How to Work with Over-Reactors, Part II: Shifting from Reactivity to Reflection

If you suspect you’re an excessively reactive manager (see last week’s post, How to Work with Over-Reactors, Part I: Driven, Hard-Driving Managers), you may wonder how to slow things down to help yourself work more effectively and not disrupt your team so much. And you may worry how you can feel good about slowing things down, and not as if your feet are stuck in glue and your stick-in-the-mud colleagues are holding you back?

Remember that the possibility for change lies in your behavior, not your personality. Your drive accomplishes a lot: It gets people going when something needs to be handled and it gets people moving when they’re stuck. But you know that when you’re always in high gear, you sometimes leave a mess in your wake.

Try Reflection

Reflection doesn’t only have to do with appraising your own appearance. It’s also a way of checking to see whether anything is out of place or needs adjustment.

The evidence that you’re an over-reactor will not be hard to find:

  • Does your team run around in multiple directions with people working at cross-purposes? It could be because you’re stirring them up too often. Until you adjust, all your team will be doing is practicing better ways to jump at your command. They’ll go up and down, but they won’t get to move forward.
  • Do you have to go back and revisit decisions and projects multiple times — things that, had you waited, would have resolved themselves? Does it feel like you’re always fighting fires? And does it seem like your team members just don’t get it — time after time after time?
  • Do you find yourself frequently checking your watch when others are talking or trying to get your attention? Can you only sit still for a limited amount of time, and for even less if the discussion is on a topic that you don’t think is particularly important? Check with your team or family members for an outside view.
  • Do your people — at work and at home — often feel afraid that you’re disappointed in them? Notice whether you cut discussions short as soon as people start to disagree. Does everyone around you seem like a snail while you’re blazing a trail? You may not be showing enough appreciation or recognition of their contributions.

Keep Calm to Carry On

Work on your body positioning to help keep your posture both stable and open, because the body and mind are more connected than we often realize. And people will read your body more instinctively than they’ll hear your words.

Here are some techniques for grounding and opening yourself both physically and mentally — and in the process, shifting your intentions and needs:

Physical – Become aware of your body in the physical space.

  • Start by feeling the bottoms of your feet against the insides of your shoes or on the floor itself. Notice the pressure of your butt in your chair if you’re sitting.
  • If you’re near a table or desk, press your hands against its surface; otherwise place them on your thighs, and square your shoulders a bit.
  • You can even press your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
  • Feel how solidly you exist in the space. And breathe.
  • Notice your lungs as they expand and deflate inside your chest.
  • Face anyone who is speaking as directly as possible while keeping yourself in a relaxed and simultaneously open posture: arms at your sides and eyes ahead.

Mental – Remember or think through what will be the most desirable outcome on all fronts that matches your declared values and privately held intent. If you need some time for this, suggest a break.

  • Say you need to think about it. That declaration alone may improve people’s impression of you.
  • Be intentionally curious about the other people around you and what they think will be the most desirable outcome, or if their view of the declared outcome matches yours.
  • Once you know where you want to end up, try working backwards, step by step from your conclusion all the way back to where you are right now at this moment — this will help slow you down from jumping to conclusions and also help to see if the activity you were about to launch into is actually the best one to keep you on the path.

These physical and mental focusing techniques will help connect you solidly to the reality that everyone else is experiencing with you. They’ll also steady you so you can choose your responses thoughtfully instead of leaping automatically to them.

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