I’m not an ill tempered person, and it takes quite a lot to get me riled up. In the pandemic however getting frustrated has been oh so much easier!

For once, there are less face to face interactions, which makes me feel removed from whomever I’m talking to. The interactions that happen over video chat feel a lot less personal, and despite regular deliberately scheduled 1:1 time it’s harder to connect with colleagues on a personal level.

Then there’s the lack of water cooler interactions between meetings. A colleague of mine correctly pointed out that before the era of video chat meetings, we’d have the time to decompress and process content between meetings with those micro-interactions. Having just a minute or two “off the record” after a large call helps process, frame, and align prior interaction. And just sharing a laugh or being able to say “well that was stressful” helps reduce the inevitable daily stress buildup.

Finally, all of the above is true for everyone else - and we’re already in a melting pot of individuals with different communication styles. People are getting frustrated, making other people even more frustrated. It’s a frustration chain reaction!

All of this led to me into a cycle of sending some snappy responses, feeling terrible after time would pass, setting up time to profusely apologize face to face, and wowing to never overreact to work stress sources again… Until the next encounter that is. It all culminated with me getting entirely too frustrated between 8:00 and 8:05 am last Thursday and taking a day just to decompress.

And that reminded of something I’ve learned years ago, and I something I would practice with rigour - until the background frustration level rose that is.

Early in my career I’ve been taught to cool down before sending that angry ping or an email – type it up, leave it in my drafts - come back to it an hour or two later.

In 9 out of 10 cases I end up deleting the message feeling relieved that an incoherent stream of hatred never saw the light of day. Most of the time when I’m angry I don’t really have a goal I’m trying to accomplish (other than inform all the parties involved of my feelings), and that’s not a great basis for professional communication.

In the remaining case, I would end up completely rewriting that email to remove the hostile tone and focus on the source of the issue instead. There are problems that are worth addressing with candor – but candor is too often conflated for the lack of tact.

And it’s hard to take a break at work - because there are often so many things to do, and so little time to do them. Which makes taking a minute to breather feel like a waste of time, when it’s one of the most productive things you can do in the long run.

So here I am, putting these thoughts into writing to remember to take a break before initiating aggressive communications – hopefully the more I think about this, the easier it gets to remember to pause, self-assess, and disconnect.