In today’s society there are as many opportunities to spend emotional energy as there are to spend money. And, like money, we typically have a limited budget. What’s different is that when we need more in the immediate, we don’t have the option to charge it on a credit card and borrow from someplace else. This emphasizes the need to spend emotional resources much more wisely. And, to the degree we get hooked emotionally by everyday circumstances, we drain ourselves and throw this precious resource down a rat hole. If we truly have the ability to maintain composure during difficult times, we are growing in executive presence. And, just for the record, quiet people with no visible evidence of anger or frustration are just as prone to this trap, as it all just happens on the inside.
A true professional understands this need to maintain composure and does his or her best to apply the principles of healthy detachment, which defined is the ability to stand back, see circumstances more objectively, and suspend judgment until all other possibilities have been considered. My wife and I bought a house recently, and as we walked through our new place, just hours before the closing, we noticed that some work was not complete according to the contract. Our realtor was visibly upset and I wanted to get mad too. I caught myself just in time and out of sheer choice said, “There may be a reason why.” It turned out the work was scheduled for that day and all was complete by the time we moved in. I saved myself the embarrassment of a false accusation by giving the benefit of the doubt (this time, at least).
How does this principle apply at work? Since, as organizational leaders, we are expected to have good judgment in decision-making, we are therefore surprisingly accustomed to being “the judge” and making fast decisions. The problem with this tendency is that using judgment in business decision-making is quite different than judging in personal circumstances. The first is objective, the second is subjective, and they must not be confused. No-one knows the heart and intents of other people, which creates the wildcard. If we are quick to judge other’s intentions and actions, by making assumptions without pausing to consider the possibilities, we’ll either repeatedly offer apologies to those around us, or leave the perception that we are severe, unapproachable people. In both cases we lose the active support of those around us–our influence wanes.
Here are some tips to maintain healthy detachment when circumstances tempt us:
1- Suspend judgment. Whenever we make a judgment, we rule out all other possibilities. Oftentimes snap judgments are rooted in difficult emotions. The antidote for being judgmental is to choose to be curious. Curiosity has the quality of being amused by the unknown, certain that there is always something to be learned. The absence of judgment creates an opportunity to explore and expand our personal insights. It helps us to maintain emotional balance.
2- Consider the possibilities. Ask yourself the coaching question, “What are the possibilities?” Think hard about the answers to this question. Your summary should include both good reasons and bad ones to be fair and thorough. This exercise tends to create clarity of mind and will give you the opportunity to show grace. Rarely do we make good judgments, and therefore decisions, when affected by negative emotions–this process puts difficult emotions at bay, temporarily.
3- Make the best informed decision. Having set emotion aside and now able to see the bigger picture, choose an option that makes the most sense, but one that is seasoned with grace. Personally, I would rather be wrong by giving grace and adjust accordingly than to be judgmental and miss the mark most of the time. It conserves emotional energy, and shows the benefit of the doubt.
Know that healthy detachment is a major component of executive presence, and improves a person’s judgment, therefore his or her decision-making. As a side note, this same principle works just as well in the home with spouses, teenagers and neighbors.
Coaching questions: When are you tempted most to make snap judgments? How can you convert those instances into opportunities to practice healthy detachment? Write your answers in your journal.