People are funny. Not necessarily ha-ha funny, like my friend and former colleague Danny, and not necessarily funny looking, like my friend, um, well, you know what I mean…
No, people are funny because they are unpredictable. I am not a betting man, which is good because I would have lost my shirt many times had I bet on how someone would react in a given situation. Tell one guy that his vacation is denied and he shrugs and tells you “oh well, worth an ask,” the other jumps up gives me the one-finger salute, and reminds you to call your mother. And that is one of the things I love about this job – not being reminded to call Mom, I am pretty good about that without the explicatives and obscene gestures – but rather that people are so unpredictable. If you are in HR, you know your job isn’t boring. If it is, you are doing it all wrong.
This leads me to today’s topic – which is adjusting behavior in the moment; as it happens. When we are confronted with stressors, our body’s natural response is fight or flight, or as I was taught: kick ass or haul ass. But this isn’t an option when dealing with conflict at work. Now don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of times I have wanted to go Will Smith on a mouthy little Chris Rock, 10-year ban from the Oscars or not, but kiddies – violence never solved anything. And by “violence” I am including an open-handed smack right on a grown man’s mouth.
So now that I have limited your options a bit, what am I suggesting? Act out the way you want the other person to act. If you want them to be calm, cool, and collected – you need to be calm, cool… and collected. Think Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction, Jules Winnfield, having Yolanda and “Ringo” pointing the guns at him. What does he say? “We are all cool.” Even when Vincent Vega returns from the restroom, Jules firmly tells him to, well, be quiet. In the end what happens? Jules and Vincent leave the diner. Jules goes on to presumably “walk the earth,” and Vincent, well, he goes on to relieve himself again in Butch’s apartment (must have been that steak at Jack Rabbit Slims).
You don’t have to be in a diner with an ominous briefcase and confront a couple of Brits with big guns to practice the simple act of mirroring the behavior you want. You can do it anytime someone starts acting silly with you. Is it a guarantee to work? Of course not! I’m in HR – I don’t make guarantees – but the odds are in your favor. But just like Jules Winnfield, just saying “alright, let’s everybody be cool” isn’t going to be enough. You have to act the part. If you are cool, whoever you are interacting with is going to want to be cool too.
For extra credit here’s a clip from the above movie. https://youtu.be/mvy4YH9–Vw