Little Sisters and Turtle Shells Taught Me How to Deal With Aggravation at Work

No Goals No Career

Growing up the oldest of four kids in the 70s and 80s, three years separated me from my next younger sister. She always seemed to be hanging around, spilling my secrets and generally doing all the annoying things younger sisters do.


And we fought – did we ever – over anything and everything.  She knew what to say, and more importantly, when to say it for maximum impact to play to an audience.

When we were in grade school, we would end up rolling around on the ground – pulling hair, scratching, the works – until a parent would break it up, and I’d always receive the worse punishment, for being the oldest I should have “known better” and “set a good example” for her on how to behave.

I swear she always started it.

After each fight, my dad would sit me down and talk to me about letting the anger go and not letting her get me riled up.

“Nothing is that big of a deal to let yourself get that angry. It’s not that important. Let the words roll off your back,” he’d tell me.

While at the time his advice didn’t always get put into regular practice, (sisters, ahem) I eventually found it to be quite useful; I would visualize a turtle shell around me and her words sliding off my shell.

After I started working, I discovered just how handy the turtle shell is when dealing with heated situations to keep calm and focused.

It is very easy to get caught up in the moment at work. The day-to-day activities, deadlines, requests and “emergencies” can at times be overwhelming.

All too soon, you lose focus and become consumed in a situation where you have angry customers, employees and managers twisted and yelling at you. Essentially, you get on the ground and roll around with them the same way my sister would needle me until I would engage her in a fight.

Instead of participating, that is the perfect moment to stop, take a breath, pull out the turtle shell and refocus the conversation.

Advice on Handling Aggravation at Work*

    • When confronted by someone who is upset, listen to what they are saying. There could be a kernel of truth and fact in their anger, so strip away the emotion and listen. Is the problem a missed deadline? A personality conflict? Use your shell to let the emotion roll off so you can focus on the particulars of the issue and deal with the facts, not the emotions.
    • Recognize that sometimes people do stupid things to rile others up to get attention, even at work. It happens. Don’t react, that is what they want. Just move on.
    • Wait 24 hours to reply if you are upset. Full stop. If you are emotional, don’t respond to an email or phone call. Go home. Go for a walk around the block. Talk to your family, your friends, your pets, your plants or therapist, just don’t engage when you are in the midst of feeling upset if at all possible. Notice I didn’t say your co-workers – they usually are not an optimal choice since they are also in the same environment as you and can be biased in their advice.
    • Focus on the solution and the quickest, most effective and ethical route to get there. When it is time to confront the individual, do your best to set aside your anger. Keep the conversation centered on the solution and your commitment to making it happen. Bring it back around to it as many times as it takes until the other person runs out of steam or is satisfied. Remember, you have your turtle shell to deal with the stingers and zingers they throw your way. You can ignore them and stay focused on the solution.
    • When receiving criticism, especially “helpful” criticism, try not to let your blood pressure rise or immediately jump to defend yourself. Imagine: if you were giving this advice to someone else, would the advice be valid? If it holds true, or even partially true, slip on your turtle shell, strip the emotion from what the individual is throwing at you, thank the person and see how you can use the information you received to improve. Don’t drag out and continue the conversation – find a graceful way to exit and ponder what you’ve learned for another day.
    • Lastly, follow the golden etiquette rule: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

It would be easy to let the comments, emails and gossip eat away at and bother you. Remind yourself – it’s not that important. If you aren’t going to remember it in 10 years from now, it shouldn’t really matter to you today. Use your turtle shell! Pull it on and let it the comments and emotions roll off your back. You will be more productive, happier and less bothered by the “little stuff.”

It amuses my sister to no end to remind me of how she would get under my skin and drive me crazy when we were younger. I point out to her that her children are taking after her as little instigators and causing mischief.

I’m laughing – oh yes – I’m laughing. I may have to teach her the turtle shell trick after all.

Me and my little sister in 1982.


* This article does not pertain or provide advice on situations where there is harassment or verbal abuse in the workplace. You should immediately communicate those situations to your manager, human resources, legal department and anyone else at your organization that should be involved. This article relates to the typical office-life frustrations in the daily life of a professional.