Late one night last week, an executive whom I coach sent out an irate email. The following morning as he logged on to find a flurry of “reply all’s” flying around the corporate space in response, he came to regret his haste in hitting the send button. But the damage had already been done. He could only hang his head in shame and send a humbling apology to all involved. Unfortunately, the ripple effects on his reputation were irreversible.
So why did he do this? Why do any of us do this, because, let’s face it, we’ve all done it. Let’s unpack our executive’s reaction.
Obviously this man has some skills in order to have climbed to his current position. But when we are in the midst of a knee-jerk visceral reaction, we simply are not thinking clearly. The email this executive received, which in turn had him blast off his own heated email, was one in which he felt his integrity was being questioned and he was being undermined by one of his peers. This executive has a “hot button,” or sensitivity, to others questioning his integrity and to being undermined. Any resemblance to these situations can cause him to get angry. Combined they created a nuclear response.
Recognizing our hot buttons and taking a pause before responding in such situations can save a ton of time. In this example, one email created hours of corporate churn with responses to the responses, days spent cleaning up the mess and dealing with the aftermath, and endless water cooler conversations.
So what can be done to prevent such a fiasco in the first place? The first step is to notice your reactions. Is your heart rate going up? Your blood pressure rising? Do you have tightness in your chest? If you have a knee jerk reaction and feel like you must respond, don’t. Take a breath. Step away from the send button. Sleep on it. Whatever you do, don’t respond or speak out in a moment of reaction because chances are, you will regret it in the morning.
What are your typical hot buttons and triggers?
When was the last time you reacted to an email by writing back in kind?
What happened, and how long did it take to clean up from the fallout?
We would love to hear your comments.