A few years ago I was in a meeting discussing city-wide festival coordination. I hadn’t read the agenda properly and as the meeting progressed I slowly realised the agenda contained an item on a significant festival my organisation had sole responsibility for.
Incredibly the organiser wanted to use the meeting to decide the theme of our next festival.
This was a significant six figure budget project and part of our NPO agreement with ACE.
This had not been discussed in advance, we had plans already in place, structures and consultation had already begun but the Council (who were co-ordinating the group) were not aware of that. It was bringing an authority to a group with no formal status.
I got angry and behaved “intemperately” shall we say.
I regretted that response and afterwards asked the estimable Ben Spiller if I was justified in feeling so angry, they wisely said:
“There must have been a reason for you to get angry.”
I reflected on that and worked out I was upset at the gross rudeness and professional ineptitude of a Council employee casually asserting authority over something he had no responsibility for.
Whilst I understood and shared the belief we should strategically liaise about the festivals in the city this was not the way to go about it. In fact it seemed to me that I was deliberately being put in a difficult and embarrassing position.
Once I’d rationalised my anger I understood the situation better.
Thanks to Ben I realised that emotions are an important tool in recognising the truth of a situation and so I learned 2 things:
1. Read agendas before you go into a meeting
2. Spot your emotion as it arises and trust there is a good reason for it to be there
Zen Buddhists spend a lot of time cracking terrible jokes because they know laughter is the quickest way to understanding truth, “Comedy is truth”.
As a cultural professional this is something you should be able to pick up quickly.
Emotions are carriers of information, they tell you the truth of what is happening at any given time.
So how can you begin to use emotions to help you understand what is going on around you at work? The trick is to spot them, understand and act appropriately.
It’s not straightforward though. Here are some pointers.
1. Develop a meditation/mindfulness practice
Yep that hippy stuff. I’ve been doing it about 20 years now and it has been invaluable in all sorts of ways. Get yourself a proper introduction in meditation and mindfulness, not some aerobics teacher down the church hall who has a read a book on mindfulness. Learn how to focus on your self-talk and learn also you do not have to respond it. This is how you develop an ability to observe your emotions.
2. Identify the trigger
Years ago I had a Councillor on my Board whose face used to flush red in exactly the same way as my mother’s did when she was angry. As a result I was terrified of him. This is what I mean by a trigger. Your job is to accept the emotion then work out what is triggering that emotion. Is it legit or not? What's going on?
3. Manage your response
Once you know what is going on you can manage your response far more effectively. This puts you back in control but is not always straightforward.
Very recently I was doing some work for a client and whenever they made some comment on my work I got very wound up by it. Took me weeks of observation to understand why until finally I realised 4 things were happening:
- They were micromanaging
- They only communicated with me through small, usually critical, comments
- They had not communicated with clarity what they wanted the work to look like when completed
- They gave no other positive feedback
I knew I could not change the situation so I moved on.
4. Find somebody to talk to
The mistake I made in that recent situation was not talking through my emotions with a third party. If I had I would have suffered less and dealt with the situation far more effectively.
Situations are always tangled and complicated. It may be difficult to unravel what is going on in the moment talking it through with a coach or mentor will resolve this situation.
REMEMBER: emotions exist for a reason, they are rational responses to situations. Positive or negative understanding your emotions will keep your mental health in far better balance.
Understand them, listen to them and act accordingly.
If you need help in navigating an uncomfortable situations, message me, I may be able to help.