Solving My Grumpiness

A couple of weeks ago, I unfortunately sent a rather grumpy email to a client. I was actually trying to help the client, but after several email exchanges and phone calls, I had finally lost patience. In this post, I discuss an epiphany I had regarding "grumpiness".

The epiphany is this: "ask permission".

The day after sending this rather sharp email, I asked myself: Why couldn't I communicate the same information in a softer way to my client? More to the point, how can I improve in the future?

As to "why?", there were some antecedents to that Friday exchange.

A big one, I believe, is that for the entire week before hitting "send" on this unfortunate email, I had been literally house-bound due to a series of rain storms, mud slides, downed trees, and power outages. These weather events prevented me from keeping to my regular exercise routines of swimming, yoga, and hiking. No exericse; no outlet for stress.

So, my first lesson from that day is: I gotta exerise. If it means tromping around in the pouring rain — clearing downed trees, chopping up firewood, scooping up mud, etc. — well so be it. I just have to do it.

A deeper lesson starts with the fact that I am an Enneagram "Eight". Quoting from an Enneagram book, I have described the core of the Eight as follows:

“[Eights] rarely question their own opinion. Waffling on the merits of an opinion … would only serve to erode a strong personal stand.” [308] “The preferred state of existence is highly amped, fully energized forward motion.” [312] Eights are “relatively uninhibited and have a good deal of physical energy at their disposal … .” [312] Eights “repress their own tenderness and vulnerability.” [303] “[R]epression protects [Eights] from feeling anxiety about the consequences of their actions, so they are able to go about their lives relatively unencumbered by emotional conflicts or self-doubt.” [302]

That might sound like gobbledygook. Here is a simple description of the Eight: among the nine types of the Enneagram, this is the grumpy bear.

A good friend of mine, Matt Schlegel, has a theory that each personality type in the Enneagram approaches the concept of time in a unique way.

Regarding time, the Eight, of which I am an example, focuses attention on the near future. Eights believe that time is short, and urgent action is needed. As in: "Gotta do it right now".

When I first heard Matt's time theory of personality, I realized that it pretty much explained many events over the course of my life that involved suboptimal communication.

So, how to be a better communicator? For me, as an Eight, when stress is building, I first ask myself whether the situation in front of me really is urgent, or whether, instead, it can wait.

This question follows straight from Matt's time theory of the Enneagram. I have found that this simple question diffuses my stress in the vast majority of situations that initially seem urgent to me.

So how did this question help me regarding the grumpy email I sent a couple of weeks ago to the client? Turns out, in that case, the situation was urgent. The client was leaving for a trip in two days, and wanted to bring his work up to a "nearly finished" state before leaving.

Ironically, however, it was the client himself who was causing the delay in his own work. This was because he was failing to "listen closely" to our experienced guidance on his work (i.e. the very thing he hired us for in the first place).

So while the lack of exercise primed me, it was the urgency of this situation that actually pushed me over the edge to send the grumpy email to the client. In the mail, I explained unequivocably what the client needed to do to reach his goals. But I did so in a grumpy manner.

In the aftermath of this inefficient communication, I was left with the question: If time really is urgent, and I need my listener to really listen, how do I do that? How can I be a better communicator?

Well, the answer seems obvious:

Ask for the listener's attention. Prime her or him to listen carefully for what's coming. "Sell" the listener on why he or she should pay rapt attention to what's coming next.

Then, when permission is granted, state the points in the same collegial and professorial way that I usually speak, knowing that the listener really is listening now.

If the listener doesn't want to listen and refuses my offer, then, hey, my work is done here.

If the listener agrees to listen, but then disagrees with what I have to say, even after some discussion, then that will mean I am the only one with a sense of urgency, so no need for pressing the point.

I know this may sound strange, but the main reason I wrote this up, and posted it, is so that this important learning would stick in my brain. That is, should another moment arise when there is an issue of urgency, I will have a more complete communication toolkit at my disposal.

Another reason is for the 11% of people who are Eights: consider this post an "inside baseball" take on efficiently "operating" our Eight personas.

Still another reason concerns the 89% of people who are not Eights: you have your own esoteric system for optimizing your persona, but whatever that system is, it will be different from the one described above for us Eights. This post describes a tool, but it is not a universal tool.