Part of my job as a counselor, coach, parent or supervisor is to help people recognize the self-talk that keeps them from positive progression, and to help them modify it for a different outcome, or to help them say out loud the things they need to hear from themselves, things that will motivate them and increase their confidence.
When one very distraught young lady called me she was so distraught that she could hardly stop crying. When she was finally able to talk I asked what had upset her so. To my surprise, she said “I had a flat tire.” Now I know flat tires can be inconvenient, frustrating and upsetting, but I don’t think I had ever known of someone being so upset because of one. She wasn’t quite suicidal, but she was certainly feeling hopeless and helpless, and leaning in that direction.
I asked her what it was about the flat tire that had caused this level of distress. She told me that she had missed work for a couple days for personal reasons that she described as “life and relationships not going well”, and was heading to back to work on a cold and snowy morning. When she got to her car, she noticed she had a flat, and when she checked her trunk, she also became aware that she didn’t have a jack in the car, and really didn’t even know how to change a tire. She said she had been a bit of an emotional mess lately and just wanted to call me to let me that she was going to quit her job.
I asked her if she had spoken to her supervisor yet, and she said she had not. Stop and think about this just for a moment. Why do you think she had not called her boss? You’re right! She said she didn’t think he would believe her; that he would think she was just making another excuse to miss work. She was convinced that he would probably think she was a lazy ‘good-for-nothing’ and that he would likely fire her for being late again. I asked her if her supervisor had ever treated her as poorly, and she said he had not. I asked if she was aware of him having treated anyone else as poorly, and she said that she was not aware of any examples of such treatment of others either. I said, “Wow, you’ve concluded your supervisor is going to be a jerk, but have no basis for that conclusion.” I also told her that her assumptions about him may be accurate, but right now all this frustration and negative emotion is based on what she was saying to her self and not based on facts or experience. I went on to suggest to her that she had talked herself into an emotional frenzy and even into quitting a perfectly good job. She reluctantly agreed that this is exactly what she had done.
I asked if she would try something for me, and, though a little reluctant, she agreed. I asked her to call her supervisor and tell him what had happened. I went on to tell her that either way, she wins. If he turns out to be a jerk, she wouldn’t want to work with him anyway, and she can go ahead and quit. If he turns out to be different, she may save herself the trouble of starting all over again. I also asked her to call me back and let me know how things worked out.
The next day she calls and begins the conversation by telling me that the company she worked for was the best in the world and her supervisor had to be the very best person she had ever worked for. Wow, what a difference 24 hours makes! She told me that he responded with a lot of concern when she told him what had happened. She said that he even asked one of her coworkers to go pick her up and bring her to work. Her coworker not only gave her a ride to work, but he also helped her get the tire changed and fixed. She could hardly believe it. The rest of our conversation was a discussion of how to manage the self-talk that leads to destructive emotions. She was all ears.
The next time you are frustrated, check your own Self-Talk. As an Exceptional Leader, be aware that most of the emotion you encounter from your employees is a result of their self-talk. Some of it may be true, some of it not. Part of your job may be to help them sort out the difference.