If we are honest with ourselves, it is certainly a fantasy that most of us have had in one job or another…the fantasy of doing something outrageous to express how fed up we are… with a boss, a customer, a co-worker…some version of “take this job and shove it”. Like Steven Slater did…you remember, he was the flight attendant who after cursing a passenger out on the loud speaker, grabbed some beer and exited the plane via an emergency chute (and ultimately was picked up by federal marshals!). Fortunately most of us don’t act on these impulses, which even when not violent, can land us in a whole heap of trouble. Not surprisingly, most moments like that are triggered by interpersonal frustrations that taken one at a time are not that big…like the woman who glared at me in the grocery store when I started to back up with my cart and failed to see her immediately. She kept glaring and did not speak even when I apologized.
What helps us take these moments in stride, to not fight fire with fire, to keep our cool even if only for our own sake? (And as I noted in a previous blog entry, scientists now think that we influence each other through our “mirror neurons” – the mechanism for emotional contagion).
From a business perspective, I think that companies need to provide a lot of support to their employees, to communicate to passengers or customers that they will not allow their employees to be mistreated and will reserve the right to call security or not serve a rude customer. Individually, members of a team need to support each other. Perhaps blowing off a little steam to a co-worker for some moral support and then also having the co-worker step in and deal with the rude or demanding customer are options.
Most important I believe is our own work to calm down our own over-reactive brain, particularly the amygdala. The amygdala is that part of the mid-brain in the limbic system that feels threatened when someone behaves rudely or aggressively. Through breathing, mindfulness, connection to core values (e.g., kindness, civility, integrity), we are able to curb a knee-jerk reaction, let our fantasies of revenge remain just fantasies. Cultivating mindfulness at work, home, or even the grocery store is also a habit that takes practice. The good news is that as with any habit, it becomes easier and more automatic the more we do it.