would have had butterflies in his stomach- would have been nervous and anxious about my response. And he’s too good a guy to have to feel that way.
I delayed responding. He wrote again a few hours later (after a good night’s sleep), apologizing and putting his frame of mind in perspective. My heart was with him. I knew how he felt, I knew what had happened, and was absolutely on his side. I have been there many times before.
But far fewer times since Paul told me a decade ago to ‘Give it the 24 hour test.’ It’s made my life a lot easier, not having to nervously await responses to emails I wish I’d never sent. Give it a go. It helps.