Pausing Our Internal Autoresponder

ffb2bef0ed8f4f3736b5cbf358c87bb3By Shirin McArthur: shirinmcarthur.wordpress.com or shirinmcarthur@gmail.com

We’ve all received autoresponses—those email messages that tell us the recipient of our recent message is out of the office. They’re a handy and helpful feature of modern business communications.

Less helpful are many of our internal emotional autoresponses. Take, for example, the sense of offense that arises within us when we are poorly treated. Whether it’s something simple like a rude driver cutting us off in traffic or something more complex like a coworker responding rudely in a difficult conversation, we have all found ourselves autoresponding with hurt or anger. Unfortunately, if we express those feelings, we will just escalate the situation, making a peaceful resolution even more difficult.

So how do we push pause on such autoresponses? It helps tremendously to consciously recognize that it’s not about us. It’s easier to understand this in the first example, where the other driver is someone unknown to us. It literally can’t be personal. We can also step back, mentally, and hypothesize half a dozen reasons why someone might drive in this fashion; she or he might be late for a critical job interview or is taking a bleeding child to the emergency room. Taking a moment to imagine such possibilities allows us to get out of our own story and develop some compassion for the other driver—and also some gratefulness that no collision occurred.

The second example is, naturally, more difficult. Thus it is also more important. Disrespectful treatment is painful. It should not be acceptable in a colleague—but it does happen. Again, the key to pushing the pause button is recognizing that it’s nothing personal. A colleague’s rudeness is about his or her capacity to handle what is happening. It’s about an entire lifetime of accumulated experiences that lead this person, in this situation, to feel somehow fearful or inadequate, and thus to respond poorly.

Once we internalize this basic understanding, we are freed from being “hooked” by what another does. We can detach from others’ actions, take a mental step back, and consciously analyze the situation as it is, rather than as the other person is responding to it. We can choose to say something simple, like “Thank you for sharing,” then step away, let the situation defuse, and not perpetuate any pain.

Take a moment to remember a recent situation in which your autoresponder kicked in. What was the situation? How might you handle it differently—more consciously—next time?

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