change how you reactMy older son who is about to turn 18 loves driving my car. Some weeks ago, we had gone out for dinner and as I was paying the bill, he asked if he could bring the car over from the car park as that would save me a long walk. I hesitated a bit because we were in a very crowded place with a lot of traffic around but I knew he wanted to drive so I said yes. 15 minutes passed and just as I was getting worried, he walked over to me, looking very sheepish, and said he had banged someone else’s car and the car driver was wanting to see me. I started to feel irritated at this unnecessary complication and was getting ready to give my son a lecture. Just then, the car driver whose car had been damaged came over with a broad smile and a warm handshake. The first thing he said to me was “It’s OK – don’t be tough on your son. Anyway, it’s just a small scratch.”  Now that was unexpected…

A couple of things happened because of that reaction a) I instantly got out of confrontation mode into compromise mode and b) I decided I would be really gentle with my son about this incident. I agreed a reasonable amount of compensation for the damage with the car driver then during the drive back to the house, I did not mention the incident at all. My son seemed relieved that I was not upset. In any case, I could not have changed what happened so why lose my cool?

One positive reaction can generate a chain of positive reactions

The person whose car had been damaged could have chosen to be really upset. But he reacted in a warm, positive way without accusing or admonishing and simply acknowledging that this kind of thing can happen. His reaction helped me to assume a similar, positive reaction and influenced me to not get upset with my son. Positive reactions can be infectious and can generate similar reactions in those you interact with.

When we are accused or admonished or attacked in some way, it is human nature to become defensive. However, when someone just asks what happened what happened in a calm manner, we feel more relaxed about that and more rational.

Don’t Let Your Frustration Speak

Most times when we are unhappy about something, either in a work situation or at home, we let our frustration take over and do the talking. This is not easy as we have to remember not to be our usual selves. Instead of lashing out at someone, it is infinitely better to ask a question like “what went wrong?” or “what happened?” or “how could we have done this better?”

By eliminating accusation and recrimination, we avoid the personal hurt and move straight on to resolution.

So what is an effective strategy to help us practice this:

1- Take some time before reacting.

This allows you to moderate your feelings about a situation. This time is to manage impulse (impulse control as it is referred to in emotional intelligence terms). The words you speak are a function of the way you feel so getting the feeling right comes first.

2. Think before you speak

There is no need to respond first. Listen as much as possible and think about the words that can help in the situation rather than the words that will aggravate.

3. Do not accuse or pass judgment

This is the tough part where you have to refrain from saying anything that will put the other on the defensive

4. Ask what happened and offer help and possible solutions

Train yourself to ask what happened and offer any help you can.

You can’t change what already happened. But you can change how you reacted to what happened. Becoming able to do this can be transformative.