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Even if your temperature rises quickly, respond slowly

Posted in Managing our emotions by Rashmi Datt on August 22nd, 2011

Recently I was with a group of people who holidayed together for 3 days on the occasion of their company’s first off-site. The spouses met each other and their husband’s colleagues for the first time. It was a beautiful natural setting in god’s own country – we had Kerala’s gentle monsoon breeze, verdant green swaying palm leaves and the grey sea waves beating on the shore. But yes there was also the natural and inevitable hint of discontent and disagreement whenever (especially senior) people get together and are bound by a schedule of a common coach. There were varying agendas and requirements of this stoppage and that shopping.

In all of this I was struck by the calm and unruffled presence of Shobha Menon who was one of our group members. She was remarkable in stitching the group and the concerned logistics. She never offered any strong opinions, and yet conveyed exactly what she wanted to convey, because her tone was always level, kindly, even and soft.  In fact even when she had to be firm, her tone had the same nuances as one would have if one would have looked outside the window and remarked: ‘Oh look, it’s raining outside.’ Because the statement, ‘Oh look, it’s raining outside’, is accompanied by a pitch which is neutral, unaffected by any hidden agenda, dispassionate, with the slightest hint of a pleasant surprise.

The thought struck me that when we are emotionally wrought, such as  when we feel

  • irritated with a colleague for not giving us information on time, not responding to our mail, etc
  • put off by an inconsiderate boss
  • annoyed with a subordinate who just doesn’t listen to instructions
  • or for that matter peeved by the spouse who is sitting around reading newspapers when the maid hasn’t come and we are scurrying around with house-work,

we put our need or opinion or point of view in a tone which is peevish, or anxious or irritated, and often this sparks off further exasperation and annoyance in the other person instead of addressing the issue or solving the problem. The conversation skitters off like a malfunctioning diwali rocket into a direction you had not anticipated. The result: our own negative feelings get transferred into the other person, who starts mirroring them.

Instead, if we pause, and reflect on what we want to achieve, we will find our objective is to make our point but still retain mutual respect. We need to communicate the tough message but the tone should be perfectly controlled. This requires some practice and self-discipline, but it can be done. (I have been practicing it).  Try saying, ‘I was disappointed not to receive the promised information on time. This means my report to the board of directors is getting delayed, which reflects poorly on our department. Can I have this information by the end of the day please?’ a tone which matches with ‘Oh look its raining outside’, and  half the battle is already won.

One Response to 'Even if your temperature rises quickly, respond slowly'

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  1. Venu said, on August 23rd, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    Well said, Rashmi. On the money! Many of the conflicts occur when there is a pre-conceived bias which manifests itself as an unpleasant tone, body language, and actual words.

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