By Eileen L. Berman, Ed.D.
Have you ever had a moment when you received a disturbing e-mail or phone message? You are astounded and caught off guard by the very nature of the verbiage. This type of “assault” usually creates tremendous anxiety in the recipient.
We have all been there and, undoubtedly, we have all reacted in different ways. Usually, however, anxiety comes rushing through our bodies and permeates our thinking apparatus! If that anxiety determines our response, we are prone to make mistakes that can be costly.
Jim received an e-mail from an irate co-worker, Jan, who accused him of saying something at a meeting which Jan interpreted as mean-spirited and disturbing. Jim was taken aback by this comment and, immediately, picked up the phone to right this misperception. However, Jan wasn’t available so he left a rambling message which was dictated by his anxiety over the incident.
When the dust settled, Jim realized he had made an error in responding at the height of his discomfort. By doing so, he left himself open to further charges and a flawed relationship with this team member. What could Jim have done to settle this co-worker down and re-establish harmony within the group? Was it a good idea to respond immediately?
First thing to remember when you are “attacked” is to give yourself a chance to recover! Put the charges away for at least a day…think about them…and when you are fully restored to clearer thinking, you can seek out the person and have a reasonable and calm discussion. E-mail or telephone would not be my method of choice to try to resolve a conflict. If the person is unavailable personally, however, I would certainly choose the phone and not the e-mail.
Second, no matter how you feel, make it a rule of thumb never to leave a voice message of consequence regarding the dust-up. As stated above, do not call immediately, but if you choose to, do not leave a message….ever!
When all is said and done, do not let the anxiety brought on by the situation determine your response. While you may think you will feel better by responding immediately, you, in effect, will create even more anxiety to deal with as a result of such a hasty reading of the situation. The saying…let calmer heads prevail….must be taken into account when anxiety prevails. Nothing positive will result by acting on your own anxiety. Find a way to calm down….walk a while, listen to music, take deep breaths, call home…anything… other than responding immediately.
One suggestion: have a folder marked CALM DOWN FIRST…and put any upsetting e-mails or reminders of disturbing messages within this file for you to respond to within 24 hours. That should give both parties a chance to rethink. In this way, calmer heads will, indeed, prevail and a satisfactory resolution should ensue.
In my next blog, I shall discuss in more detail what to do when anxiety strikes.
Dr. Eileen Berman is a consulting psychologist in Rhode Island and has a website, rebuildyourcareer.com. You can dialogue with her by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org