Birds are tweeting after a week of agony from coming this far north a little too early. Piles of melting snow and ice remain after our rare arctic blast this past week, which has been one for the record books here in Austin. We were fortunate and never lost power, and even then, with the furnace trying to keep up, it was cold in the house and we had frozen and burst pipes. But hope is showing its face with some warming sun this morning.
It’s been a difficult week, where 4 million were without power for three or more days, freezing in their own homes, and it will be a big loss for insurance companies and a gain for plumbers who will come in from every state. We’ve put in our request because of those burst pipes.
This week is a reminder of the old Scout motto … be prepared. A last-minute trip to the grocery found the shelves bare, and the city issued a boil-water order to those of us who still had water after those burst pipes. Thankfully, we had what we needed.
Some of us will forget it all three days into the sunshine, but others, like me, will take some actions now to be ready for the next time. Freezing inside a home for a week can be avoided, and maybe some pipes can be insulated and a backup generator installed. It seems frivolous, but it won’t feel that way when it’s needed.
I regret not anticipating this storm and being more prepared, but I was also thinking about regrets in life and work.
If I look back on my life to date, I don’t have a lot of regrets. But I’ve thought of a few. And most of them have to do with poor communication.
Fights, Arguments, and Stubbornness
Looking back, I see that if I had taken the time to listen, and been less anxious to react, I could have saved a lot of wasted energy in arguments, fights, or just being stubborn. Almost all of the things that occurred were prompted because I was quick to judge.
Count to 10
As a child I was coached, “Count to 10 before you react.” It was great advice. As an adult, a counselor once said, “Just say, ‘This isn’t a good time. I need a little time to process this and I’ll get back to you in an hour,’ or ‘tomorrow.’” What great advice … but you do have to come back and deal with it.
Kids are a great test of our patience, and our instant reactions are often hasty and overblown. “Let’s talk about this tonight” is a great way to let the anger subside, the emotions reduce, and the steam bleed out of the old pressure cooker.
Think about your own life and the ugly “That’s not like me” reactions.
And think about intent … and how much you care for the person. Is the reaction worth the pain it will cause? Do we really need to teach a lesson or make a point?
Pipes freeze and the water expands, exerting pressure on the pipes. If you can’t relieve the pressure, you have broken pipes and you’re without water for days. Just like relationships. You get angry, you freeze up or overreact, and the relationship is damaged. Sometimes it’s a small, easily repairable crack, other times the pipes are broken in multiple places and healing is difficult. And sometimes we get stubborn, and we distance ourselves.
We’re Not Talking
I remember a sad moment when an acquaintance told me he had been estranged from his father and had not spoken to him for 18 years. I asked what his father had done that had been so horrible, and as he started to tell me, he realized that, whatever it was, it wasn’t so bad after all. The emotion had gone away, but the stubbornness had not. I suggested maybe he should reconnect with his dad. But he said, “I’m not over it yet.” I think he was in love with the idea of being right. Three weeks later his dad had passed, and he seriously regretted his decision. The moment someone dies, much of the baggage goes away, but then we can’t go back to resolve things.
I think people like that think they are punishing a parent or a friend by not seeing them, but the punishment is a self-inflicted wound too. When we have unresolved anger, it comes out in other ways, impacting our kids, our families, our work, and our health. It’s not good for anyone and accomplishes nothing.
I am always curious when I hear of people estranged over anger, and rarely does the crime equal the punishment. Yes, there are crimes that do require distance to avoid pain or abuse, but disagreements or hurt feelings do not seem to me to be reasons for not speaking.
I had a distant family member who was not speaking to her dad and mom because she was convinced by her husband that she had been wronged by being expected to help raise her younger siblings. Once the husband was gone, the healing began, and she reconnected and had a few good years with her parents.
I have a buddy whose daughter isn’t speaking to him, does not show up for family events, and only calls when she needs money, which of course he gives her in hopes it will heal things. She is angry over the way she was raised. He and his wife are not sure what that means. It breaks his heart. What she may not realize is that the estrangement is probably disrupting her life and relationships more than she knows.
Sadly, I have dissolved business relationships in anger over an e-mail when I should have picked up the phone. And sometimes I’ve picked up the phone too soon and said something I regretted. Just this week I almost destroyed a relationship by overreacting to an e-mail from someone, but once we talked, I realized I had misread intent.
So my best advice…
- Don’t hit send in anger. Count to 10 … or 1,000 if necessary.
- Don’t pick up the phone in anger.
- Find out the INTENT before reacting.
- Wait till all the emotion has dissipated, and then do your best to address it head on, with a listening ear.
- Check your mood. Are you reacting badly to something because something else has irritated you?
- Give EVERYONE the benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume they have bad intentions.
- Take a breath and ask yourself, “Will my reaction make things better or worse?”
- Listen before reacting.
- Apologize as soon as you realize you acted badly.
- There is rarely a good reason to disconnect from someone in anger. Almost all things can be healed. Estrangements are bad for everyone, but worst for you.
- There is no shame in seeking professional help, especially if you keep getting stuck.
I was not raised in a perfect household. I never heard my parents argue. Ever. I’m not sure that was a good thing, but I’m guessing it was a rule my parents implemented. What might have been better is to hear that arguing is part of life, and finding a resolution to arguments is a lesson we all need. I did not get that, therefore I overreacted unfairly to criticism until I learned.
But I was also raised to put myself in someone else’s shoes before I judge them, and to turn the other cheek and not seek revenge when someone wrongs me. Both have served me well.
There would be no disagreements, no wars, no major issues, if we would just talk without reacting. We would not puff up and allow our egos to become offended and need to prove our dominance.
What can you do to improve your communication?
What can you do to heal wounds?
Where do you need to listen without reacting or responding?
Who do you need to call today?
Don’t be like the frozen and cracked pipes. Relieve the pressure before it builds. Never go to bed angry. Face it, no matter how hard it is. And if something bothers you, get it off your chest in a loving way. If not, it will always come out, but only after building up to the point of explosion.
If we all worked on these issues, we would all be happier. It starts with me.