Getting over “If it hurts, hide it”

3 ways to handle emotionally difficult situations well

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Years ago, when I worked as a management consultant, I remember getting some analysis wrong. Even worse than that, I managed to get it wrong in a way that put a colleague in a bad light.

He stormed into the room where I was working, demanding to know why I had done it. I felt hurt, but in the words of Cowboy Logic by Michael Martin Murphy, I thought ‘if it hurts, hide it’.

So I hit back. “That’s rigorous work”, I said. And as soon as the words came out of my mouth, I could sense my colleague’s anger increase.

Of course in hindsight, I should have said, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake, I feel awful about this, what can I do?” But I didn’t. I just kept talking in my ‘I’m-an-intelligent-consultant’ way, and here was a colleague scrunching my chart in his hand, veins throbbing and almost shouting.

Suffice to say that my follow-up of “Well it just depends how you interpret the data” didn’t help.

In emotional terms, in that moment I was oscillating between the burnout zone (empty and exhausted) and the survival zone (in my case, irritable and frustrated). As Tony Schwartz and Jean Gomes explain in their excellent book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, instead of doing that we need to pulse between emotional renewal (peaceful and receptive) and emotionally effective performance (calm, optimistic, engaged and challenged).*

Of course, that sounds great in the abstract. But when something’s triggered you and you’re in the moment, how do you get there?

One tactic that Schwartz recommends, and that I also now use, is to consider alternative views created by looking through these three lenses:

1. The Reflexive Lens

Ask, “What are the facts here? And what is the story I’m telling about those facts?”

As you do this, beware a sophistication bias. Being intelligent is a good thing. But when overconfidence in your rational intelligence overshadows your emotional receptiveness, that becomes dangerous. As Aristotle wrote: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

In my situation, I just needed to have the humility to accept that I had got something wrong, accept I had hurt someone and apologise.

2. The Reverse Lens

Have the humility to ask yourself what the other person is feeling, and how that makes sense.

As the mathematician, physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing”.

3. The Long Lens

Find a realistic, optimistic story that you can tell yourself about the situation. In the situation I shared above, I could have thought, “My colleague is intelligent and in the remaining four weeks of this project we can do some valuable work together. To achieve this I need to acknowledge my role.”

For these lenses to benefit your performance, I invite you to risk vulnerability. This is not for the weak; rather – as Brené Brown puts it – “Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection”. This is exactly what I needed to do with my colleague when he stormed into the room.

What next?

Those who want to perform at their best need to build and maintain a strong positive mindset. This needn’t be overwhelming or daunting. Sign-up below and I will send you my FREE infographic “How to grow your mindset (in a positive way)” – it’s full of practical tips you can start putting into action today, including strategies I’ve used myself and with great results.


*See Schwartz’s four emotional quadrants and three lenses, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, pp123 and 155-9.

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