Have you ever felt overwhelmed? Have you ever been in a situation where the convergence of events came to a head and you found that you were on the front-lines surrounded on all sides? It is something like a scene out of a Jackie Chan movie, where he is flying around doing 360’s knocking out the bad guys. That is my analogy when life is throwing everything it has at me and the feeling over being overwhelmed starts to creep in. I am not easily overwhelmed; it is simply not a reactionary response for me. I am wired to see down field, eye the obstacles, map my way around them and proceed to the goal. As humans we are all susceptible at some point of becoming overwhelmed in our lives no matter how calm we try to remain. I learned that being hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (HALT) is a breeding ground for the sense of being overwhelmed.
At work the stakes are high, the teams I lead do infact have the potential to impact human lives. As a leader how I perform really does have downstream impacts. Most of us do not have one dimensional roles, we juggle initiatives at work, we are senior leaders, board members, parents, neighbors and friends. Our lives are full of responsibilities, good things. So I suppose at times we all warrant a certain bit of freedom to be overwhelmed. I will admit though for me when the feeling of being overwhelmed does come along it is just not comfortable and it puts me in ninja mode. This got me thinking about
- How do I see others when they are overwhelmed?
- Do I over simplify their issues?
- Do I minimize their feelings?
- Do I really stop and listen?
- Do I come off defensive?
- Do I avoid the situation?
- Do I shut down?
As a leader I want to assist those who are carrying a heavy burden. I want to march them right out of the sea and back onto dry land. I want to quickly relieve their feelings of being overwhelmed and replace them with a sense of direction. What I often fail to see in these ninja moments is what I call “leading without listening.” This is where I totally react and miss what the person needs. I hone in on the facts and I totally missed the emotional need that this person has for a human connection. I just need to stop and listen, often times the person already has the answers. In that moment of human connection it is like the world does stop, for one brief moment, allowing you to breathe. Being overwhelmed is not a sign of weakness, refusing to acknowledge it is. I need to think not only about how I react by asking myself the questions in the bullets above, but I need to be mindful of how the others deal with being overwhelmed. I need to give them the same grace I would give myself.
The most effective way to lead or to be led through these times is to connect with another human being and simply listen. “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”
— Ralph Nichols