What's Wrong With You?

As a young prosecutor I once had a branch chief who bullied everyone: staff, defense attorneys, police, even judges.  One afternoon it was my turn. “Doug” stormed into my office, tossed me a file, planted both hands on my desk, and, inches from my face, screamed “What’s wrong with you?!

As it turned out, the file with the error in it wasn’t mine. And Doug moved on. But I was stunned…angry…and hurt. Weren’t we colleagues, attorneys, adults? How I could be so disrespected? I carried those feelings for a long time.

What I didn’t understand, was that Doug’s behavior was an expression of strong feelings and needs. He needed the branch to run smoothly, and to be seen as an able manager. And he desperately feared the blunder that would spin life off script and rain negative judgement down on his head.

Had I then understood this about Doug…about all of us, really…I could have released my hurt and anger. And perhaps, summoned the empathy, the calm, the compassion to address the incident candidly and constructively.

Because, after all, what happened that afternoon was not about what was “wrong” with me, but rather…what was “wrong” with Doug.

(P.S.  This post is my pre-midterm election reminder to help me breathe, be calm and see my political counterparts more humanely—with empathy for our common feelings and needs.)