How to Be an Asset, Not a Liability

Written by Melissa Kessler, MA, PCC

My May newsletter focused on the costs of incivility in the workplace to the recipients, the offenders, and their organizations. STRESS is the main cause of incivility. It makes us have shorter fuses and react harshly to others, especially when we are overwhelmed or feel verbally attacked. However, when we do this, it hurts us just as much as the other person. According to scientific research, the negative emotions we experience when under stress actually change our blood chemistry and cause disease. During an outburst, we are viewed negatively in the eyes of the other person and anyone who witnessed our behavior. Unfortunately in the business world, what people think and say about us impact us more than the results we deliver. If we are perceived as aggressive and hot-headed by others, that can derail our careers.

Here are 10 steps for controlling emotions and reactions when feeling verbally attacked:

  1. Instead of defending, arguing, or blaming… STOP and take a few deep breaths.
  2. Remind yourself that it’s NOT personal.
  3. Actively listen to understand what the person meant by the comment.
  4. Paraphrase what you think the other person is saying. (“You are angry about the comments I made in the meeting.”)
  5. Or ask for clarification. (“Say more about that.” or “What do you mean by…?”)
  6. Look for the hidden need. What does this person really want? (“What is important to you about this? Help me understand what you need.”)
  7. Offer options to meet the need or resolve the issue.
  8. Come to an agreement.
  9. Summarize actions to be taken.
  10. Take a break. Go take a short walk to discharge your stress.

Jack Canfield’s equation E (Environment) + R (Response) = O (Outcome) says that if we want a different outcome, and we can’t change the environment (the situation or the other person), the only variable we can change in this equation is our response. Many people spend a lot of time and energy trying to change other people and getting frustrated about situations they can’t control. The only thing we can control in any situation is ourselves – our thoughts, beliefs, feelings and actions. By changing our response, we get a different outcome as a result.

In order to be an asset and not a liability to others, we must be mindful of our emotions and carefully choose our responses. We are constantly either making deposits or withdrawals in other people’s emotional bank accounts (a term coined by Dr. Stephen Covey). We want to be at a surplus with others, and not at a deficit because people will always make it even in the end. (They will get even with us.) Give people reasons to help you, not hurt you. That means being the kind of co-worker, boss, parent, spouse, or friend that you want to have. Bottom line: just BE KIND.

It isn’t life’s events, but one’s reactions to them that activate stress.” – David Hawkins, Power Versus Force

 “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” – Dalai Lama


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