Jumping to Conclusions is Not an Aerobic Activity
It was my mother’s 98th birthday and I had ordered a special cake. Paper butterflies were to fly out of the box when it was opened. Since I’m not in New Jersey with Mom, I alerted the charge nurse of the impending delivery. I asked if someone could be with her when she opened the cake box, take a photo, and text it to me.
By late afternoon West Coast time, I hadn’t received a photo. I called the evening shift nurse. Did the cake arrive? No, not that she could see but I could try the front desk. I called the front desk to inquire if there was a box for my mother, perhaps sitting on a counter. No—and there was no record of a FedEx delivery. Maybe it had been delivered to the dining room. A phone transfer led me to the same query and yielded the same results. Maybe it had gone to the long-term care area, she said. Another transfer and disappointing answer. By now I was ticked.
With order confirmation number in hand, I went to the website to find a phone number. It was buried in small print. There was no FAQ on what to do if an order wasn’t delivered. Since the company is in my time zone, I called. It went immediately to a voice mail box, no company name or indication I’d reached the customer service line. I left a scathing message. Now that I was well on my way to a grand mal snit, I emailed too. Five minutes later I received a nicer email reply than I deserved and a copy of the FedEx delivery confirmation. It had been delivered at 12:38PM EDT. I called Mom’s facility again and said, “Go look in her room.”
There it was, box opened, butterflies spent, cake still wrapped. She’d been delighted with the surprise hours before but she had no idea who delivered the package to her room. Still rattled, I had to remind myself that the good news was she got the gift on her birthday. Now I had to walk it back with the cake company and apologize for leaping to a faulty conclusion.
Can anyone relate?
I can’t count the many times I’ve counseled others to give the benefit of the doubt—and then I ignore my own advice. Let me serve as an object lesson in the Olympic sport of high jumping to conclusions. I believe my performance was a result of a couple of factors, the first being trust. I had previous experience with my mother’s facility and trusted them so when they said the cake wasn’t there, I believed them. The bakery was unproven. Second, I had a negative bias based on my customer service values, which they failed to meet. From there I made assumptions about quality and reliability and that set me off.
It's even worse when we've had previous negative history. We’ve all had experiences with people we don’t trust or like and institutions that don't come up to our standards. This is when we're more likely not to give the benefit of the doubt and instead show up loaded for grizzly. However, if we’re aware of our biased assumptions, it’s possible to moderate our behavior if we actively choose to do so. But sometimes the trigger is pulled, and then the move from inquiry to judge and jury flies at lightning speed and the adrenaline is flowing.
I was wrong in my accusations to the bakery and quickly apologized. It’s not easy to do when a part of you still wants to fight thanks to the adrenaline rush and the desire to be right. I’m sure you’ve known people who never admit wrongdoing. Or they offer an apology with rationalizations in an attempt to save face. Others are so wedded to their emotional response they never stop casting blame.
There are ample opportunities for unmoderated anger to show up at work, in our personal lives, and on highly visible public platforms. (See my interview in Intelligent Communications Magazine about one man’s furious tirade at the media.) If ever there was a time to use our rational brains and talk ourselves down, it would be now. There are too many world issues ready to spin us into emotional chaos. But remember, it’s not easy to catch yourself once you’re well into snit territory. If you know your anger triggers, you’re a step ahead because you can train yourself to notice when they’ve been pulled. Hint: anything that offends your values is a likely trigger.
As soon you feel yourself on high alert, it’s time to breathe deeply to break the adrenaline response. Yoga works too, but you probably can't break into a pose in the middle of the conference room. Breathing can be done anywhere. But using your large muscles will do the same thing, so if you can walk, run or do pushups against the wall, that can help. (Hitting someone also qualifies as using large muscles but is not recommended!) Once the heart rate begins to slow, it’s easier to move to rational thinking. Then you might say to yourself, “This is not the time or the place,” “What’s a better way?” “What’s needed right now?” or simply, “Calm down and relax your muscles.”
We’re prone to making mistakes when anger is driving the bus—like running stop signs and slamming into others. We want to believe we’re rational beings but all of us are first and foremost emotional ones. It’s a part of being human. So, breathe, sit, stay. Good person!
My thanks to Lee Strucker for another original cartoon!