Ever since my friend Laura had “the boss from hell” in her mid-twenties, she’s had a motto: “More perks, less jerks.” This mantra led her to changing careers and eventually starting her own consulting business. While being a consultant means each one of her clients is like another boss, Laura prides herself on picking good clients to work with and heeding the red flags of the “jerks.”
This is a system that’s served Laura pretty well over the years, but it’s also one that allowed her to avoid learning how to put her emotions aside when people rubbed her the wrong way. So this year she dedicated herself to facing difficult conversations with her clients head on, and working through personality challenges. Last week, Laura received an excellent opportunity to practice this dedication.
A company she’d been working with on a project basis for about a month was refusing to pay her the full amount they owed her because of a simple misunderstanding around process. This was just the latest in a series of grievances Laura had, not against the company per se, but with the person she was working with directly.
Laura already regretted a reflexive response she had sent on this topic a few days earlier. This time, she wanted to write a letter that not only clearly outlined for the company contact and the CEO why she should be paid in full, but also communicated other concerns she had about their working relationship.
Laura spent 3 hours writing and rewriting her letter until it was ready for outside feedback. She sent the letter to me and we worked on it more together, continuing to take out the emotion and replacing it with strong and defensible business positions.
After about 4 total hours of work, the letter was in a place where Laura felt comfortable sending it. Before she did, she read the last email she’d received from her client contact one more time, to ensure she had covered all the bases in her response. Instead, what she discovered was that the tone of her letter was disproportionately strong compared to the tone of that last email she had received. Now she was hesitant to send her well crafted letter.
Laura showed the client’s email to me, and I agreed what we had written was more confrontational than perhaps the situation warranted. In hindsight, I should have asked to see the client letter earlier in the process. But if I had, Laura would not have gotten to experience reading the same letter with two completely different perceptions. Now that Laura had her thoughts gathered, she could feel confident speaking with her client directly in person when she got the chance.
The first time Laura read the email, her reaction was instinctive. Her old subconscious patterns and stories took over; she was looking for a jerk and that’s what she found. After working on her reply, Laura gained some distance from her emotions and read her contact’s email with a new set of eyes. Instead of having a knee-jerk response, she was able to consciously reply to the letter based on its own merits, and not what her subconscious was making up about it.
As emotional beings we will always have feelings – good and bad – within our business relationships. When people say emotions have no place in business, what they really mean is reactivity. As a counterbalance to an outside power, real or perceived, reactivity is a weak strategy. It typically fails to achieve its goals, and often results in a worse situation than the one you started with.
The key is holding ourselves back from reacting instinctively, and instead responding with conscious strategy that sets us down a path for success. Response is a choice to act. As a conscious action, it holds its own power and stands up better to outside forces.
What consistent aspect of your business life seems to always get in your way? How does your view of this situation cause you to react instinctively with emotions, rather than respond with rational strategy? What’s a signal you can look for, to help you recognize when you’re about to react instinctively, so you can pause and instead respond consciously?
“I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent of how I react to it” — Charles R. Swindoll