How to respond well to difficult situations and prevent escalation in others.
We are met each day with pre-existing contexts, emotions, and desires. As we encounter the politics of business, our kid’s unyielding pursuit of independence during a tantrum, or the untimely blockade to our day’s goal, our response often includes these aforementioned elements. It’s these elements that add nuance and can cause our obstacles and trials to seem more difficult or challenging than they might otherwise be.
Knowing this, how do we effectively approach and respond well to challenging situations?
I recently finished The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday. One of my favorite chapters is called “Practice Objectivity,” where Holiday expresses the need to pause and approach situations as they are, stripped of any if these elements that we often apply.
Don’t let the force of an impression when it first hits you knock you off your feet; just say to it: Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent. Let me put you to the test. – Epictetus
Holiday opens the chapter by stating, “The phrase ‘This happened and it is bad’ is actually two impressions. The first – ‘This happened’ – is objective. The second – ‘it is bad’ – is subjective.” It’s this subjective impression that often escalates our view of what lies in front us, changing how we would otherwise approach the situation in various circumstances.
A few weeks ago my family and I traveled to California for the week. We visited the beach, explored Disneyland, and enjoyed time away from our day to day rhythms. The weeks leading up to this trip were wrought with deadlines, competing priorities, and constant fires at the office. I had caught myself on many occasions feeling the need to respond immediately to emails or requests in order to help shape conversations and make sure items did not add fuel to the fire.
This feeling, as I’ve thought back, really stemmed from my existing emotions and opinions of those situations and the people involved. Often, I ended up escalating the importance or urgency of the matter well beyond what it deserved.
As I enjoyed family time that week, deliberately refraining from business items, I realized most of those situations that came up worked themselves out. Most, if not all, did not require the important or urgent nature I had been approaching them with and really was not fuel at all.
The aim was to see these things as they really are, without any of the ornamentation. – Ryan Holiday
As I reflect on Holiday’s statements in this chapter, including the quote shown above, it’s clear that I’ve allowed too much subjectivity to enter situations. By contributing my own perceptions onto circumstances and events around me, I’ve added to what is really there.
… the observing eye sees simply what is there. The perceiving eye sees more than what is there. – Ryan Holiday
How often do we see what we think is there or should be there, instead of what actually is there? – Ryan Holiday
It’s amazing what a difference it makes when you give time for situations to mature, to settle, or to become fully acknowledged before diving into your response. While this does not mean the complete removal of all emotion and context from the response, it simply refers to taking the time to really observe and take in what lies in front of you. For me, this means simply giving myself five minutes. Five minutes to really see the situation as it is.
The outcome of doing so, in my experience, is a much more valid, appropriate response. Valid in that you’ve given yourself a good foundation to respond from, recognizing and taking into account the facts. Appropriate in that you allow room for other opportunities, perspectives, or approaches to form your response.