Everyone I have met wants to know how to stay calm when others around them are losing their cool.

Today I had a situation where I lost my composure.

A colleague, George, made an off-the-cuff ‘joking’ comment to me, in front of others, that immediately triggered me into a reaction, because I felt humiliated and furious.

Embarrassingly, I walked away, causing an awkward situation, before returning and saying to him in front of the others `I don’t think you get me George’, which of course made things even worse.  I did not like my response, and wondered if I had learnt a single thing about dealing with conflict in my entire life.  However, like many of you, I am a believer in learning from these moments and so I reflected on what I would do next time.  This is what I came up with. …

Next time I will be `curious before I get furious’ by asking questions first.  I interpreted his comments as an attack on my personality and I judged his as insensitive and superior.   My interpretation was that he saw me as a pathetic person who wanted to get in his good books. It was my interpretation that resulted in my feelings of humiliation, not the actual situation.  Sally, who was there, interpreted the situation differently. She said `George is not thinking before he speaks and making a fool of himself’. Based on Sally’s interpretation, she saw George as thoughtless and felt sorry for him.  So how we interpret an event will determine our feelings about it.  The moral of the story is hold your interpretations very lightly, and hold off on making assumptions until you know more.     

On reflection, next time I will enquire by saying `GeorgeI’m curious … why did you say that in front of the others?’ or `George, I’d like to make sure we understand each other. Can I ask you a question?  I’m curious.  What did you mean by that comment just now?’  I’m sure he would say that he was just having a joke with me. Later on, in private, I may choose to say to George `Let’s talk about how we can improve how we work together in a collegial way.’  If he is willing, I will talk to him about making jokes at my expense in front of others and we will reach an agreement.

Imagine, you are in an emotionally changed situation, or an awkward tricky interaction, one-to-one or in a meeting.  To learn how to handle yourself with composure and learn steps for addressing behaviour that is below your expectations, enrol in my next Courageous Conversations workshop.