How we chose to look at something often dictates how we “show up” and we can sense this in others, but may not be able to see it in ourselves as clearly. What seems to matter most in today’s workplaces (especially from an emotional intelligence perspective) is how we show up under stress. Negative stress is an energy vacuum, sucking the “wind out of your sails” or diminishing your desire to jump out of bed and tackle the challenges of the day. In speaking with an emerging leader who is currently experiencing negative stress you see how it can impact the way you appear to others (or “show up”) without meaning to. “I didn’t realize it, but since they cancelled the project I was working on I stopped interacting with staff as much as I used to, I became quieter and less open to joining others for lunch or after work.” Struggling with adjusting after an exciting project was cancelled, this leader acknowledged the pitfalls of his behaviour.
“I realized pretty quickly people assumed I was sulking, and maybe I was, but I also knew that couldn’t continue. The way I got onto that project in the first place was through interaction, seeking out others, asking questions, seeing hard to achieve objectives in a positive light. There was always a chance the funding would be pulled from the project, but that doesn’t mean another project won’t come along. I’ll be asked to work on other interesting initiatives if I’m perceived as being the ‘right guy’, and the ‘right guy’ is the one with a good attitude.”
Admirably, this leader has “seen” what needs to happen next, but it can be a challenge to get there, especially if your energy or motivation has diminished. A colleague of mine who has been working in high stakes companies for decades agrees; “You need to give yourself time to grieve the loss, which may sound mellow dramatic, but in truth most human beings can’t just ‘bounce back’ after bad news. You need to give yourself time to work through it, but pick how long that will be and stick to it.” Easier said than done, but there are steps you can take to help move yourself along. First though, when you do that grieving, don’t do it publicly – remember how you “show up” will be remembered by many, and bad news travels faster than good, so have a plan for what you will do when bad news strikes. It can be as simple as going for a brisk 15 minute walk at work to making plans for spending time with people outside of work who support you. Whatever you need to give yourself that bit of space to collect yourself, because that is the foundation to what happens next.
Key to moving on from bad news is objectivity. Much like what our emerging leader stated in his quote earlier, most bad news is temporary. In the really big picture it is a setback, but not a life-changer. As much as it can feel “life altering” because your faith has been shaken or you are still upset (maybe you even have reason to be), continuing to focus on the bad news reduces what you can see from a “flood of light” to a “pin-point of light”. It’s hard to maneuver when you don’t have enough light and we can all think of people who got hung up on something and were not able to move on – and how that impacted the way they showed up (there is a reason we remember these individuals, and it isn’t likely for their “good side”). Objectivity can also be reached by looking at how your want to be perceived by others and by taking the long view – one professional I spoke to said “I like to look at it this way – will I still be thinking about this when I am in the old-folks home? The answer is always ‘no’ and so I focus on how I want to be seen by others as I move through the present because time makes everything relative”.
Objectivity and seeing the bigger picture do not always address energy and motivation. For that you need to look at an even wider landscape, investing in activities that give you energy, like spending time with loved ones, having a hobby, playing sports or volunteerism. Be aware that you do not want to be dependent on your work and career as your sole source of motivation, optimism and energy. “If everything in your life is being affected by one area, that is a pretty good sign you are not resilient.” states my colleague, and she would know because it’s happened to her. “It is so easy to become withdrawn or a tyrant at home when work isn’t going well, but all that does is makes everything not go well and puts you at risk for becoming completely overwhelmed.” Watch for the signs that you are not moving on (or may feel like “wallowing”) and get curious. There are always reasons for resistance to moving on, but don’t use this exploration as an excuse to re-live the negativity, use this exercise wisely and once you’ve figured out the reasons why it’s been difficult for you to move on “…fix the things you can and leave the rest.” states my colleague. As individuals we are only in control of a limited number of factors, how we chose to react to bad news/bad days is one of them and it’s also the one that can take away the power those types of events have over us.