Q: I got in a lot of trouble recently at work because I blew up and said some things I shouldn't have. What I said and did wasn't like me at all; I'm normally a calm, rational guy. I was under a lot of stress with my wife maybe divorcing me, so I just lost it for a minute.
Everyone here has blown the incident totally out of proportion, and now I'm being forced to attend three coaching sessions and then to mediate with two ladies when there's nothing to mediate. How do I get everyone to let this drop? I'm kind of blown away that they're acting like this one-time event is a big deal when I've worked here for three years without ever having a problem.
A: What you see as a one-time event apparently felt like a big deal to others. If you want your manager and co-workers to let this drop, show them you totally understand their concern by immediately and genuinely apologizing to all concerned. If you instead tell them you "just" lost it for a minute because of stress, they may hear this as an excuse or indication you don't "get it."
Although you see the coaching and mediation as a needless jumping through hoops, they might benefit you. Unless those under intense or unremitting pressure learn to manage stress, they stop thinking with their conscious mind and the portion of their brain referred to as the survival brain takes over. This portion of the brain functions well when an individual needs to immediately and physically react to danger. In the workplace, the survival brain's fight, flight or freeze reaction hampers an individual's ability to think or relate effectively, leading to ugly encounters and thoughtless mistakes.
Those in survival mode become critical, argumentative, disrespectful, overly dramatic, blaming and rigid. Because they process what's happening with their survival brain rather than their conscious mind, they might insist they are right in the face of a landslide of evidence they are wrong. Rather than listening to reason, they recycle their own story so often that they assume it makes sense. Instead of reining themselves in when they overstep or start to get into trouble, they escalate problems into disasters. Effective coaching can turn this situational blindness around by challenging the assumptions of the individual who blew up thinking the other person deserved it.
Back to you -- you're under stress -- enough that you lost it. A good coach can offer you new strategies for managing stress and remind you that your personal stress doesn't justify you blowing up at a co-worker. The mediation gives you both the chance to see what you did from your co-workers' perspective and to apologize, thus putting this situation behind you and creating the fresh start you seek.
How do you get everyone to let this drop? You need to prove it won't happen again.
Q: A year ago I got hired to do a specific job in a company in turmoil. I got a positive performance review after six months. Three months later, my boss told me she wanted me to take on another assignment, which was a considerable promotion.
I was thrilled. Unfortunately, this new position became a nightmare because my boss expected me to perform a great deal of work and to delegate my former duties to other employees who also were overloaded. Because my boss clearly was unreasonable, I continued doing as many of my former duties as I could and also tried to handle the new duties.
I never met my boss's expectations.
Recently, she went on a witch hunt and wrote me up for all the things I wasn't doing. Now, she wants to take away my promotion and downgrade me to a position lower than the one unto which I got hired.
This makes no sense to me. I did good job at the initial position and the promotion was a sham. I believe I deserve to go back into my initial position. Please help.
A: When you accepted the promotion, you left your former job behind. You and your supervisor then made a crucial mistake -- you never agreed on expectations. Because you thought her unreasonable and neither you nor she came to a mutual agreement on priorities, you didn't meet her standards. This became a setup for failure.
You lose because you get demoted. Your organization loses because they took an employee who performed well and moved the employee into circumstances in which he didn't succeed.
You might be able to turn this around -- if you lose certain assumptions. First, your organization didn't hire you to do a specific job, they hired you to work for them -- in whatever capacity they needed. You can't simply reclaim your former position.
Second, if your supervisor asks you to focus on certain tasks and delegate others, you can't ignore her requests.
Ask for a meeting and let your supervisor know you tried your best, but felt you couldn't delegate to overloaded employees and simply tried to do it all. Remind her you did good work for six months and ask for another chance at whatever position to which she assigns you. Then, excel, and turn this temporary setback into a launching pad for your next promotion.
-- Lynne Curry is a management trainer, consultant and president of Alaska's The Growth Company Inc. in Anchorage. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.