Envisioning a positive response.

It’s not often I get a piece of advice that really sticks.

That probably says more about me and my obstinate personality than anything else, but I wanted to put this thing out there because I think it’s important.

If you know me (which if you’re reading this you probably do), you know that I get ranty. It’s a family trait. As I expressed to a friend recently, I frequently care an inordinate amount about relatively trivial things. Maybe it’s because I’m a nerd. Maybe it’s because I’m a Lynch. Maybe it’s because Lynches are nerds, or maybe it’s just me. In any case, I care, although whether or not I should care as strongly as I do is a matter of debate.

Most of the time this is in good fun. I optimistically think it’s one of my more charming traits. When I catch myself ranting, I attempt to make it enjoyable for the listener in so far as I am capable. But sometimes the rants are just rants, just me unproductively shaking my fist at the machinations of circumstances outside my control.

And sometimes these rants are me, vocally working through a stress point. An argument I haven’t had but probably will have to have and don’t know how to approach. A conflict I’m not avoiding so much as training myself for. I have them with friends. I have them in my car. I have them in the solitude of my apartment, pacing back and forth, refuting the ghosts of interlocutors past and present.

Sometimes I get really worked up over things that haven’t happened, slights that haven’t come to pass, opinions I only imagine another person holding.

It’s as though I’m so afraid of missing my opportunity for a killer comeback that I’m trying to anticipate every potential scenario for which I might need to have a comeback prepared.

This isn’t as completely neurotic as it may seem. In fact, it’s been helpful in some circumstances—particularly when the event I’m preparing myself for is an extremely likely scenario—to have a response ready. It helps me feel more confident to have an argument at hand, rather than being caught off-guard.

I was caught off guard a little while ago by some criticism I received about some work I’d done. I didn’t know how to respond. It took me a while to work through some of the frustration I felt. It nagged at me. And that’s a bad thing, because in my line of work, I can expect that criticism to come hard and heavy. I can’t have this reaction every time it comes up. It doesn’t matter that I’m right; handling criticism maturely is part of being a functional adult, not to mention a self-employed entrepreneur.

This whole topic came up recently at a work conference. Topher DeRosia over at HeroPress gave a talk about how to handle negative feedback, and one of his main suggestions was: envision a positive response.

Or something along those lines. I don’t 100% remember his wording. What I took away from it was that all that time I spend working out the perfect repartee to that thing that no one’s said yet could be better spent imaging a positive response. Something that might de-escalate the situation. That could build trust and understanding—or at the very least not cost me my job.

I had a really good opportunity to practice this recently. A dear and valued friend gave me advance warning that a particular person had been invited to an event that I was going to. In ordinary circumstances, my response to this person being present would be to not attend, but I didn’t feel this was the appropriate reaction in this instance. Instead, thanks to my friend’s warning, I had about thirty-six hours to coach myself into finding a way to deal with this person’s presence appropriately.

It worked, but old habits die hard. I have an upcoming client meeting where I know I’ll have to listen patiently and explain my decision-making process to someone who has hired me for my expertise yet somehow thinks they know better. It’s frustrating, because I care. I want to do the best job I can for them. I sincerely believe I am. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of time building up a detailed case in my mind to demonstrate to this person how the thing I am trying to do for them is the best thing we can do.

But: that’s not the right response, and not just because my client ultimately holds the purse strings. No, it’s not the right response because my client deserves to be heard, and I could stand coming down from my high horse for a bit to listen.

I am a person of strong opinions. But thoughtful opinions are better. My goal is to provide both. It’s not a bad thing to think through your ideas—intensely, rigorously, with all the passion that a late-night ranting session can offer. But it’s far more vital to be ready, when the time comes, to respond with respect and compassion when your ideas are challenged.

That’s my goal. At least I hope it is. I’m working on it.

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