Have you ever lost your temper or gotten defensive at work and then regretted it later?

We’ve all had moments when emotions took over our better judgment and we couldn’t self-manage in the moment. It’s called being human and it happens to the best of us. But the cost to your career can be significant.

Like the time I got angry and criticized my skip level boss in front of colleagues and our relationship was never quite the same. By the time I figured out what led me to behave so uncharacteristically and how offended he was, it was too late. He stopped sponsoring me and my career went sideways for a while.

That’s why it’s worth it to understand what might cause your derailing behaviors before the fact, and to do your best to tame them.

The easiest way to identify your derailers is to ask yourself these three questions:

  • Who tends to bring out your worst?
  • When do you find it hard to think clearly?
  • What do you say to yourself that prevents you from being your best?

Who tends to bring out your worst?

We all know people who upset us or bring out our worst tendencies. Maybe it’s the smug colleague who gets away with murder and still gets special treatment from the boss. Or the office gossip who spreads rumors about you behind your back.

And of course, there are the family members (like the proverbial mother-in-law or annoying sibling) who seem to know just how to get you upset.

For me it was one of my bosses who ruled by fear. His public humiliation of team members made it safer not to speak up at meetings and to avoid him if at all possible, neither of which were career builders.

When certain people lead you to lose your cool or get stressed out, pre-prepare what you’ll say or reframe time with them as your opportunity to practice staying grounded.

Which individuals or kinds of people tend to upset you, and how can you prepare yourself before speaking with them?

This brings us to the second question.

When do you find it hard to think clearly?

Certain situations make it hard to access our thinking brain because you’re under stress and fear takes over. This response is called amygdala hijack, and it’s when the oldest part of your brain takes over and puts you into fight or flight mode.

What situations lead you to wonder later, “Why did I just agree to that?!” or, “Why did I blow up at that person?”

For some it could be job interviews where you get stumped by a question on the spot only to think of three great answers after you get home. For others it might be talking to senior managers or receiving negative feedback.

In my case, it was the daily morning meeting. I dreaded having my turn to speak and I struggled to come across as the confident leader I wanted to be.

For difficult situations, it’s also helpful to prepare for them in advance. And remember to breathe and stay present when the situation is upon you.

What situations put you in a state of stress or fear mode where you can’t be at your best, and how can you better prepare to deal with them when they arise?

This leads us to the third question.

What do you say to yourself that prevents you from being your best?

I believe that mindset affects behavior which affects results. And a major influence on your mindset is what you say to yourself.

When your self-talk is negative, it’s almost impossible to operate at your full potential. You become your own worst enemy, second guessing yourself and talking yourself out of going for things.

I’ve noticed when I say encouraging things to myself, it’s easier to step out of my comfort zone and forgive myself for making mistakes. But when I’m beating myself up for what I did or said in a meeting, it keeps me stuck reliving the negative situation. This drains my energy and keeps me from moving forward.

To deal with negative self-talk, I like to practice “stop, drop and replace,” which means I pause, let go of the thought, and replace it with a more reaffirming idea.

How does your self-talk support versus derail you? And how can you turn derailing thoughts into more energizing ones?

Understanding your derailers is the first step to taming them

Once you can identify the people, situations and self-talk that prompt you to be less than your best, it’s easier to reduce their effect on you.

As Marshall Goldsmith says in his book Triggers, it’s about inserting choice between a stimulus and your reaction to it.

When you’re aware of what throws you off track, you can better self-manage in the moment. That will make you a better manager, team member and colleague. And ultimately, allow you to make a bigger positive impact and be more successful in your career.

To identify your derailers before they affect your career, remember to use these three questions:

  • Who tends to bring out your worst? Identify those people so you can create a strategy for self-managing when you’re with them.
  • When do you find it hard to think clearly? Anticipate the situations that bring out your stress and fear so you can handle them well.
  • What do you say to yourself that prevents you from being your best? Notice your negative self-talk so you can replace it with something reaffirming.

Which of these questions is most helpful to identifying your derailers so they don’t hurt your career?

Leave a comment and let me know.