Compassionately Engaged, but Not Entangled—The Rewards of Healthy Detachment

Compassionately Engaged, but Not Entangled—The Rewards of Healthy Detachment

When we are whipsawed by our emotions, when we are fixated on a desired outcome, and when we simply need people to behave in the ways we need them to, we set ourselves up for frustration (not to mention impacting our results). The art of healthy detachment is not being aloof, uncaring, or disconnected—it is being attentive, connected, and caring, but without internal drama or the lack of being centered.

Sample scenario #1: Maggie is a nurse in the Emergency Department. She sees everything from a kid with a broken elbow to a car accident victim who dies on the table. When asked how she does this without being overwhelmed, Maggie talks about the concept of “emotional calluses”—the idea that you need a certain amount of “tough skin” to deal with the traumas and tragedies that are part of the job, but you can’t be so insensitive as to lose your empathy and appropriate bedside manner.

Sample scenario #2: Aaron works in a call center, providing world-class customer service to a wide variety of individuals. They present with a full spectrum of emotionality—from grateful to frustrated to confused to angry. Regardless of whether the caller is positive, neutral, or negative, Aaron gives him all the same warmth and service. From time to time, he needs to set limits with the unreasonable; however, virtually everyone who calls him with a problem feels heard and understood.

Why will this help me at work? Being able to notice how our thoughts and emotions rise and fall, where and when we get triggered, and how our buttons get pushed is an invaluable skill, regardless of position or industry. We’ve all been on the receiving end of someone’s tirade, and it stops all constructive dialogue. When we can see the swirling currents of reactivity—theirs and ours—we have the option to choose our responses.

Why is this so difficult at times? This requires a high degree of consciousness on two levels—what is happening in terms of the observable behaviors and interactions in the moment, and the awareness of our own internal states. Much of the time when we get caught up in feeling attacked, wounded, denigrated, frustrated, or irritated, our emotional state takes over and drives the boat.

Your frank self-assessment:

  • Think back to a recent time when you “lost it” (even if it didn’t result in an outburst). What helpful information can you extract from this situation?
  • Conversely, can you think of a time when you were the calm captain in the raging seas as the rest of the crew freaked out? What helped you keep your cool?
  • Where is your leading edge of learning and practice in terms of reactivity?

My tips:

  • Consider adding some sort of mindfulness practice if you don’t already have one. Not sure what to do? Ask around—you’ll likely be surprised how many people you already know who quietly have one.
  • Often, our reactivity is rooted in some historical origins. Do the hard work of figuring out those beginnings.
  • When being assertive, take a clear, firm stance based on clarity rather than impulsiveness.

Action for traction:

  • Design your own mini-360-degree feedback survey (online and anonymous, if you wish) to see how others view you in terms of your ability to move through work’s challenges calmly.
  • Think about a person or situation that is more likely to cause you to be reactive. Map out your options in advance.
  •  Find someone whom you experience as being rather unflappable. Buy them lunch and ask how they do it.

Baked-in benefits:

  • You’ll have a better experience moving through your workday.
  • People around you will also have a better experience.
  • This works well at home too!

Excerpt From: Flip Brown. “Balanced Effectiveness at Work. How to Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor without Driving Yourself Nuts.”  Published by: Starr Farm Press