Several years ago, when I was still working in insurance, I was trying over and over again to grow within the company, so any opening that was posted I applied for. I was 0 for 3 in interviews but didn’t think much of it because I was proud of myself for trying. That’s when I was called into my manager’s office and he asked how my job search was going. Thinking he was going to offer some words of wisdom, I explained I hadn’t been successful but was optimistic. He responded by saying “I want you to stop applying for a while; you’re making the department look bad” and I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so small. Despite my every intention to stay collected – I started to cry. I remember thinking how unfair it was that I was crying even though I didn’t want to be. It was as if my response was drowning in tears and I couldn’t defend my actions properly.
While I hope to never find myself on that end of a conversation again, there are important takeaways to keep in mind should I find myself in an emotional situation again.
Emotions don’t equal weakness
I say this, not to excuse emotional outbursts or unprofessional behavior, but to acknowledge that sometimes we get hurt and we’re entitled to our feelings. Louis C.K. once said, “when a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.” Remember this if you find yourself in a hurtful situation, whether it’s the giving or receiving end. In my situation, it would have been appropriate for me to say “what you said was really hurtful, can you explain why you feel this way” rather than feeling like I had to go on the defense and focus on my own shortcomings.
Take a break
If the opportunity allows for it, take a break from the situation before emotions take control. While I couldn’t just up and walk away from a meeting with management, I could have asked to continue the conversation at a later time, so that I could be better prepared. There’s truth in the recommendation that if you write something down in anger you should wait a day before sending it. While the digital age may not allow for a full day cool down, give yourself some time before hitting “reply” on the more emotionally charged emails.
Do damage control
Sometimes we have to swallow our pride and admit if we messed up. Sometimes we have to swallow our pride and apologize first, even if we weren’t the only ones to mess up. If you didn’t handle an emotional situation in the most professional of ways, be the bigger person and apologize for your reaction. It’s likely that the apology can lead to further, more productive conversations about how to handle things in the future and to understand the source of the pain in the first place.
Fuel your fire
The best revenge is success. I took what my manager said and decided I wanted to prove him wrong. I started studying interviewing techniques and took as many professional development opportunities as I could, and it paid off. And while I’m sure (or at least I can hope) reverse psychology was his motivation behind the meeting in the first place, I was the one who decided to take action rather than let it bring me down.