In New York City.
In a meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the leader of the world’s other superpower crossed the line—one that apparently bulges like a vein in a bald man’s head—from passion to petulance.
As a delegate from the Philippines regaled the room with a lengthy and scathing rebuke of the Soviet Union’s increasing influence in decreasing democracy in Eastern Europe, Nikita Khrushchev had had enough. He was as mad as преисподняя, and he wasn’t going to take it anymore. Amid a sea of diplomats and ambassadors sitting quietly and respectfully, listening to the speech translated into their native tongues via headphones, Khrushchev went on tilt.
First he balled his hands and started hammer-fisting the desk he was sitting at—left, right, left, right—in an attempt to drown out the Filipino’s filibuster. Then, incredibly and incredulously, when that wasn’t causing enough of a disruption, he took his shoe off his foot and started banging it.
Like a gavel.
Now, you’ve got to realize something. This wasn’t some mid-level Moscow bureaucrat sent to the decadent U.S. in order to rouse a little ruble-rabble. This was Nikita-bleeping-Khrushchev. He was the head of the USSR’s government and its Communist Party, a distinction that neither of his predecessors, Lenin or Stalin, enjoyed. And he was acting like a cross between Donkey Kong and Judge Judy.
Khrushchev never lived that down. He embarrassed himself. He embarrassed his country and his party, and by extension, the communist movement itself. It remained a black mark on him and his legacy until he was removed from power in 1964.
Most of us, no doubt, have been in Khrushchev’s shoes. Or more aptly, his shoe, the one that he was using to play whack-a-mole. You feel like you’re being ambushed, attacked, Pearl-Harbored. Could be from your boss. Could be from a customer. Could be from a colleague or a vendor or the drive-through cashier at the coffee shop on your way to the office.
Whatever. Whoever. Wherever.
So, what do you do when someone or something gets you so riled up, so fired up that you just want to throw a tantrum like a 2-year-old child… or a 66-year-old Bolshevik?
Before you do what they would do, consider doing this:
Breathe (In the Air)
When the radioactivity of a nuclear power plant starts to rise beyond acceptable thresholds, the folks in the control room enact countermeasures to bring it down, to keep it in balance. Cool water. Boron control rods. The chemical element xenon. But if they wait too long to mitigate the reaction, it accelerates exponentially until, well…
Think of yourself the same way. When you feel your blood pressure increasing, it’s almost too late to do anything about it. The most effective measure to temper your temper—the SCRAM button, if you will—is to take a deep breath. Take one. Then another and another and another, until you feel your levels normalizing.
Frankie Says Relax
You know the old adage: When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Well, as a corollary to that, when you find yourself in an argument, stop talking. The best response is often no response, or at least a delayed response. Blowing off steam may feel good, but it makes you look bad. Weak. Impetuous. Undisciplined.
Instead of pulling a Khrushchev, pull a Costanza and do the opposite. Decelerate your cadence of speech. Lean back in your chair. Wipe that smirk off your puss. And most import of all, you need to—wait for it—p-a-u-s-e.
Chill, baby. You’ll get your turn to talk. Let the other people punch themselves out; sit back and think and wait, and when they’re done, let ‘em have it. Not with fire and brimstone, but with facts and logic and—if you’re comedically inclined—a little humor.
You’ll win over the crowd and befuddle your adversary. Works every time.
You’ll Never Walk Alone
It happens. $#@?%#. Well, sometimes. But in this case, we’re talking about a meltdown. When the breathing doesn’t work and the counting doesn’t work and you know you’re about to say or do something that could irreparably damage your career…
You just have to bounce.
Now, there are two ways to leave a room. The first is in a huff—or just as bad, in tears—with spit and swears flying from all corners of your mouth. We’ve all seen this, or at least heard about it. The ignominious exit.
Then there’s the second way, the right way. All you have to do is stand up, pause to button your blazer or make some other wardrobe adjustment, thank everyone in the room for listening, excuse yourself, and as slowly and calmly as humanly possible, walk out the door.
Then go someplace private and explode.
Throw a trade magazine (just not this one). Squeeze the stuffing out of one of those stress balls. Scream into a pillow.
Maybe even try banging your shoe on your desk.
Hey, you know what? This actually feels pretty good.