Mad Men Don’t Get Mad…

By Carrie Aulenbacher, - In Leadership

Picture of Mad Men

As we near the end of Mad Men some talk of going back to the first season to watch things from the beginning.  Many first impressions of Don Draper back in season one was that he wasn’t the type of guy who got mad, but who found a way to remain professional while getting even.  (Think the episode ‘Red In The Face’.)  Although you certainly can’t take those extremes when working out frustrations over a co-worker or associate, can you identify with these feelings?

You’re in the car on your long commute to work and right in the middle of the conference call, a co-worker who has a habit of jumping in on your sentences, cuts you off. 

During a long staff meeting on a beautiful Friday afternoon, a co-worker who was working on a joint project with you throws you under the bus during a discussion and turns things around to make it sound like everything was their idea.

You’re swamped at your desk in the middle of a huge deadline when an associate walks in and starts up about that one topic you two always end up arguing about.

We’ve all been caught by a co-worker, client or associate (or boss even!) who aggravates us to no end.  Whether they cut you off in mid-sentence, throw you under the bus in front of other managers, or start up that same aggravating conversation that you two can never agree on, they seem to come up in every line of work, no matter what type of job you have.  It’s not that they are downright unprofessional or even that they are necessarily doing it out of spite, but it sure feels like it in the heat of the moment.

Of course, this only happens right when you’ve had the worst night of sleep, the most hectic day of the week or they were out of your favorite morning treat on your way to work. (What do you mean that peppermint latte was only seasonal?)  And your immediate reaction is to bite their head off, whisk them out of your office and slam the door in their face.  Which you know wouldn’t fix the problem, but gosh, it sure would feel good at the time!

Dealing with a frustrating person can push your buttons, so when it’s a co-worker, what’s one to do?  Don’t jump down the person’s throat – as much as you want to.  Instead, try:

  1. BREATHE.  Keeping your cool can start with a deep breath.   Focus on yourself and recognize that your entire body is tightening like a coil ready to spring through the ceiling. Just take a moment to stop and breathe.  Blowing up while red-faced like an 80’s professional wrestler (Sid Vicious, anyone?) isn’t going to fix anything.  It might just be what this person is secretly angling for, too!
  2. BACK-UP. Perspective about the immediate situation and what’s been building up inside you throughout the day might help you to identify that you’re not as upset at this person as is warranted.  Remember, this day started out bad when they messed up your latte and then you got caught in traffic!  Don’t take out something unrelated on this person, even if they did just get under your skin about something.  Take a step back and evaluate the immediate as objectively as possible to avoid saying something off the cuff that you’ll regret.  Offer a polite excuse or small compromise to gain some distance.
  3. BUFFER.  Once you’ve removed yourself from the emotion of the stressful situation and evaluated why you felt like tossing your stapler at this person, take the buffer to allow yourself time to calm down and mull over your reaction.  In the middle of the Friday afternoon staff meeting you might not have but more than a few minutes, but you can always try a polite ‘let me toss some ideas around and follow-up with you Monday’ to buy yourself some time.  Even though you might not want to leave the situation unresolved, if you can, it gives both parties an opportunity to reflect on what just happened.  Give yourself time to vent privately (to a non co-worker off of office property) before coming back to resolve the issue in a more business-like manner.
  4. BOTTOM LINE. When you do come back to this situation with this frustrating person, keep to the bottom line and don’t drag all sorts of other things into it.  It might seem relevant to you to explain to this person that they push your buttons with their snide remarks or backhanded compliments, but that’s not going to be productive in the long term.  It would, most likely, make things worse overall.  Remember, you buffered yourself to (hopefully) gain a day or two to vent to someone else about the irritating level of the situation!    Always strive to be calm and collected, no matter how irritated, so as to keep yourself from going down to their level.  You work hard to do a good job and allowing yourself to get wrapped up in the aggravating nature of office politics (or the politics of this individual) doesn’t honor all your hard work.  Sticking to the task at hand will keep everything moving.

We can’t always pick who we work with, but we always have the power to choose what we allow ourselves to get involved with.  When it comes to those rough days, it’s not a matter of getting even (Sorry, Mr. Draper!) but a matter of staying focused on the goal [getting the job done] and not getting wrapped up in the emotion of the moment.


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