Manage Impulsivity and False Starts in the Workplace

June 20, 2023

by Pam Boney


Stress symptom # 2:  Impulsivity & False Starts can lead to recklessness if they become chronic.

The second common workplace stress pattern is a reaction to a perceived loss of time or lack of speed driven by an unconscious fear of failure. This pattern often manifests as extreme urgency about decision-making that causes one to lack consideration of unintended consequences and requisite implications for others. What it’s about underneath is a perceived loss of recognition and power that comes with winning. Since the underlying desire is to win at all costs, the fear is about lack of urgency and speed by others who are “the obstacle” to getting traction swiftly. The concern is that time or luck may run out, and the opportunity will be lost forever. The feeling this creates is a passionate striving for competitive advantage that sometimes leaves others feeling dismissed, devalued, or left behind.


Two Internal Needs:

This stress reaction helps one save face with themselves by temporarily propping up their ego with a false feeling of recognition and power. This short-term reaction where the ego strives to be the center of attention and in control of results is harmless unless it becomes chronic or extreme in a way that is harmful to others.

What’s good about it?

The positive aspect of this reaction is that it gives the person a quick boost of energy to the creative imagination that helps generate keen insights often missed by others. While the trigger is in motion, the mind is scanning the environment for ideas that can be put into action quickly. A person who experiences this stress reaction may very well be the one who cares the most about success and is also likely to generate the most creative ways forward. The urgency serves to ignite their tenacity to dig in, get involved, and invent significant opportunities that are futuristic. If others learn to appreciate this visionary that offers prescience about a brighter future, they can benefit from the inspiration and energy to drive fast results. While it doesn’t always feel good to be the one following through on the details required to shift direction during change, if they can dream along with the person, great things can happen.

What often happens instead:

Instead of enjoying the passion and new insights, others often get tangled up in fears that their input will be ignored, the risk will be too great, or the work will entail too much effort. When this happens, it can trigger alarms in others that feel “dismissed or devalued” or at the very least “ unheard”.  When this happens it can trigger alarms in others that the person is “trying to dominate me” or “taking reckless risks”, or “dismissing valuable analysis from others”. No one enjoys being railroaded by someone full of passion and certainty, after all. But there’s another, better way. If we can all learn to simply notice this pattern, recognize the person’s temporary stress and respond accordingly, we can help the person do what they do best - catalyze change. This requires not getting caught up in the drama of fear and reacting to their stress.

A better way to respond more consciously:

A stress reaction always contains some kind of positive effect if it doesn’t go too far. As such, it can be helpful to point out to the person having the stress reaction that you are noticing their distress and inquire about how you can help. They may not take you up on the offer, but merely witnessing their stress can help them see the potential impact they are having on others. This can alert them to their unintended effect, so they can proceed with more awareness and intention. If we can remain curious about their reactions and offer to listen it can be very helpful. Saying “I am noticing that you seem stressed about something and may even be triggered by it, but that may also mean it is important for all of us to hear. How can I help?” Just the act of caring and listening can sometimes be enough to surface “the golden nugget of truth” lying under the surface of the stress reaction.

The positive result:

The acknowledgment that people don’t conjure up stress and react to it without good reason is often enough to de-escalate the emotional charge that could tilt the tension over into drama and conflict. When someone experiencing stress feels helped, supported, and heard, they can relax and focus on driving the vision forward. Driving change requires insight, hope, effort, and belief in a better future that is well-served by the temporary adrenaline rush of stress.

What happens if it becomes chronic?

Acute stress is often good stress and helps us drive necessary change. But chronic stress is another thing altogether and can become damaging for everyone involved. The persistent version of this stress reaction is to become extremely compulsive and reckless. Unhealthy patterns can result when one is triggered by having to take in too much detail or is consistently impatient because of self-inflicted pressure about too many matters of importance. In this case, one can begin to take out frustrations on others with enough frequency to damage relationships. If this happens, the best thing to do is get the person some coaching to address the underlying root cause so they can address the fears more directly with support.

How to use laser coaching to help someone impatient to win at all costs:

Laser coaching sessions can help others open their eyes to the pattern and how it’s harming their influence with others and eventually harming themselves as a result too.

Coaching questions that can increase awareness:

  • What outcome are you hoping to achieve by rushing a decision now?
  • What’s the potential cost of deciding too quickly?
  • What unintended consequences are possible if you rush forward?
  • What do you need to let go of to find your patience again?
  • What might you miss if you don’t ask for input from others?
  • What do you fear most, that others may need to know is important?
  • What do you need to do to communicate the vision more effectively?

Sometimes asking questions like this is all that is needed to raise self-awareness in someone under stress. As a coach, leader, or colleague, you don't need to have the answers but can suggest they might benefit from pondering their answers in their own time. Click here to learn more about how to manage stress in your team.

Note: This stress reaction is most common in an IMPACT True Tilt Change Catalyst personality profile. How can you actually use this? Learn more about your specific stress reaction pattern by taking the True Tilt Personality Profile™.

View related posts: Stress Symptom # 1Stress Symptom # 3Stress Symptom # 4