Emotional Stupidity & Some Thoughts On What to Do About it

The other day, I witnessed myself having a particularly spectacular, um, brain fart. It tends to happen when I am attempting to work with anything electronic or mechanical for which I have virtually no aptitude, or patience.

I was rearranging a room.  This required moving all of the computer equipment to another location, unplugging everything and then plugging it back in again.  It sounds easy doesn’t it?   I expect that to a lot of people it is. But, somehow I got all mixed up among the various wires, plugs, power bars and extension cords and lost my Internet connection. Amid the mounting pressure, I fussed and fumed and completely lost my focus.  Why would the green light on the Airport Express Thingy not come on, I demanded, to no one in particular?

Eventually, I called the young man who had helped move the furniture and asked him for some thoughts.  He coached me over the phone.  Were all my connections properly attached to the modem?  Check. Were my extension cords viable? Check. And so it went, but to no avail.

Finally, he agreed to come over and take a look. He arrived with a new extension cord in hand, (just in case) looked at my Airport Express Thingy and, simply plugged it in.  The green light went on and the internet connection was instantly restored.

To his credit, the young man did not laugh at me, (well not in my presence anyway).  And I, feeling very sheepish indeed could only laugh at myself.  But it set me to thinking about the myriad of things that create pressure for leaders every day and how important it is to find ways to remain calm in the face of them.  Looking back, I expect that had I not allowed myself to get into a complete lather, I might have noticed that the Airport Express Thingy was unplugged.  But, I didn’t… so I didn’t.

If you are a new leader, you may wonder why it is so important to remain calm when you don’t feel calm.  Well, first, as illustrated in the story, allowing ourselves to get our shorts in a knot distorts our vision and keeps us from accomplishing what we set out to do. And second, people will be watching. Leadership involves role modeling. People will watch and will find permission to conduct themselves in ways that align with the leader’s behaviour.  So, if you allow yourself to get bent out of shape, it seems reasonable that others will allow themselves the same opportunity, accomplishing nothing.

So, the question is, how do we avoid this kind of emotional stupidity and stay calm when the pressures of the day start to pile up on us?  Well, in light of my recent experience I have had a chance to think about that a bit.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Stop and Take a Breath

If I had stopped and walked away for a while and focused on something else, I might very well have come back to the computer connection task with a mind clear enough and emotions settled enough to see what I was doing wrong.

Note the Triggers

If I were to be truthful, I know that whenever I get involved with anything that requires assembly, I’m going to experience stress.  It just seems to be a trigger for me.  So, perhaps the next time I engage in work of this kind, I will bear it in mind and be a little more patient, not only with the task but also with myself. Noting the triggers that set us off has a way of minimizing frustration and the irrational behaviour that often stems from it.

Maintain a Sense of Proportion

I don’t know about you but when I get stressed over something, that something has a way of getting blown up beyond all reasonable proportion.  Things that were a nuisance before somehow morph into something bordering on catastrophic.  I’m thinking that I could avoid this in future simply by reminding myself that there is a solution to just about every problem and if I can’t see it there is bound to be someone who can…which leads me to the next point.

Engage others in problem solving

Sometimes we just get too close to a problem to be able to see a way around, or through, it.  This is when building relationships with others who are willing to help and advise us becomes very handy.  Luckily, in my experience, people actually want to be a part of solutions.  Often, it is just a case of asking them.

So tell me, what sets you off?  How do you manage it?  What happens to you when you don’t?




Filed under building awareness, communication, Leadership, Leadership Development

6 responses to “Emotional Stupidity & Some Thoughts On What to Do About it

  1. Good example Gwen, been there done that.

    I get set off when I don’t give feedback right away. Too often when I wait I play my words over and over in my head and end up with apprehension about providing the feedback. I also then can spend too much time trying to couch the feedback in non-offensive terms where I would be better off just being direct.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Cherry,
      I’ve been there too. Although, it happens to me when I don’t give *enough* thought to what I’m about to say and when I open my mouth, out comes a long and tedious string of stuff that makes little of no sense!
      Thanks for coming by! I always enjoy your visits here 🙂

  2. I worked with someone who routinely behaved this way, but worse, she would find a scapegoat for her frustrations and blame that person even when the cause of the problem was self-generated, or random circumstances beyond anyone’s control.

    I think it’s important for leaders to at least maintain the appearance of emotional neutrality in the workplace. It would also be nice if they exhibited some of the self-awareness that you demonstrate. We’re human, we make mistakes, sometimes we lose our cool… but if we can look back and reflect on what happened we can learn something and perhaps react differently the next time we encounter a frustrating situation.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Leslie,
      Your story clearly illustrates the damage we can do if we allow ourselves to indulge in our frustrations, especially if we choose to take no responsibility for their effect on others.
      Thank you for that 🙂

  3. Gwyn – what a familiar scene! I’m actually getting better as I get older.Outsoucing is always great but sometimes there’s no outsourcer handy!

    I’ve found it helpful to leave something like this and go back and start over with a fresh mind. And it’s all in the mind -so leave the frustrated “can’t do” one outside and come back with a new outlook. Much better!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Dorothy,
      Yes! The “can’t do” inner critic just loves this kind of scene. So leaving it to its own devices for a while and allowing sanity and fresh perspective to take its place is a great way to go. Thanks 🙂

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