Preface: Workplace Undercover is a recurring segment of this blog, featuring a workplace scenario and a response by a guest consultant. In the previous post, “How to Deal with Stress at Work When People Let You Down,”Vicki screams at Saul for not getting a draft document to her at the time he had promised.
She collapses nearly in tears, wondering whether she was the only one in the company who cares. Saul apologized and then secretly fumed, “Why didn’t someone do something about Vicky?” The case is discussed by Dr. Jo Bowens Lewis, a certified teaching and supervising transactional analyst, and a Leading Consciously practitioner.
We continue with Jo’s case analysis.
Given the heated exchange between Vicki and Saul, what are their options?
Vicki’s options: Even though Vickie had not cleared her emotions before calling, the option of expressing authentic feelings and asking Saul to be accountable could have happened. Vickie could have expressed her disappointment and asked Saul how it is that the draft hadn’t been sent as agreed. Saul could have acknowledged, with regret that he hadn’t sent it, told her the reason and circumstance, and suggested future options. They could then decide on next steps together.
If I were coaching Vickie, we would explore the practice of differentiating offenses (behaviors of others) from the meanings she assigns to those behaviors. She questioned if anyone respects her work and time –or if she’s the only one who cared about producing quality work. This questioning is “where she goes”– the meaning she assigns to his behavior — when angry. Psychologically, this is rhetorical “food” that intensifies and extends the duration of anger.
At some point, I would ask Vickie to list examples of evidence that her work and time is respected as well as to list evidence that peers share her value of quality work.
My coaching would invite her to recognize and use specific feelings for getting her emotional needs met more efficiently. She had experienced underlying feelings of scare (that the work would be late and viewed by her managers as a reflection of her work), and sadness (experienced when she returned to her office). Both feelings had been converted to anger by the time she phoned Saul. Overtime and with practice, Vickie would identify her underlying feelings and use skills to clear the intensity of her anger.
Coaching would be a source of support and affirmation for her practice of communicating feelings that elicit accountability, reassurance, and collaborative problem-solving versus passivity, fighting, or withdrawal. She would learn to constructively use her anger to express objections and set limits. Additional coaching may include learning to check out assumptions.
Saul’s options: Assuming that Saul had agreed to send the final version of the newsletter to Vickie before it went to press, he failed to live up to his promise. Upon hearing the intensity of Vicky’s anger, his apologetic responses and attempts to “fix it” quickly with explanations and promises didn’t work for their relationship or calm either of their feelings. He entered the interaction believing that somebody ought to “do something about Vicky” and that “no one wanted to talk to her,” etc. He discounts his power to influence a change in how he interacts with her.
Note that Vickie didn’t indicate readiness to hear nor accept his apology. By immediately offering apologies, confusion, and explanations from a Child-like place, Saul was inadvertently speaking to the secret Parental message that Vicki was sending (“Now I got you! You didn’t do what I expected of you!”) and inviting her to the game of “Kick Me.”
Although, the scenario doesn’t specify what Saul was feeling, it is likely that he became anxious upon being screamed at. Anxiety can “short-circuit” a person’s capacity to think clearly. In that case, Saul might have literally acknowledged Vickie’s anger and that he was aware that she asked for the final version before it went to press. By doing this, he would have been speaking the social level message heard and slowing down the process.
Other options include Saul’s proposing that they discuss what to do next and resolve the emotional/interpersonal part later. Or, he could tell her he’d call her back shortly, buying time to center himself.
If I were coaching Saul, we would focus on his personal empowerment and practices of assertion. In this case, did he agree to send the newsletter before press and sabotage his intention, or did he resent the request, agree to it, then “forget” to do it? Had he taken the time to get to know Vickie, or had he been avoiding contact before this interaction?
On emotional matters, Saul “fumed” after the interaction; however, his Child-like responses suggest anxiety which is often a combination of anger and scare. Coaching would involve anxiety reduction practices, and the exercise of boldly facing (confronting) from a position of equality to others – even when he has made a mistake. He would learn to recognize, express, and utilize his anger to set limits rather than internalize anger (“feeding” anxiety) while attempting to placate others.
- What does “use” your anger” mean to you? How do you know when you are using your anger appropriately?
- How do you respond when others yell at you or treat you unfairly? What options do you see for yourself in such situations?
Berne, E. (1966). Games people play: the psychology of human relationships. London: Deutsch.
Latting & Ramsey, Reframing Change, Chapter 3 “Clearing emotions”
Stewart, I., & Joines, V. (1987). TA today: a new introduction to transactional analysis. Nottingham; Chapel Hill: Lifespace Pub.
Dr. Jo Bowens Lewis (PsyD) is a licensed clinical psychologist, a certified teaching and supervising transactional analyst, and a Leading Consciously practitioner. She also serves as an organizational process consultant and trainer-consultant for clinicians, managers, and educators, taking into account matters of diversity. She is founder of the Center for Cooperative Change, Decatur, GA.