So there I was minding my own business when I get the email. You know the one where the sender starts going on about this and that, puts a few good points in for flavor and then… THUMP! THUMP!
Hey! What am doing under the bus?
I don’t like the view from down there and guess what… no one else does either.
Read on for some thoughts on getting back on the bus, recovering from your injuries and getting your seat back.
Let’s face it, if you work with people long enough you’re going to find yourself under the bus. It may be a vendor or a customer or a colleague but the view from the undercarriage is never good.
Why am I even here?
Before you even take the first step to get out from under the bus remember why you’re there in the first place. Whoever threw you under there is afraid. It may mask itself as mean or assertive or desperate or as an emergency. Don’t get distracted. Being under the bus is about someone else’s fear… even if you made a mistake no one ever deserves to be under the bus.
A good, fact based solution will go a long way to giving courage to the fearful. So…
Misery Loves Company
No matter how lonely your misery is… do NOT respond by trying to pull someone under the bus with you. This doesn’t get you back on the bus, it just means there are two people under the bus and when you’re under it, you’re not on it solving the problem.
Liar, Liar Pants on Fire!
Yes… they might be wrong and if they’re wrong about the central issue then you’ll have to deal with it but if they’re wrong about an off topic let it go with a ‘Hmmm… I’ll have to revisit that and get back to you.” and move on.
No… they’re really wrong! Okay, I get it. They are presenting information about the exact issue and it doesn’t agree with you.
Stop, Breathe, Think, Act
When something goes wrong in SCUBA diving (yes… this is related), we have a four step process.
This is a perfect opportunity to practice your SCUBA skills even if you’re not a diver.
Stop – I don’t care what it takes but disengage your internal transmission.
- If it’s an email this is easy… just walk away.
- If you’re in a meeting or on the phone you’re going to have to think on your feet but do NOT allow the momentum of a bad moment to continue. It’s bad for you, bad for your team and bad for getting to valuable action.
Pause and ask for someone to hand you the water. Take some notes (even if it’s a grocery list). If you really have your zen on just sit silently for 20 or 30 seconds (if you haven’t practiced this it will be excruciating but silence is golden). Breaking the momentum may feel awkward – do it anyway.
Breathe – take a breath… now take another one… and another. If you’re responding to a situation emotionally your breathing is going to be fast and shallow. Get it under control. While your sitting in your zen like silence or pouring your coffee think consciously about breathing deep and slow. We’re not talking about a big sigh with an eye roll for good measure – not helpful – just nice controlled, even and deep breaths.
Think – we need to do two things here. First, accept that whatever the situation is… it’s not about you; it’s about finding the best solution – and put your ego aside.
- Is there new information that you didn’t know?
- Is is possible that – from their perspective – their comments are understandable?
- Are they misinformed?
Act – okay it’s time to make your move. If they are wrong it’s time to give them a way out. “I understand why you might see it that way… let’s go through the situation together.” I know, it’s going to be hard (remember… we put our ego aside earlier… leave it there) do it anyway. Then keep your zen on and discuss the facts. Let me rephrase that. FACTS. Be sure to keep the conversation focused on facts. Opinions will be duct tape keeping you on the axle. If it becomes apparent that the facts are unknown or in dispute… the meeting is over and the action is to get the facts.
- Ready yourself in advance with ways to break the momentum in a personal meeting or on the phone and have them ready to use at anytime. I’m a coffee addict so I’ll be the guy saying “Wow… yeah I’m gonna need another coffee before we tackle that one!” or something.
- Be willing to accept that someone has a point even if they presented it in a way that reflected poorly on you.
- Responding to a difficult email? Schedule a meeting on the subject. This buys time for you to prep your thoughts and, in my experience, people will email comments they would never commit to in an open forum.
- Remember… your goal is not to ‘win’ against the offender it’s to get to the best solution for your company.
- When someone in your organization makes a mistake stick to the old saying praise in public, correct in private. Never throw anyone under the bus… ever.
If you’re in business long enough you’ll end up under the bus on occasion. Guess what… there’s good news – if someone throws you under the bus most astute observers will see what’s happening. Trust that they see what you see and pull yourself back on the bus with dignity and grace. You’re coworkers, employees, vendors, customers and the boss man will respect your self control and laser focused problem solving.
Break time’s over… it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work!
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