When You Get Blasted, Do You Blast Back?

Imagine you are a nonprofit CEO and just finished a meeting with your volunteer board of directors. The Board Chair asks you to stay for a few minutes after everyone else has gone—and lets you have it!

“How dare you interrupt me when I’m making a presentation? You need to remember that I am the Board Chair, and you are only the CEO. P.S. You report to me. Is that clear?”

On the way back to your office, you are burning with irritation. No, with rage. You work your backside off for these folks—and for far less money than you could get in the for-profit sector—and you get this? How dare he!

Predictably, the next person that tests your patience gets a full-power blast from you.

Is this not like you…or really like you? This example is a self-awareness opportunity par excellence; be careful not to miss it! 

Obviously, the above example about a CEO getting blasted by a board chair is not exactly fiction. I’ve been there, done that—and done most of it poorly. However, I believe now, decades later, I would be less reactive, more self-aware, sensitive and well, courteous. 

Why do I think this? Because I took a personality assessment based on the work environment that increased both my self-awareness and self-management. Called the Workplace Big 5 Profile (WB5P), this well-researched tool opened my eyes to understanding my reactions to being blasted.

The WB5P assesses five personality traits, “The Big 5,” as psychologists refer to them. These include how we respond to a variety of stimuli such as stress, sensory input, change, challenge, and distractions. Each participant scores on a continuum for both the Trait and the Subtraits associated with it.

Our scores tell us about what happens when we are challenged or criticized. The primary feature involved in being the blaster or the blastee is Accommodation (how we respond to being challenged.) The creators of the WB5P define Accommodation as “the degree to which we defer to others.” It includes four subtraits:

  1. Others’ Needs
  2. Agreement
  3. Humility
  4. Reserve

When it comes to reacting to getting blasted, the subtrait Other’s Needs is most relevant. Others’ Needs has three categories on a continuum from never deferring on the one extreme and always deferring on to the other: The terms used to describe these categories are Challenger, Negotiator, and Adapter. Here’s a sample of Accommodation scores from a WB5P report:

This example describes the tendencies of someone who scores in the Negotiator category. Notice the “win-win” aspect and a “clear sense of personal identity.”

On the other hand, the Adapter is more inclined to let others win. He or she leans more toward being agreeable and accepting, often deferring to others. In the extreme, the Adapter may be perceived as dependent and averse to any conflict.

And then, there’s the Challenger. Folks who score in the lower range of Accommodation tend to relate to others by being expressive, tough, guarded, persistent, competitive, or aggressive.” Also, Challengers could be perceived as “hostile, rude, self-centered, hard-headed, or not a team player.”

Having scores in the Challenger zone does NOT mean that he or she IS rude and self-centered. It does suggest, however, that individuals with these scores need self-awareness of when those tendencies are most likely to manifest. If the person wants to be effective as a leader, then it is imperative to know what triggers the biochemistry that can produce an unhelpful response.

I score in the lower range of Challenger, but it always depends on the situation. When I played tennis, for example, I could never remember the score because I didn’t care who won. Even as a little girl playing Scrabble with my mother, she always kept score and I didn’t. (Of course, in both examples, that could be because I always lost and didn’t want to know the score!) However, as a CEO of a charity for troubled children, I felt fiercely competitive regarding raising money, finding great volunteers and staff and meeting strategic goals.

In my early years when confronted with criticism, I became defensive, angry and aggressive. Blasting back, i.e., usually followed this response “You hurt me, so I’m going to hurt you back!”

Getting a better understanding of my natural tendencies from my Big 5 scores helped me take a step back and do some introspection about what triggered the defensiveness and anger. There were some definite patterns. 

The most visible pattern occurred when anyone criticized my driving. I used to have a friend that was critical of my driving. His carping was constant and unkind. While driving, I was always tense just waiting for the next blast. I felt the urge to blast back, but the result was so unpleasant I learned to hold my tongue.

However, there’s an uncomfortable truth that I’ve come to terms with: My ex-friend was right. I am not a good driver, or rather, I’m a poor driver unless I work at it every second while behind the wheel. I’m easily distracted (another personality trait), so I find defensive driving exhausting. As a result, my mind wanders—a potentially disastrous tendency when behind the wheel! The hard to admit conclusion I drew from this? Sometimes we want to blast back because we’ve been caught “being wrong. “ It was a tough but invaluable lesson. 

The good news for me—and those riding with me—is that I’ve managed to translate comments into helpful suggestions and rarely feel that flash of defensiveness, anger, and “blast-back” desire.

Think about the last time you “blasted” (shouted at, dismissed, cut off, rolled your eyes, huffed and puffed at) anyone. Now, think about what happened to you in the 48 hours prior. Did someone blast, put you down, or insult you? Be careful…especially if you automatically answered “No!”

What do you think? Is accommodation the reason we want to blast back or something else? I would love to hear your take in the comments below.

Judy Nelson is a seasoned Executive Coach who helps leaders transform their senior management teams. With more than 35 years as a CEO, Nelson uses her experience and exceptional credentials as a lawyer, social worker and certified professional coach to help strengthen leadership styles and team performance. In addition, she is a certified consultant for the Workplace Big 5 Profile, a tool that gives you insight into how your personality affects your leadership style. She lives with her husband in Southern California. 

You can learn more about Judy at CoachJudyNelson.com or by emailing her at JudyNelson@CoachJudyNelson.com