“You can’t calm the storm. So stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.”
While the New England Blizzard of 2015 rages on in my backyard, I came to the conclusion that preparation is truly the key to being able to weather any storm. Through the amazing technology we have today, we are usually able to predict exactly when and what impact intense weather conditions will be with incoming storms, giving us the time we need to prepare as much as possible. With this latest incarnation, we had a couple of days to buy the groceries and other supplies we needed, find our shovels in the shed, get our winter gear out, prepare our batteries/flashlights, candles/lighters and generators in the extreme case of power loss. As non-essential workers, we stayed home from work, school, activities, and stores to stay off the roads so plows and other emergency workers could do their jobs. We focused on important things at home. Through all of this preparation, we did what we could do to stay safe and prevent problems and mishaps, which also helped minimize stress and worry.
While I pondered this, I recognized the analogy to our work lives and what we could learn to enhance our ability to weather “storms” at the office.
When I see an impending tense interaction with colleagues or clients on my horizon, I remember that preparing for them in the past has helped me to get through them more easily and with better outcomes. With this recollection, I am prompted to do what planning I can to get ready again.
For my negotiations, I consider what is really important to them (as least from my own imagination), what value I bring, and what expanded opportunities and solutions we have together. And just in case, I think about what I will do if we can’t come to agreement.
When resolving conflicts or holding difficult conversations (which for me are about difficult topics, with difficult personalities or are likely to end with difficult choices and results), my preparation entails getting into a calm state through quietly counting to ten, focusing on my breathing for a minute or two, or visualizing happy images. I also consider my overarching goal for the discussion and the tone I think will help reach my desired outcome. Thoughtful, curious, and compassionate are some valuable ones I’ve found. And I try to consider the situation from many perspectives, as an outsider looking in, as the key player or as the other party.
In all of these interactions, I take into account how I see the current relationship and how I want it to be. Sometimes that means being accountable to my own behaviors and how I have detracted from the relationship goal. Often it means stating explicitly the value of the relationship, what I want it to be and what I have noticed is not working from all parties. Occasionally it means asking for something different than what I am experiencing in terms of the other’s behavior or attitude.
Even when I don’t have an upcoming interaction per se with someone else, but I am still struggling with a personal attitude about work and trying to shake it or shift to more positive thinking, I can also use many of these techniques. I can look at the situation with curiosity and consider my thoughts and feelings around it and what may be driving them underneath to get at what is truly important to me. I can do mindfulness activities to calm down and slow the tension in my body. I can do a gratitude exercise, such as writing down things I am thankful for in the situation, to switch to more optimistic viewpoints. I can reflect on how I’ve contributed to the problem, acknowledge that was then, and consciously choose a different choice now.
Whatever the situation, I have found that taking even just a few minutes to prepare can make all of the difference in a positive outcome. I have learned to take heed of the words Benjamin Franklin shared three centuries ago: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” To minimize trials and tribulations as much as possible, I suggest we spend some time getting ready before all of our important interactions.