Catching your thoughts when they run away with you

On staying calm in the new digital challenges / not jumping in, even if you know the answer / giving people space to be different.

If you are not responsible, just a visitor, a person of the audience… Do you jump in if there is a (technical) issue you know the answer to? Or do you sit back and get irritated? Or does it not phase you at all? Is there a difference between a physical meeting, and a digital meeting?

People have different reactions to this, and even within my closest research-based friends I have people that would jump in directly, or would never comment anything until asked for their opinion. I belong to the former group. Initially, I didn’t notice it myself. I just see an issue, and have an answer, so why not give it? Also, it is very hard to see as one of these people-who-jump-in-with-answers that other people might be sitting on answers too, but won’t share them unless they are invited to do so. You just think everyone is like you, and would speak if they had something to say. I can imagine it is a lot easier for the people who wait out with their answer to see that there is a mismatch here. And before you blame extroverts, I consider myself to be an introvert, I just find it natural to give my opinion in problem-solving situations.

Over the years, kind classmates or others have pointed out that sometimes I should give others more space and time to come up in conversations. Nearing the end of my PhD, I started to put in an effort when I could, even though that was still very minimal. I remember sitting on my hands sometimes during other people’s presentations, just to make sure I didn’t jump in and comment, suggest or (worst of all) correct (?!) out of bounds. I like to believe I’ve gotten better since then, though it seems to be that the people who are the worst at listening think they are the best listeners, so I don’t know how much my self-evaluation is worth on this point.

But the reason why I share this is because I’ve recently found myself in just such a situation, where I was getting all worked up about the “lack of professionalism” or “lack of preparation” or “lack of boundaries” of other people, and I think there is a new dimension to this now with all the digital meetings compared to the physical ones.

Take a digital meeting. You are 100 people in the meeting, and everyone feels a lot more equal, more similar to the hosts and presenter, than in a physical room where you are clearly sitting somewhere else than the ones who organized this thing. Then, depending on how technically prepared the hosts were, you can see and hear them when they discuss the practicalities of the coming meeting when everyone is already coming in. If it were in a room they would be having these conversations too, but we don’t hear it as an audience.

I was recently in such a meeting (which should have been a webinar in my opinion, but this is NOT a post on me telling you how to have digital meetings, back off with your tips, Ayla), and found myself going crazy seeing and hearing the organizers discuss if they should use the hands-up function, and where it was located. Next participants started asking questions on where to find all of that, because they didn’t get what the presenters were talking about, even though the presenters were not talking to participants, but to each other…  And I just wanted to jump in and spew a flood wave of stuff like “there is a poll function in Zoom which is better for the things that you want to do than the raise hands” or “it’s right there” or ” as a host you can mute all participants” (which became relevant when one person took a phone call and didn’t turn off the microphone, even though they shouldn’t have had it on – nor the possibility to do so – in the first place…)

At this point I started going pretty crazy, trying to keep myself from jumping in with solutions, but I am a random person who was in this meeting, did not know the hosts, and it was not my place to give my opinion.

The final straw was when people started spamming the chat that the sound of the presenter wasn’t perfect. Ok, it wasn’t, but I found myself way more irritated by the comments than by the sound issues.

And then it struck me.

Distantiate yourself. Clearly these people think the sound issues ARE worse than the comments. So this is just you and your opinion. And you have no responsibility for this meeting. Either stay and deal with your frustration, or leave.

So instead of getting irritated, I started analyzing my thoughts and frustrations, and how it is just the way I perceive things.

And suddenly all the frustration dissipated

It’s hard to explain. Instead of feeling angry about what was happening “to me”, I was amused by the way I was reacting to all of it, and tried to figure out what it was that triggered me, and how it actually didn’t matter. I continued following the information in the presentation, and started writing down these thoughts. Maybe that action also kept me distracted from further things that could trigger me, I don’t know.

I must admit, I’ve been listening and reading quite a couple of books that touch on mindfulness and catching yourself when you are being swept away by your thoughts or emotions (not that it is bad to have them, I’m all for thoughts and emotions!), but this was one of the most obvious moments when I felt just what it was like to catch myself, realise what was happening and, almost in the blink of an eye, calmed down.

Featured image: Image by 272447 from Pixabay

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