The Heat Is On: Hot Head Moments And How To Recover (Or Not)
Lost Your Cool? You’re Not Alone
Our soundbite-heavy world has made losing your cool a hotter-than-ever subject. With everyone from sports stars to CEOs sharing the dubious fame of a public melt down, Stout has gathered the best advice for how to recover and how to prevent your own hot head moment.
The Heat Is On…Camera
With everyone carrying a phone around in their pocket or purse, it’s harder than ever for bad behavior to hide. Just talk to Travis Kalanick, former Uber CEO, whose tirade at a driver over fares was recorded and widely publicized. Or Toronto city councillor Paula Fletcher, who lost her cool over a heckler during a televised meeting, shouting at the man to, “Come on, run against me. Come on down, baby!” (She later apologized, saying she had “lost it.”). And there’s always Hollywood, where publicists and fixers never need fear standing in the unemployment line.
So what do you do when you you’ve blown your top in a very public way? The good news is, redemption is possible – depending on how far you went, and how well you handle the aftermath. Here are five #Stout steps that you can take after the smoke clears:
5 Steps To Recovering From A Melt Down
▪ Assess the Damage – There are a couple of ways to look at this. First, is there physical damage – did the computer that ate your critical files get swept to the floor along with everything else on your desk? Did an altercation actually become bodily? If your meltdown remained verbal, was it contained to yourself – bursting into tears or yelling abstractedly? Or did you target another person? And did you unload your anger using mild insults and profanity, or did you cross much deeper lines by referencing gender, race, or ethnicity? Obviously, the bigger the pile of debris or taboo(s) broken, the more trouble you are in.
▪ Embrace You Humanity — First and foremost, remind yourself that you are only human, and that humans make mistakes or can only take so much. Owning and admitting your vulnerability generates compassion and forgiveness from others. When pop star Britney Spears had her notorious meltdown in 2007, it was obvious that she was overwhelmed and achingly human. Despite the very public acting out, a mere six years later, Spears was back on stage with a Vegas residency, embraced by crowds and more successful than ever.
▪ Do NOT Get Defensive – When you have screwed up on a very public stage, don’t compound the damage by trying to justify your outburst. Humanity (above) and humility go a long way towards smoothing troubled waters, while arrogance merely roils them more. Others like nothing better to see an arrogant or insensitive person fall, so don’t give them anything to root for.
▪ Play up the Passion – A 2016 Harvard Business School study made an interesting discovery: others’ perceptions of your distress at work can be managed. In one experiment, the researchers had a presenter break down in tears of frustration. She offered three different apologies for her breakdown: one, a generic apology; two, an apology for being “emotional”; and three, an apology for being “passionate”. The researchers’ conclusion: those “who reframed distress as passion” were viewed as more competent than the other two attributions. So if you can’t suppress your emotion, then reframe it as stemming from passion if possible.
▪ Apologize, Thoughtfully and Thoroughly – Keynote speaker and best-selling author Joseph Grenny shared the three steps to a real apology in an exceptional Harvard Business Review article. First, he says, an apology must have the right motive: restoring integrity, as opposed to merely trust. Second, he says that before an apology can be effective, learning from the experience must be absorbed and internalized. And finally, Grenny says the apology must offer others “a glimpse into your own accountability“, because “the purpose of an apology is not to restore trust, but to confirm to others that we deserve it.”
Recovery Is Possible; Prevention Is Better
The toxicity of former Uber COE Travis Kalanick was such that the company needed to remove him to recover. Dara Khosrowshahi, the new CEO, started his time with the ride-hailing firm by conducting an “apology tour”, publicly expressing deep concern and regret for the previous culture. And his tactic is working; Toyota just inked a $500-million dollar investment with Uber, partnering with them to deliver self-driving cars by 2021.
Even better than making an apology tour, though, is preventing a meltdown in the first place. While you are indeed only human (see #2 above), there are several strategies you can employ to stay cool under pressure. Here’s how to head off acting like a hothead.
Preventing A Melt Down
▪ Know Your Triggers — Does your morning commute put you on edge before you even walk in the door? Do quarterly sales reports stress you out? Or do you feel angry and ashamed when you struggled with new technology? It’s important to know what your trouble triggers are, so that you can either avoid them or be prepared ahead of time to cope. And since meltdowns are often a case of “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, be especially wary of multiple triggers happening in quick succession.
▪ Breathing and Biofeedback — Awareness of building emotions is key. Fast Company magazine offers a trio of mind-body suggestions to try and calm down a stressed state. The “10-10-10” breathing method they recommend encompasses breathing in for 10 seconds, out for 10 seconds, and repeating that sequence 10 times. They also suggest looking at or even touching something that is the color blue, which has a proven calming effect. Finally, they suggest an Eastern medicine acupressure move: activating the pressure point between the second and third knuckle of your hand. By squeezing this spot between your pointer and middle finger, you activate “a nerve that loosens the area around the heart”, putting an end to any nervous flutters.
▪ Take It Outside — A change of scenery can make a huge change in mood. Moving away, even temporarily, from the person or project making you upset gives you time to cool off and reset your emotions.
▪ Find a Friendly Face — This is not the time to storm into your boss’s office and air your grievances. But private venting to a trusted friend or colleague can help relieve some of the pressure that’s built up inside you before it spills out. Just remember the words “private” and “trusted” – unloading in the wrong place or to the wrong person can be as damaging as a meltdown itself.
▪ Use Those Vacation Days — More than half of Americans (52%) did not use all their vacation days in the past 12 months, according to vacation tracking research group Project Time Off. Glassdoor analyst Scott Dorboski chalks that up mostly to fear: “[people] fear getting behind on their work (34%), believe no one else can do the work while they’re out (30%), are completely dedicated to their company (22%), and they feel they can never be disconnected (21%).” But if you’re feeling on edge, put aside those “out of office” fears and consider that a very public office meltdown can be far more career-damaging than a few days on the beach.
Sometimes, though, you’re just done. ↣
Consider former JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater, who was finally done after a rule-breaking passenger not only refused to obey crew commands, but then hit him in the head with a piece of luggage.
With no desire to retain his job or reclaim his reputation, Slater exited with a dramatic flair of epic proportions — summarized here by ABC’s The View.
Want to avoid an exit strategy that includes the evening news?
The Stout archives are full of great insights and advice on recharging and resilience. Let us help #BringOutYourStout – visit them today.