Ashley Smith From Fifth Grade!


Marisa, a client, said, "I don't know why this new associate makes me squirm. She seems pleasant enough, but I can't stand the way she talks or even looks at me. When she asks me a question, I have to grit my teeth before I answer her. I'm being rude and I don't even know why! She just started here a few days ago."

People trigger us for obvious reasons such as being mean or whiny, but sometimes they're just people who trigger us for reasons we can't understand.

These are situations I call Instant Replay.

When we walk into an office, we automatically apply relationship dynamics we've experienced in the past to our present colleagues. Think about that colleague who pressed your buttons before she even opened her mouth. She has a facial expression that reminds you of that horrible therapist you once saw. Or that other colleague who makes your skin crawl when he laughs because he has a snaggle-tooth like your ex-boyfriend. Or that boss who makes you cringe; he's got the same accent as your nasty first grade teacher.

Marisa and I worked to define what the trigger sources were with her and the new associate. We focused on defining a potential Instant Replay source and discussed who the new associate reminded her of. Suddenly Marisa exclaimed, "ASHLEY SMITH! SHE'S ASHLEY SMITH FROM FIFTH GRADE!"

Ashley Smith was Marisa's fifth grade bully. Ashley and the new associate both had curly red hair and green eyes, and both spoke in a New Jersey accent. My client hadn't realized how Ashley continued to affect her until she met the new associate, and she hadn't realized she was getting her revenge on Ashley by being rude to the new associate. Once she figured it out, she let out a deep sigh of relief and a huge smile crept across her face. Marisa was in charge now, not her subconscious.

We can't control how someone looks, laughs or speaks;
we can control how we react to them.

Going deeper, it's the underlying assumptions we make about others that are within our control. Recognizing these subconscious assumptions can save us from angst and exhaustion. When we're able to identify the original trigger source and separate it out from the current experience, then we're in the drivers seat and we can effectively manage our relationship with that colleague.

This means we're able to present ourselves as professionals regardless of what triggers are around us because we don't allow the triggers to trigger us. Say that 10 times fast! Instead, we can walk into a meeting and look straight at that snaggle-tooth colleague, anticipate the rush of adrenalin, and move past it. How we interact with our colleagues is what differentiates a leader from an eh associate. If we let ourselves get stuck in Instant Replay, we'll treat our colleagues inappropriately and likely interpret what they say inaccurately. As a result, our work will suffer and our reputation as well. It's a downward cycle right into the cesspool of misery. I've seen it (and lived it!) over and over.

Instant replay is the messy, tangled tango
of past and present relationships.
We can't be in fifth grade and run a department at the same time.

We have the power to recognize a potential Instant Replay situation and sourcify it. (Yes, I made up that word.) All it takes it honesty and commitment to figuring it out. Two simple questions will set you free:
1. Who is this person from my past?
2. Why does she trigger me so?

Voila! You're in the drivers seat from here on out. You might even tell your colleague that she reminds you of your fifth grade bully. It's possible she'll get it and laugh with you. And I bet Ashley Smith has a few triggers herself all these years later. We all do. It's a universal experience of living with other human beings on this planet.

All it takes is self-awareness. Start today and set yourself free from the Instant Replay of icky past experiences.

Image by Twentyfour Students