Rewiring Our Reactions (At Work)

My therapist and I used to joke that my reactions and emotions were some complex wire board. Imagine the old operator-style wall with women connecting calls. Each button had a feeling. Reactions at work. Sad. Mad. Angry. But behind each simple, colorful connection is a complicated web of wires, each one routing these feelings back to the moments that made me.

To navigate the wires, I did this little grounding technique. Whenever I would feel a big emotion, I put my hand on my stomach. Then I ask myself, “when is the first time you ever felt this?”

It turns out if you sit there long enough with most feelings, they will talk back. Mine did. I sorted out a lot of my challenges around anger and frustration with this method. I know how to retreat inward and show my inner child some love. Therapy investment 100% paid off. I checked the box. Feeling felt, check.

I’ve done the simple emotional rewiring jobs. I’m laughing right now because I’m not handy and 100% would electrocute myself if I tried to do anything electrical, but emotionally, I did the damn work. I’ve uncovered a lot that is important to know about myself. I have changed tremendously.

I’m also learning that sometimes rewiring a complicated system doesn’t work. There’s too much risk of burning it all down. Sometimes it’s about knocking out the foundation altogether. No, I’m not talking about binge drinking away the feelings. Do not recommend. 0/5 stars.

Sometimes rewiring how we think means asking different questions altogether. It’s not so much, “where is this coming from,” and a lot more, “is this useful?”

I don’t always need to understand the wires, just how it feels right now. So to get there, I’m asking questions like this:

  • What’s useful about how I’m feeling right now? Am I protecting myself? Am I proud of how I handle demanding situations?
  • What’s not useful? Do those absolutes and worst-case scenarios make me feel any better? Is this even true and real?

Reactions At Work: It’s All Connected, But Is It True?

I hate to break it to you, but that part about true and real gets me every time. Those bad thoughts? Usually not real. Wildly untrue, in fact. I didn’t realize it until earlier this week when I let one of those self-destructive statements out of my mouth to a friend, and she audibly sighed. Not in a condescending or mean way, but more of an “I can not believe you think that about yourself. I wish you didn’t.”

I died laughing. I’m deliriously tired, for one, but deep down, it was the first time I could see so clearly how this thought was not helpful. How I wasn’t making anything better by beating myself down.

When I worked in corporate America, I spent a lot of time questioning my reactions at work and why I was having these big feelings in response to my manager’s “style.” That’s business-speak for asshole behavior. I didn’t understand why I felt so overwhelmed when they would scream at me.

I think there’s a lot about the workplace we don’t understand – behaviors, structures, growth – and we still associate so much meaning to them. Job titles are no exception. I mean, how many of us have chased a job title before?

But why? What does Director on a business card do for you? It doesn’t guarantee more money, a better life, or a boss who knows how to manage people. The worst part? We put so much emotional emphasis on it. It contributes to how we see ourselves, how we know that we are useful.

What’s useful about that feeling? Are you proud of the hard work you have done? Are you proud of the impact you have made? What’s not useful? Is this even true and real? I’ll let you answer that for yourself.

Just know this. Establishing our identities and worth on a job title that’s made up is capitalism talking, not the truth. Your job title is not a factor in establishing your worth. It can’t be – that shit is made up. That’s why there has to be more structure around how job titles are selected, and that’s what I wrote about in this week’s blog. How do you pick job titles in tech? What are the differences between each level? Read that post here.

Let’s get some clarity before creating confusion for people basing something so important as their value on these few words.

Weekly Letters

Kat Kibben View All →

Katrina (Kat) Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive, unbiased job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.

Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.

Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.

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