The Perils of Practising What I Preach: Part 2


“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response is our growth and freedom.” – Viktor Frankl

Practising Conflict Management and Resolution

As conflict arises, your body starts to sense imminent danger and your hormones prepare your fight or flight reflex to keep you safe. These primal hormones are powerful, so your modern, rational self needs to get in gear and out of the grip of anger.

The persistent truth about developing leadership competencies is that it is easy to preach and hard to practise.

Creating the space that Frankl mentions takes humility, tremendous self-control and inner strength. You must make a conscious effort to stay connected to your higher self, rather than be controlled by your ego.

A few years ago, I received a shocking, hurtful e-mail from a colleague. As I read it, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that the message was intended for me. My colleague was clearly not only furious, but had taken enough time from her very busy schedule to write, words not minced,  a full page note laden with insults and attacks on my character for supposed wrong doings on my part.


I could feel my heart accelerate … its beats pounding in my ears. I had to concentrate on the words on the screen as my as anger blurred my vision. I rose from my chair so quickly that it hit the wall as it rolled back. I pounded fury into the floor as I paced around my office, gratifying, angry retorts forming in my head.


As though my written reply could be daggers returned to sender, through the veil of red mist, I watched the screen as my fingers sped across the keyboard. The old saying “the pen is mightier than the sword” came to mind as my retort took shape.  I took satisfaction in knowing that each carefully chosen word and meticulously crafted sentence would hit the target that I was aiming for.  And then they didn’t.  I didn’t.  I couldn’t.

Power in space

“Okay Core, reign it in,” My better self now regaining control, I inhaled deeply and exhaled hard.

“Core, respond from your true self, not to her anger”   and in that space, I regained the power to practice what I preach.


But my ego demanded that I fight back. That I don’t stand for this. That I write an even stronger, meaner e-mail…fight that fight because I will win. I AM RIGHT!

Choose again

Applying leadership theory is incredibly effective but very hard to do. I chose to force myself to rise above my anger and hurt feelings, to get control of my temper and to use the tools from my own toolbox.

First, I chose to wait before responding to give the fight or flight hormones a chance to burn off. I waited until my amygdala released my brain from the hormonal hijack; I sat back and took a few more deep breaths. I admit I became a bit teary as I realized that not only was I insulted by the email, but hurt. Now I was vulnerable, too. Double whammy. Ouch.

Next, I decided that I would not engage in writing but to insist on a telephone conversation.

Instead of the return assault that I had originally intended, this is was my written reply:

“Hello, I have read your e-mail and I believe a conversation is required.”

It took several tries over several days but I managed to get her on the phone.

“Talk to me about your e-mail” I said and then let her explain.

I gave her the time she needed to express the frustration that fueled the message. I did not get defensive and I did not let my emotional state mirror hers.

As is true to many conflict situations, my colleague had a few pieces of information that caused her to react the way she did. She misunderstood the context, made assumptions, drew conclusions and decided her best recourse was to accuse and insult me via email.

She never apologized but did admit that she shouldn’t have reacted the way she did.

In that space, there is power

By giving her the space to be heard, I was able to understand what made her angry.  I was then able to bring her clarity with the true facts of the matter thus correct her misperception.

With Frankl’s wisdom, I took back my power by making the space for a conversation that freed me from the burden of anger that was not mine to bear.

An e-mail battle causes people to say things that they would never say to another person over the phone or in person. The conversation was my gift to myself as it kept me closer to my true nature rather than indulge in temporary self-gratification of written revenge, that later I would have regretted.   By setting the tone that I was most comfortable with, I was able to disarm my colleague and she was able and reciprocate in tone and attitude that was respectful and professional.

Another part of my gift to myself was that in this truce, I was able to reconnect with the side of the person that I liked and appreciated which was much more pleasant than the hostility that I had felt before.

In the space, I realized that although she has many fine qualities and we have much in common, our professional approach and standards differ enough to make us unsuitable as co-workers. That being my realization, I can root for her success and cheer for her happiness from a distance.

Seizing the opportunity to take space before reacting is hard but the effort is so worth it!

Rule number 1. Respond, don’t react. To do this, you need to take the space you need to breathe and calm down.  When you do, you avoid behaving in a way that you may regret by making matters worse.
Rule number 2.  E-mail conversations may seem like a fast and easy way to resolve issues but they almost always make things worse, especially when they are about sensitive issues where people’s feelings are at stake.  Make all efforts to pick up the phone and talk it out. When you do, you will save time, energy and possibly even a relationship worth keeping. If it’s not worth keeping, at least you will know that you did the right thing.
Rule number 3. Get curious and listen deeply with the intent to really understand the other person. When you can let go of your ego in this way, you will find out what the conflict is really about and thus respond effectively.
Rule number 4.  Don’t let bullies cross your boundaries.  When you do, you will lose your balance (more on balance in part 1).
Rule number 5. Reflect and learn for your own sake. When you do, your ability to forgive and move on will come more easily and therein lays your power and freedom.
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Author:  Corry Robertson

Sought-after coaching culture expert, Corry Robertson has been helping leaders uplevel employee retention and performance for over 20 years.


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  1. Rose Noxon, PhD, PMP, CPT

    Lovely post. The Dali Lhama said that the most difficult thing a man can do is catch his anger before it comes forth and examine it for an appropriate response. I come from a long line of Italians with easy to hurt feelings and egos. That causes angry reactions, or as some say, hot tempers. Learning to recognize the negative energy of angry emotion as it raises up was a big step for me. Judging my response to check the appropriate level of energy I was going to give a situation took almost 20 years and I still slip. I apply my rule of 2. Will this matter in 2 years, 2 months, 2 weeks, days, hours, minutes? I’m often heard saying aloud, 2? 2? 2? trying to catch myself and ‘cool off’ to determine what level of response is appropriate. I guess it’s similar to counting to 10 or 100 before responding.
    Although email is a tricky tool to deliver any form or angry response, the good thing about email is you must reflect to build an answer and decide to hit send. Face to Face anger just erupts and spills all over. Having to compose a response in itself, cause you to examine the appropriateness of your reaction. Thank you for the thoughts, Rose

    • corry

      Thank you Rose! I love your rule of 2! I am going to include that in my toolbox!

  2. Bob Coley

    Great advice, Corry. We’ve all been there – some of us more than others. A delayed response (perhaps a day or two) has served me well. I find it a good idea to write out a response immediately but not send it. That way I can revisit it a few times and tone things down if necessary – it it almost always is. All the best.

    • corry

      Hi Bob, Thank you for your comment. Yes, that delay is so powerful when we are triggered. Writing things down and NOT hitting send allows you to process the situation actively without making things worse and damaging an important relationship. All the best to you too!

  3. Julie Gedeon

    Thanks for sharing your story and sage advice, Corry. Both will remind me to walk away from the keyboard whenever anger threatens to fuel my response. How much kinder, happier and more productive the world would be if we all took the space that Viktor Frankl notes and you wisely exercised.

    • corry

      Yes, kinder and more productive indeed! The good news is that these ideas can be learned and with practice, it becomes easier!

  4. Lianne

    Wonderful article Corry. Your points are so well written and completely on the mark. This is a topic that impacts us all. Thank you for sharing your story and insight.

  5. Patricia Jaroslawski

    A very interesting read Cory, with good insight. “Respond, don’t react.” resonated with me. Thanks for these suggestions; I am sure that I will have the opportunity to make use of them.

  6. Doris Schöneberg

    I loved your article, Corry! Thank you so much for sharing. I had the same experience with a friend. I had posted something she disagreed with, which prompted her to send me a private message. I immediately sat down and typed a response, choosing my words very carefully but determined to get my point across. I read it over a few times and was happy with what I had written – I was quite proud of myself actually, lol! Then I took a breath and that mindful moment to ask myself how much it was worth to me to be right. I had achieved what I had set out to achieve, and vented my frustration by typing it out. There really was no need to send it. What could have potentially resulted in a war of words, just withered away and came to an end there and then. The same principle applies when we parent with conscious awareness. Our children trigger us on a regular basis and when we take that breathe, we choose our response. That way we avoid conflict and it makes life a lot more peaceful! I look forward to your next blog…….


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