The truth is most of us can't help feeling immature reactions, frequently. What's important is the ability to not impulsively act out these feelings.

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Q: I value maturity in others but often notice I’m the one who’s immature in the workplace. I try not to get upset, but sooner or later I get annoyed, offended or nervous, then I act like I’m 5. How do I get beyond acting immature?

A: It’s been said that if you can keep your head while all around you are losing theirs, then you clearly don’t know what’s going on. The truth is most of us can’t help feeling immature reactions, frequently. What’s important is the ability to not impulsively act out these feelings.

If you don’t want to act 5 years old, you have to tolerate the range of petty, young and irrational responses in yourself that are part of our human nature. If you can’t stand the way you feel, then you’ll have zero impulse control about what you say or do.

Much suffering in our workplaces comes about because when people feel bad, they act badly as an attempt to get rid of their feelings.

Let’s imagine someone in your workplace implies you are stupid. What’s your automatic, unconscious and immediate reaction? If you said “defend yourself,” then you are normal. Now imagine a world in which you had the room to be stupid. In fact, isn’t it true that we all can be stupid once in a while?

If you could stand the feeling of being less than a genius, maybe you wouldn’t start a fight or insult the other person. Maybe you could feel upset and calmly say, “I agree I have room to learn.” If the other person doesn’t get any traction by insulting you, do you think they’ll be more or less likely to insult you in the future?

When we condemn our “immaturity,” we make it harder to observe it, sit with it and make good choices. The saying, “Don’t just do something, sit there,” can be good advice.

When we wait until our wave of emotional reaction subsides, we can see options that aren’t obvious when we’re in the throes of a reaction. There’s nothing inherently wrong with our reactions. What doesn’t work is not being able to accept whatever those reactions are and then doing and saying anything to race away from what we can’t tolerate.

Think of these emotional experiences as being like an inner gym. If every day we pick up a weight that contains anxiety, anger or embarrassment, and we do a few lifts, our emotional muscles become stronger.

If you’d like to live in a world where people aren’t so emotionally flabby that everything makes them act badly, start with the person you’ve got the most power to change: yourself.

The last word(s)

Q: Can adults really change?

A: Yes, if the way they’re acting makes them miserable enough.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., is an executive coach, trainer, therapist, speaker and author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006). She can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at interpersonaledge@comcast.net

; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry, no personal replies. To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube