What Happens When Somebody Attacks You




I have one story I’ll frame with three questions.  If you feel like it, comment on them when you’re finished reading.

1.   How important for everyday leadership at home and work is the phenomenon I will discuss?

2.   What’s your experience been?

3.   Do you think the issue is mostly just an introvert issue?  How would those of you who prefer extraversion experience a daily incident like this.

Here’s the story.  On Saturday, Kate and I picked up Cece who was attending her roommates’ graduation at the Big House at UM.  Cars were backed up for about a half mile and I was attempting to cut across three lanes to make a u-turn. Just as I was seeing my way clear, a man two cars back rolled down his window and screamed at me, “Hey a–hole, you can’t do that.”  I casually waved and flashed him a peace sign as two cars graciously let me through and on my way.

“What a jerk,” one of my daughters said.  My amygdala – the ancient brain stem, where the fight-flight  survival instincts lie  – must have been firing, because my mind was spinning like a jet ski.  One thought right after the next:  “I shouldn’t have done that.”  “Man that guy was a jerk?” “Why don’t I just let this go?”  “What was his problem?”  “What’s with people?”  “I guess I showed him with that peace sign.”  “Quit gloating that was totally passive-aggressive!” Usually this chorus would have just stayed in my head.  But I said to my 22 and 21-year old daughters:  “I hate it that an incident like that keeps replaying in my head.  I guess it’s some ancient male ego thing.”  They eagerly chimed in that they experience the same thing – their minds playing and replaying confrontations as if to resolve them – but without resolution.

Here’s what I think about my first question above:  Negativity is a major downer and a serious leadership concern!  When the brain is awash in fight or flight cortisol, it’s hard to get anything done.  This has implications for negative bosses (see the conversation about Steve Jobs a few weeks ago; how long do you think people replayed getting chewed out by him?!!).  It also has implications for the cultures that bosses allow to exist.  Even worse, negative outbursts are the dirty secrets of so many of our homes.  I know that I have said things to my kids that I wished I could take back, and that I suspect they have replayed hundreds of times.  I also suspect that very often – probably in the case of the guy who swore at me – the target of our anger is probably not the person or event that caused our frustration in the first place.  And that just confuses people who wonder: “Was what I did that bad?  Am I that bad?”  Such unclarity is the enemy of good management.

Question 2: What’s your experience been?  I’m curious how many others carry around attacks, insults, sleights, etc.  I’m curious too if you’ve found productive ways to release or otherwise defang the attacks and subdue the replays.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingHere’s the third angle about which I have a hypothesis and seek your thoughts.   I’m reading Susan Cain’s fascinating book, whose title makes her point Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.  Cain suggests that many introverts are from birth what Harvard child psychologist Jerome Kagan calls “high reactives.”  These folks whose high sensitivity is often detectable by four months old, tend to retreat from the threats and noise of external stimuli and into their thoughts and feelings.  So, my question is:  Do those of you who prefer introversion repeatedly replay incidents of confrontation and conflict?  And what about those of you prefer extraversion?  Do you relate to my story, or do you find it fairly easy to release and not second- and third-guess such incidents?

Hope we can all share some learning in order to:

Lead with our best selves!