Recently the Wall Street Journal reported that a prestigious bank fired a senior executive not for performance failure, but for embarrassing the bank. The executive, the bank claimed, violated the organization’s code of conduct when he got into a fare dispute with a cab driver.
The conflict escalated into fisticuffs. The driver’s hand needed six stitches after the banker wielded a pen knife. The banker claimed he felt threatened when the driver locked the doors and drove to an undisclosed destination.
The banker in question had just attended a holiday event where he had “several beers.” No doubt he was tired and not completely in a frame of mind to think logically.
We’ve all been there, although most of us don’t get physical. I myself have been known to use some rather strong language when dealing with health insurance companies.
Of course it’s easier to lower boundaries in a way that’s more subtle. People let their guard down and disclose potentially damaging information to colleagues, bosses or even complete strangers.
The situation is especially challenging when you hate your boss, job and/or company. When you’re vulnerable, you are most likely to spill to everyone you meet in bars, airplane cabins, and even buses. You probably won’t get into a physical fight but a damaging comment or two can kill your job, if not your career.
It’s difficult to be on guard all the time. Nobody has a complete “once and for all” solution, as far as I know. Here are some suggestions that have worked for many people:
(1) Make time for a relaxation exercise every day, and make that a priority. Many people (including me) find that when they invest 20-40 minutes in meditation, they seem to gain an extra couple of hours a day, because things go smoothly and conflicts seem to dissipate. Other people use exercise, music or quiet time.
(2) Find a confidante. If you can comfortably afford to pay a therapist or life coach, you might find these resources are more helpful than family members or close friends. Even the best friendship can be strained when you share a lot, especially if you don’t seem to be making progress.
(3) Create some distance. Some people thrive on unbalanced lives. Claudia Kennedy, the first female 3-star general of the US Army, wrote that balance was out of the question while she was on active duty.
For many – perhaps most – people, an intense focus on jobs, business or even family can create enormous stress. Some people are just fine if they exercise. Others need to add balance to survive.
Finally, be especially aware of times when you are vulnerable: being tired, drinking several alcoholic beverages, or dealing with pressure from specific situations. We all get into those situations. Ideally you can come up with a plan to leave the scene, take time for a break or just be extra careful – whatever works.