The Ticking Time Bomb

Posted by Todd Smith

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iStock_000003998073Time-BombHave you ever thought or said something like this: “If he does that one more time, I am going to lose it!”; or “If she keeps treating me that way, I am going to give her a piece of my mind!”; or “If this happens again, I won’t be able to restrain myself!”?

These are examples of what I call the ticking time bomb.  When I hear people say these types of things, I cringe and want to say “WARNING.” When you know in advance that you are going to retaliate if someone does or says something again, you are in danger of exploding and damaging your reputation.

Consider this true story.

Brenda was a senior sales associate in the customer service department at a busy retail store. She was having difficulty with a complicated return, so she called Doug, the manager on duty, and asked for assistance.

Doug was a young, new manager who had been getting pulled in every direction all day. He asked with an exasperated tone, “Okay, Brenda, what are you having trouble with?”

Brenda explained the problem and asked Doug to help her.

Doug curtly replied, “That’s your job, Brenda. You figure it out. You have to learn to deal with this kind of situation yourself.”

Brenda, who was already frustrated, exploded loudly in front of all the customers and her associates. “I know how to do my job, Doug! I’ve been here a lot longer than you, so don’t insult me!

After Doug left, Brenda turned to her customer and said, “I hate it when he does that. He does it all the time. He thinks he knows everything but he doesn’t.”

The customer with the return item felt awkward, believing it was her fault for causing the scene; the other associates tried to act like they hadn’t heard the conversation; and Brenda now had a lot of explaining to do when her shift ended.

You guessed it; Brenda was a ticking time bomb. She had clearly been harboring some ill feelings toward the new manager from other encounters. When under pressure, she was unable to hold it in any longer and lost control of her emotions.

Damage Assessment

This story is just one example of the many damaging repercussions of “losing it.” It could happen anywhere—at home, in the workplace, or even on the tennis court.  My guess is we’ve all been there at one time or another.

Whether it’s a rare occurrence for you or something you struggle with regularly, today’s lesson is about helping you make different decisions when you know you are about to lose it. When you feel this way, you benefit best by “putting a lid on it.”  Don’t do or say something you will regret later.

Even though Brenda may have felt justified in her anger, her outburst reflected poorly on her ability to remain calm under pressure. She inflicted hurt and embarrassment on her supervisor, and she failed to project the level of professionalism that her employer requires and expects. Consider the other potential consequences:

  • Brenda must apologize if she wishes to repair the damage she has done.
  • She now has a strained working relationship with Doug, at best, and possibly an irreparably damaged one.
  • She has lost the respect of her co-workers who now view her differently.
  • She may lose her job or chance of promotion.

I’ve exploded at times in my own life. I know that I have damaged my reputation, not only in the eyes of the person who received the brunt of my anger, but also in the eyes of everyone who bore witness. Even worse, I have done it with my wife. Like many of the lessons I share on Little Things Matter, I learned this one the hard way.

Use Your Awareness to Make the Right Decision

The next time you feel the tension rising and you start to think you can’t handle any more of someone or something, take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Pause to consider the damage you might cause to your job, reputation, or relationship if you don’t keep your emotions in check. Use this awareness to make sure you don’t say or do anything you will regret.

Warren Buffet— American investor, industrialist, and philanthropist—shares some of his wisdom in this quote: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

When you find yourself getting upset, challenge yourself to find a way of handling your frustration in a way that makes you proud. One of the things my wife always says when she knows I am upset with someone is “Speak in love.”  When I consider speaking in love to those who have angered me, it completely changes my attitude because I know it is the right thing to do.

Remember, when you choose to respond rather than react to a difficult situation, you demonstrate to others and yourself that you are in control of your emotions.

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About the Author:

Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 43 years and founder of Little Things Matter. This blog contains over 200 of his timeless life lessons.

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