How do you ac­cept praise for work that wasn’t your best? Try “grace­fully.”

The Washington Post - - STYLE - CAR­OLYN HAX

Adapted from re­cent on­line dis­cus­sions. Hi, Car­olyn: I am fin­ish­ing a train­ing pro­gram, and the rit­ual is a gath­er­ing of the se­nior peo­ple stand­ing up to say (pre­sum­ably nice) things about each of the de­part­ing trainees. I’ve had a rocky year, and my close su­per­vi­sors and I know it’s well short of my po­ten­tial and we’re all kind of dis­ap­pointed in me. So it sounds just ex­cru­ci­at­ing to go to this “grad­u­a­tion” thing and sit through some­one try­ing to pub­licly praise me for show. Is there a grace­ful way to get out of go­ing to some­thing like this?

— Dread­ing “Grad­u­a­tion”

Dread­ing “Grad­u­a­tion”: There’s a grace­ful way out of just about ev­ery­thing.

But, I’m not sure that’s your best play. You had a rocky year, okay, you didn’t live up to your full po­ten­tial. Bum­mer. And now . . . on­ward. Sit through your mo­ment of less ef­fu­sive praise than you had hoped for, clap for ev­ery­one else’s turn, have a cookie and go home.

Then you be­come praise­wor­thy for some­thing maybe you hadn’t an­tic­i­pated (and cer­tainly didn’t hope for) go­ing in, and may ul­ti­mately serve you bet­ter: your abil­ity to show up and hold your head high even though things didn’t break your way. Dear Car­olyn: I think it’s im­por­tant how I am treated and how I treat oth­ers, but I’m not per­fect, es­pe­cially when I’m an­gry or frus­trated. How do I bring my best self for­ward even when it’s a dif­fi­cult mo­ment?

— Anony­mous Anony­mous: I think all of our best selves get el­bowed aside by our worst some­times, and so aim­ing for per­fec­tion is not re­al­is­tic. But con­tri­tion is re­al­is­tic, and it’s es­sen­tial. If you be­have poorly when an­gry or frus­trated, then you ad­mit to it the mo­ment you rec­og­nize it, whether it’s while you’re still snark­ing or an hour later or a day later or a year or when a wit­ness asks you, “Are you okay? Your re­ac­tion was pretty harsh,” and it oc­curs to you that s/he’s right.

This is for the oc­ca­sional lapse.

If you reg­u­larly snap dur­ing dif­fi­cult mo­ments, though, or if more mo­ments are dif­fi­cult than not, then it’s time to up­grade your re­sponse — be­cause an apol­ogy for snap­ping is in­ad­e­quate when it’s for the wrong trans­gres­sion. Once it be­comes a pat­tern, then the apol­ogy you owe is not for the par­tic­u­lar in­stance, but for the pat­tern it­self, for your not deal­ing ef­fec­tively with gen­eral anger or stress.

And the ac­tion you owe is both to find and ad­dress the source of the stress, and to iden­tify ha­bit­ual re­ac­tions that are un­kind and/or coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. For ex­am­ple: A prob­lem you’re afraid to face can be faced; an un­com­fort­able or un­sat­is­fy­ing life rut can be re­placed with a dif­fer­ent path; a ten­dency to act out re­flex­ively can, with aware­ness and ef­fort, be re­placed with pa­tience and mind­ful ac­tion.

How can you know when you’ve be­come this an­gry per­son and need to change? Two steps: 1. Be able and ready ad­mit fault; a de­fen­sive self is not your best self. 2. Read the peo­ple around you. Are they avoid­ing you? Tip­toe­ing around you? En­gaged in repet­i­tive bat­tles with you? Grov­el­ing to avoid tick­ing you off? This sec­ond part might seem sub­tle, but the first one is the tallest hur­dle to clear.

NICK GALIFIANAKIS FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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