React or Reset: The Choice That Every Conversation Presents

So much comes at us via our daily conversations… requests, misunderstanding, emotions, surprises, opinions and so on. Much of it may be welcome, validating, and easy to respond to. Some of it seriously challenges us! My coaching often focuses on those challenges: an executive feels disappointed, misled, disrespected, or misunderstood. We talk about how they will respond or recover from their initial response.

First, acknowledge that the initial tempting response in a challenging exchange is to express our raw emotion – to validate our own views, efforts, and ego. For example, a CEO client inadvertently heard an employee make an unprofessionally harsh comment about the CEO. The employee was mortified. The CEO could easily have treated her harshly. Instead, she wisely told her, “I’m going to assume that was a one-time mistake and just put it behind me. You should too.”

The desire to be unfiltered is understandable but rarely constructive. Our reactive responses come from our emotional triggers, our egos, and our fatigue. They are an instinctive attempt to simply cope through the moment at hand.

So how do we resist? We need compelling reasons, and I believe we all have those reasons right in front of us. Namely, our values and our agenda. The trick is to “catch” yourself before you let emotions and impulses do the talking, and remember to pause and choose the more thoughtful, values-based approach. This is hard and takes practice, since it entails discrediting our instincts.

I love to engage with clients as they think out loud and choose the value or end goal they will use to drive their next exchange with a challenging colleague. Just pick one important professional value that you strive to model – such as flexibility, a learning mentality, calmness, appreciation, staff development, etc. Or pick one important work-specific goal, such keeping a particular person motivated, keeping a relationship cooperative, getting a task done well. With the value or goal as your compass, choose your next move. If your “script” does not fully embody that value or goal, then you haven’t chosen well. This is not a guarantee of perfect outcomes, but it ensures you will contribute to rather than detract from desired results. And you’ll have less to regret later.