Boxing Lesson One
I had an epiphany somewhere just a split second before or perhaps after my boxing coach’s boxing pad struck the side of my head. Will boxing make me a better manager or leader? Thump!!!!! Is that why I am standing here taking a blow to the side of the head. If not, why on earth??? The epiphany was actually in fact a question, not so much a realisation. Hard to formulate a theory when your being struck across the side of your face, but not hard to ask a question “WHY?”. The answer, – the realisation- came later when the shock subsided, in fact much later when the training had ended and I knew the coach was several miles away, well out of arm’s length and I could think straight.
What can a swipe across the side of the head teach me? It didn’t teach me anything positive when I was in school. What can we learn from boxing about being a great manager, about professional development in a corporate environment? Well it turns out, that there is quite a lot, so I surmise anyway.
I started boxing lessons several months ago in a small gym near where I live. It’s a scene out of Rocky, punching bags, speed balls, weights, a boxing ring, athletic people sparring, old men who should know better – sweating profusely, (not saying which one I am). Rounds of punching punctuated by bells and catching of breath in burning lungs.
Learning to manage stress in the work place is like learning to prepare yourself to take that swipe across the side of your face. Feedback can hit you like an uppercut, and failure can take you to the canvas on the end of a swinging right hook. How fit are you, how prepared are you to take a blow early in the match but continue on regardless.
So what did I learn? The slap to the side of the head didn’t actually hurt when you took the shock element out of the impact. When we receive criticism, it often comes as a shock and our immediate reaction is to not respond in a considered fashion. The shock can be emotionally jarring. The skill is learning to diffuse the impact of that emotional jarring and to plan your response in a considered fashion. Can you imagine a boxer getting a surprise and being deeply offended by a blow to the side of the head then letting fly like a windmill in a hurricane. It’s a recipe for disaster (and a knock out).
Ask yourself, does the immediate emotion really match the physical impact, or is the emotion way out of kilter and throwing you off balance, setting you up for the wrong end of a knockout? The skill is in recognising this and parking your emotion outside the ring. I’m not suggesting it is easy, but the more self aware you are, the more you will recognise the emotional impact of the blow coming your way and the more you can discredit that emotion when it arrives and focus on what you can do with the feedback.
always spend time reflecting on the emotional outcomes of interactions, whether they were good or bad, whether they were sensible or just a reflection of past experiences and actually invalid. Use the good experiences to build positive outcomes going forward – Self Talk – “this will turn out well, it always does”. And use your understanding of the poor outcomes to help prepare you for the next punch, “this is not great but it is never as bad as I think it is, in fact this can be really positive”.