When we feel hurt, confused, or angry at work, it can hijack the entire day. And often, those feelings develop from an interaction we have with another person.
Sometimes our feelings emerge from a situation that is clearly upsetting, confusing, or angering–we’ve been demoted, demeaned, or told contradictory things that lead to confusion. At other times, our feelings may actually be generated by a story we are telling ourselves, as much as by what is actually happening.
It is important to know when we are telling ourselves a story that isn’t based in actual fact. We may make big decisions based on our feelings, such as staying away from a meeting because we felt rejected by a person’s words, or choosing not to pursue an idea if we feel the other has judged that idea as unworthy.
That’s why we could take the time to consider not only our immediate feelings, but the facts about what happened in any upsetting interaction. We all have biases and blind spots that effect how we react to what others say and do.
An analogy I like to use is to imagine yourself at a dance. If you’re on the dance floor, you experience one thing—the people right next to you, the music up close, the heat and the excitement (or, in some cases, the boredom) of the dancing itself.
Now, imagine that you’re on the balcony looking down on the dance floor. From here, you see something different—the whole picture from a distance. Both views are important.
Gathering facts is one way of getting a new view. Can you gather more information before you settle into one point of view?
Let’s say a colleague at work seems to be acting a little chilly toward you. Maybe she even left you out of an important meeting. It seems obvious to you that this must have been because she was unhappy with your work on a recent project. Before you know it, you have a complete story in your head, and it feels like you know what’s going on.
It is possible that you do. But extensive psychological research has taught us that humans can easily jump to the wrong conclusions when we don’t balance our initial thoughts and feelings about a situation with analysis and reason.
In the situation with the chilly-seeming colleague, you have some information, and with it you have begun to tell yourself a story. Your story might change with more information, or it might remain similar to your initial impressions.
To learn more, you can gather information from a few sources:
- Yourself: Can you write down or think through what happened without interpretation? What exactly did the person say or do? How many times? Where and when?
- Other observers: Did anyone else see or experience this? What are their perceptions? What do they know?
- The other person or persons involved in your story: Can you follow up, even by email, to gather some facts? What did they want to say? What did they mean? What is happening, in their mind?
When you have a little more information, you can then move from storytelling to choosing an action. (Don’t get stuck in the fact gathering phase too long or you might end up with what some people call “analysis paralysis”). Do you want to let this situation go because the facts have shown you that no change is needed? Will you change your behavior, or have a conversation with someone else about their behavior or words, based on how you feel and also on the facts you’ve gathered? Whatever you do, move forward with the confidence that your decision is based not just on a story, but on a consideration of the facts.