I just got off the phone and immediately realized that I need some help. I spoke to an employee in a way I am ashamed of. I didn’t yell or flip my lid, but I was curt, demanding, and unsympathetic, and I interrupted him several times.
I have some things going on in my life that have me down in the dumps. I’m beginning to get impatient with my employees because they ask so many questions and eat up so much of my time. This is not me. I consider myself a very supportive manager and a happy person under normal circumstances.
I’m hoping you can give me some advice on how to leave my personal issues at the door so that I can avoid speaking to my employees in a way I will regret.
Need to Nip it in the Bud
Dear Need to Nip,
Thank you for this beautiful letter. I am sorry you are having such a hard time. I hate it when I am not my best self! Of course, it is a 24/7 job to stay on my game—as it is for most people.
You are only human. Please cut yourself some slack. These are hard times: pandemic, civil unrest, election, fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes. Anything extra going on in your personal life can tip the scale.
Before you do anything else, contact your employee and apologize for having a bad moment. It doesn’t have to be a big deal—but a little apology can go a long way. Just send an email or a card. I have a small supply of cards that I use for apologies. This could relieve your remorse in the short term.
In the long term, though, it is important to get to the crux of what has put you so off center. I think there are two sides to consider here. One is that your employees are asking too many questions and taking up too much of your time. The other is that you want to be better at compartmentalization so that you are able to leave your irritation at the door.
Your employees. It might be true that you had a bad day, your employee just needed to vent and whine, and it was an isolated incident. I always thought my whole team melted down on my worst days. But it is also possible that your employees are actually annoying and when you are feeling on top of your game you don’t notice it. As a resilient, high energy person, it can be easy to let bad behavior slide off your back. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Your bad days can be the gift that helps you see that maybe you shouldn’t be so easy going. You may actually be tolerating and allowing behaviors that you shouldn’t.
Ask yourself: How have I allowed my employees to become so dependent? What could I do to get them going in the opposite direction?
Perhaps you could invest some time in making sure that each employee knows exactly what their tasks are, and exactly what a good job looks like. It works really well when you have employees set up regular 1×1 meetings with you. The 1×1 is their meeting time with you and they can do whatever they want with it. Make sure they drive the scheduling of it and send you a brief agenda before the meeting. They must understand that this is their time—if they squander it by not preparing, they will have to wait until the next meeting.
If your employees are asking too many questions, it may be because they are looking for certainty. You may want to have a Q & A with the whole team about whatever is uncertain, using a team chat or email.
You. What are “normal circumstances”? What is keeping you from being your happy self? It’s one thing to leave your personal life at the door; it’s another to put it into perspective. If you are pushed so far off center, it is probably one—or a combination—of these three things:
Your needs aren’t being met. You were getting a core need met in your personal life, and something has changed and that need is no longer being met. A core psychological need is one that must be fulfilled for you to feel 100% functional. The current theory on needs is that we all share three: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Additional theories hold that every individual has needs that are specific to them as part of their temperament or their individual makeup. From a coaching standpoint, the more you set up your life to get your needs met, the more energy you have to fling yourself at your goals. Needs can be tricky. It’s hard to notice a need when it is being met, and that’s why people who have mastered getting their needs met seem so even keeled. Your meltdown moment provides an opportunity to examine what need wasn’t getting met leading up to it. You may know exactly what it is, or it may be news to you. If you do identify it as a needs issue, ask yourself how you could get it met in a new way. Ask your friends and loved ones for help. Getting your needs properly met is not really optional; it is something you must do as a prerequisite for being the person you want to be and having the life you want.
You have too many tolerations. You are tolerating entirely too much in your personal life. Ask yourself: What am I putting up with? If each toleration is a marble in your pocket, one or two is easy. Twenty-five is a problem. (You can read about how we allow tolerations to accumulate here). Make a list of everything you are putting up with and figure out what you can fix, delegate to someone else to fix, or shift to make it more tolerable. More detail on how to eliminate tolerations here.
Your self-care is out of whack. Your normal self-care routine has been disrupted. Self-regulation is 100% dependent on our pre-frontal cortex (PFC). This part of your brain is located right behind your forehead, and is the seat of judgment, choice, analytical thinking, strategic thinking, and our ability to inhibit undesirable behaviors. Neuroscientists call the PFC a resource hog. At the very least, it needs you to:
- provide it with a constant supply of glucose from high quality foods;
- stay hydrated;
- allow it to rest and sleep (two different things); and
- do physical exercise.
Now ask yourself: What can I do—even as I get my personal life under control by getting my needs met and eliminating tolerations—to take care of my PFC and thereby enhance my ability to self-regulate at work? Some ideas:
- Take more breaks
- Make sure you are drinking water
- Take a walk around the block when you feel yourself getting irritable
- Bring snacks and plan time for lunch
- Review what has helped you in the past: Meditation? Four deep breaths? Stretching?
Good luck to you. Know that you are in very good company. There is much required of all of us to stay on an even keel these days.
About the Author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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