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Passionate or Pushy - How to Avoid Going Over the Line

Passionate or Pushy - How to Avoid Going Over the Line

When you are emotionally charged and passionate about your work, it’s easy to cross the border from passionate to pushy. When you're passionate, you are enthusiastic, eager, fervid, emotional, and heartfelt. When you're pushy, you are overbearing, domineering, aggressive, and forceful. How can enthusiasm deteriorate into aggression?

When I get excited about what I’m talking about, I can feel my body and my voice change. I sit up straight and move toward the edge of my seat. My voice gets louder. I become animated - jiggle my knee, talk more, use my hands, and make lively facial expressions. When we are passionate about something, our intensity increases and we are hyper-focused.

The borderline between passionate and pushy can depend on what you are hyper-focused on. If you are hyper-focused on your own idea and determined to drive it through at any cost, there’s a good chance you will cross the line over to pushy. Passion can inspire and motivate others – but when passion turns into pushing ideas down other people’s throats, it’s more than intimidating, and certainly not inspiring.

There are some things that all passionate people can control. Topping the list of tactics to use to avoid going over to the pushy side is listening.

[Related: Feminine Leadership + Why Leading With Purpose May Change the Future of Business]

Let’s look at two examples to see the difference.

Example one: I went to a call with a project for the team to execute. In my mind, it was time sensitive and critical. I knew how to get it done and had mapped out a detailed project plan, including assigning tasks. I spent every minute of the first call explaining the plan. Everyone knew exactly what they had to do. In the second meeting, I lost my temper because nothing was done. I got myself worked up about the non-execution of my plan. I got the embarrassing call from a peer manager, and then my VP, letting me know I had messed up.

Example two: I wanted to implement a project with the team which changed the way we built their quarterly plan. I knew how I would set it up, but I went in progressively instead of presenting a fully-baked project. I worked with someone on my team to share the work of outlining the project and its steps. I worked with team members as I was building the project. Later, we presented the project and gathered final feedback from the team before implementing it. Most other teams were extremely hesitant to make the change, and we were the first ones out there trying the new methodology. Everyone learned something and started the long process of changing the way they worked on a positive note.

In the first instance, I was pushy. I had my idea and plan and no one was going to stop me from putting them in place. I didn’t take the time to ask for feedback, to check with the team on issues they might have or alternative ways to reach the same end goal. I was pushy because I was passionate – I deeply cared about the problem I was trying to solve. But that doesn’t change the fact that I was being pushy, and the response perfectly demonstrated why pushy doesn’t work.

In the second instance, I was passionate and sharing that passion with the team. Crucially, I also listened to their perspectives and took them into account. The difference was night and day.

[Related: First Week at a New Job? Get to Know Your Team!]

Listening is key.

Earlier, I mentioned the fact that my voice gets louder when I am passionately engaged. Even if you are taking time to listen, if you are talking loudly and over-animated, some people will be put off. Some may feel as if you are being too forceful.

There is definitely a cultural element here – in some cultures, raised voices and high emotions are not considered acceptable in a business environment. But it’s not only cultural. Even in America, where passion is admired, people who are quiet and more introverted can feel steamrolled by loud voices and strong emotion. So while monitoring your sound level is a good idea, curbing your emotional intensity can often be helpful, as well.

Passion can quickly turn into frustration and anger when things aren’t going well. It’s great to tap into that high emotion for positive energy, but not so great when your emotions take you to a more negative place.

Anger and frustration trigger the body’s stress response: adrenaline and cortisol. Our bodies physically respond to stress and our behavior takes a toll. Perhaps we start yelling or become disdainful. In any case, it’s highly likely we stop listening.

If you go over the border too often to pushy when you are not getting what you want, it can help to spend some time learning to better manage your emotions. It’s possible to learn how to intercept negative emotions like frustration and anger before they turn into a stress response.

Passionate or pushy. It takes some self-awareness to feel the difference, and some personal responsibility to recognize when you do go over that line. If you’ve gone over the line, start taking steps today to get back to passionate and away from pushy.

[Related: How to Survive The Reinvention of Yourself]


Angela Fresne is a career and life coach. She is dedicated to helping people find more satisfaction in their lives.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.