Reflect Before You Overreact

I overreact. At almost everything I do. When my kids don’t put their clothes away, I overreact. When I get that email about a topic that I’ve addressed a million times or from that challenging employee, I overreact. And, almost 97.6% of the time, my overreactions happen because I have no context or patience. I don’t take the time to seek to understand. I don’t take 10 seconds to breathe, take in the information.  Or, try to understand what was being asked of me. Or, why I should have a reaction to the event at all. For each of these overreactions, 100% of the time, the result has caused damage to my credibility or trust in a relationship.

Over the weekend, I saw a tweet by Lolly Daskal, President and CEO of Lead From Within. The tweet read, “How to Stop Overreacting and Get On with Your Life,” with a link to her article on Inc. Because I have been working on my own overreactions, I explored more. I’m glad I did, because the article was not what I expected, given the lead-in of the tweet.

In the article, she talks about how you can avoid overreactions so they do not consume you or get the best of you. She states:

When you find yourself saying things you never thought you’d say, or taking things too personally even though you know better, when you allow your feelings to determine your state of mind, that’s when you get into trouble.

The trick to avoiding overreaction is to refocus on what you really want instead of letting your reactions getting the best out of you.

She then continues with 6 tools to help you overcome the overreactions. I’ll let you read more about it.

How many times have you seen this happen in the workplace? Pat sends an email to Bobby. Bobby skims the content, or maybe is even set off by the subject line or by Pat, and then fires back an immediate fiery response to Pat. Pat, reacting to this email, oh well, you get the point. What could have been a non-issue, was unnecessarily escalated because one party didn’t take a little bit of time to digest the information and craft an appropriate response or reflect on why they were experiencing those feelings.

I see this a lot. I coach employees to take some time before responding to an email in which they may feel attacked. I recommend that they type out the response, take a walk around the block, and then decide if they should send it. I also recommend sending the draft email to a neutral party (like me) to review and check for tone or to see if it can be handled offline or with a phone call.

While I found myself coaching employees on this behavior, I realized I was not taking my own advice. I know, it’s the old Cobblers Children Syndrome for HR people, right? And, this has been taking a toll on my relationships as well as my own well-being.

I’ve been making strides along this journey of overreacting by employing some techniques to help this. I have been practicing some daily meditation. I’ve been taking the time to sit back and recognize when these feelings arise and try to be present with the feelings and understand where they are coming from and why I’m feeling the need to overreact. I’ve been using some of the tools and suggestions recommended in Lolly’s article. They have helped me tremendously in many of my interactions. And, yet, I’m still a big work in progress.

As with any change in behavior, time and patience are required. This takes a lot of practice to sit in the present and be mindful of your actions. To address the feelings and try to understand why they are there. To let them happen and to then let them go so you are able to have a better interaction and experience with the party involved. As HR professionals, we spend a lot of time coaching our employees on how to deal with conflicts in the workplace, but we rarely take the time to reflect and deal with our own. It’s time we start to pay attention to this. It’s worth it and you will find you feel better and your relationships will improve.

Now, I need to go respond to that email from Ralph in Accounting.



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