When you spend more than 40 hours a week with co-workers, they can feel like family at times. Some of our best friends come from our professional interactions. The best of us have no problem maintaining boundaries. Others stumble when that familiarity, over-active emotions, and challenging work situation intersect.
Ever since I started to bring home a paycheck, my sanctuary had been my office. My home life was less than ideal. The workplace represented an area of my life where I felt rewarded, respected, and fulfilled. Even with the challenges and constant professional changes occurring, I remained level and focused.
This focus splintered with the divorce. What once was crystal clear, became murky at best.
In my mind’s eye, I was operating as if it were business as usual. Unconsciously, I had become a heat-seeking missile out to destroy any behavior that even remotely resembled the bully-like behavior I was experiencing with my former spouse and his attorney.
Unfortunately, a new member of the senior management team exhibited some of the very same qualities of the people I was dealing with in my legal life. No longer afraid to punch back if one came in my direction, I was quick, even eager, to respond in kind.
The problem with that should have been obvious. The person wasn’t a criminal in some dark alley waiting to take my car or money; he was the CEO. We both had very strong personalities and more in common that either one of us would care to admit. But the backpack of anger and resentment I was carrying would only allow me to see him as a villain.
Even though I had looked at my newfound confidence in managing aggressive behavior as a positive it was still a newly acquired skill, and my initial execution as awkward at best.
Part of my role in one engagement was to be the eyes and the ears on the street, and in this case, many streets in many towns. Off-line, behind-the-scenes conversations were taking place on an hourly basis. The arrival of the new CEO was coinciding with a very important town vote. Millions of dollars were at stake for years to come.
Concerned about the optics of how this management change could affect the vote, I asked for a meeting between the new guard and the old guard. The auspicious meet and greet was nothing short of a train wreck, that led to a 100-car pileup on the adjoining interstate, followed by a tornado.
New guard took umbrage for what he perceived to be a summons from a local villager to her castle to discuss state politics. Instead of taking that cue to adopt some level of humility and a more measured approach, all the pent up unrelated anger and frustration I had been feeling fueled a full-scale nuclear attack. Old guard was ominously quiet.
I remember myself saying, and even now cringing, “I don’t think you realize the precarious place that you are putting the company … you have absolutely no idea.”
To say my comments drew blood would be a staggering understatement. My comments were born out of a real concern for the company, but the delivery was unbelievably mangled.
Emotions can be loud and distracting. Be very inconvenient, and dressed in clever disguises. But they are what make us human and serve as our radar alerting us to changes taking place within us that need attention. In the story I told, no lives were lost. No dire consequences. (We did part ways about a year later.)
The upside? A mirror was held out to me so that I could realize the self-image of a confident communications counselor in my head was very different from the tentative, misguided woman I was projecting to those around the table.
Important corners are turned in the face of screw-ups, bad timing, poor judgment, and other unpleasant encounters. The only real mistake is not learning from them.