Community//

When someone says something horrible to you

Have you ever been caught off-guard by someone’s message to you? Words are volatile things and they can be devastating. How do we navigate the turmoil of an emotional fallout?

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and though they are reviewed for adherence to our guidelines, they are submitted in their final form to our open platform. Learn more or join us as a community member!

“You don’t deserve a promotion. Georgina is more senior than you and we value her more.”

That was not what was said. It was what I heard.

What was said was: “We’re not going to give you a payrise. We’ve assessed the situation and Georgina’s role is more senior than yours.”

This does not sound that horrible. In fact, it sounds perfectly logical.

Sounds logical, but it felt devastating. I had asked for a payrise to be on equal footing with a colleague who was working on similar, though different projects. I felt 100% convinced that I was correct in my request. I felt completely betrayed by the response. My sense of feeling under-valued spiraled into an untenable position.

Looking back on the situation now, I remember feeling like an anvil had fallen on my spirit.  It was a searing white pressure that blanked my mind. I could not speak.

I simply believed the story I told myself about what had happened and surrendered to the rabid emotions the story evoked.

We cling to our stories as if they are the truth. They feel true. Feeling betrayed, feeling like a victim, feeling rage are all visceral experiences. It taps our amygdala and our survival response goes into hyperdrive.

The amygdala fires off a good wallop of cortisol and adrenaline in response to a perceived sense of loss of autonomy. The biochemicals render us temporarily cognitively impaired. 

In my story, I experienced the FREEZE sensation from the amygdala’s menu of fight, flight, or freeze.

I’ve learned a lot about emotional intelligence. I’ve worked with hundreds of leaders who have both given and received painful messages. Most are given without malicious intent. Many are received differently.

As leaders, we cannot control how people receive our messages. We can focus on how we give them – are we kind and compassionate? Do we listen carefully to the response? Do we help others to feel truly heard?

And in our own response, we need to be vigorous in interrogating our perspective. Is it true? Could I be wrong? Where is the truth in their perspective? Is my emotional response useful? Is there another way to see this situation that does not make me a victim and the other a betrayer? How might I see this experience five years from now?

Advanced emotional intelligence is a practice and daily discipline. When we start to take control of our stories, we can put our emotions in the passenger seat, out of the driver’s seat.

What stories have you believed that have caused you pain? Might there be a different version?

Related Articles:

How do I deal with emotions in leadership?

What kind of emoter are you?

How to avoid getting derailed in a difficult conversation

*** 

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Professor25/Getty Images
Wisdom//

What to Do When Your Boss Is a Nightmare

by Soma Ghosh
Community//

Read This Before You Make a Commitment!

by Steven C. Hayes
Cute African American child with knitted hat pulled over eyes smiling during snowfall
Community//

A Holiday Reminder for Mamas of Kiddos With Exceptional Needs

by Cece Harbor

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.