Respond Versus React
We are all human, so being trigged is a natural part of life. We can’t change that and we can’t control how other people act, especially when their actions irritate us. But we can control our reaction, and better yet, we can forge new neural pathways that will enable us to respond to a negative trigger in a way that serves us, instead of drains us.
Step 1: Design Your Desired State
What outcome would you like instead? Get clear on your desired state and if it is truly what you would like. Remember your outcome should be initiated and maintained by yourself and not require others to change.
John, a CEO of a large manufacturing company on the east coast, used to react badly to what he perceived as lack of professionalism or follow up by Sam, VP of Operations. He’d start a whole chain of judgmental thoughts about Sam, all the while desperately seeking to validate his own good work. Since Sam worked at a different site and in a different time zone from John, by the time the two had contact John would’ve written Sam off. And Sam’s small mistake had become a huge disaster. What was a ripple became a tidal wave.
Ask yourself the following questions:
In John’s case we weren’t worried about having all his co-workers comply with his standards, so we asked how he would like to respond if a ball was dropped. He said he’d like to feel calm and confident.
Step 2: Get Curious
When you are triggered, what is your first thought? Do you default to a reaction based on your perceived truth or do you take the time to truly evaluate what is happening? The key is to get curious.
What is the other person experiencing? What behaviors are available to them? What do they believe to be true? More importantly, are you valuing their beliefs and their experience? As leaders, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking your team is inept, when at times, we need to look at ourselves.
Through our coaching together John realized he needed to present his problem clearly and also to openly listen to the other person’s problems and priorities without provoking defensiveness. He knew that to truly inhabit his desired state he’d have to let go of his anger response and cultivate real curiosity. He’d have to become open to the possibility that there was no problem at all… just someone with a different set of priorities.
Step 3: Check Your Ego
Fear? Attachment? Control? Entitlement? Which is pushing your buttons? What’s at stake for your ego? Notice what feelings you experience when you are triggered and start to slow them down. Let yourself really feel. What might you be believing—about yourself, the world, the situation, the other person –to be having this experience? What’s beneath it all?
For John, reacting in a passive aggressive way made him feel superior and in control. He was able to feel a greater sense of being important by preserving and defending the idea that he was right—even if it didn’t solve anything or move anyone forward. Yet some say that if you keep getting the same results from your team, the problem might not be your team. The problem might be your leadership. Worth pondering…
Step 4: Do a “Break State”
Shift your brain and give yourself some breathing room. Easy ways to break your state include counting things, asking questions that totally change the subject like: “What did you eat for breakfast?” or “Do we need a break/snack?” and movement such as stretching or walking around.
Step 5: Determine Your New Response
John decided he’d always do a break state, then call the person he felt had dropped the ball and openly discuss how it made him feel, and the beliefs it created in his brain. Using the phone instead of e-mail would let him communicate, connect, collaborate more effectively.
Step 6: Create an Image and Anchor It
Imagine a future you a few feet ahead up above eye level and to your right. Step into that version of you and take it for a test drive, i.e. imagine yourself in multiple situations where you used get triggered and try out the new response. How does it feel?
If this feels sufficiently wonderful press your right thumb into your left palm and apply some pressure. This is called setting an anchor (associating a particular touch with a feeling or emotional state). The next time you’re triggered you can press the same spot, and you’ll recall the desired state which will help you calm down and make a new choice—your new routine. If it’s not wonderful enough yet, make some changes to your new routine until it does.
Once John started calmly and confidently calling his colleagues instead of being secretly angry with them, he learned remarkable things about what was actually happening for people. With this information he improved his performance spectacularly. He also began to enjoy a whole new kind of connection and mattering, so much so that the shift became easy to maintain automatically because it felt so much better than being “right”.
All behaviors and behavior patterns had some kind of intended positive outcome at the time they were created; they were useful in some way to help us get the positive outcome we sought. The trouble is that as we grow and change, some behavior patterns no longer serve us. They need to be edited or released entirely. To do this we must teach our brain new patterns.
Christine Comaford is the best-selling author of Power Your Tribe: Create Resilient Teams in Turbulent Times and SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together, and a leadership and culture coach. She hosts Beyond The Brain, a Retreat In Mindfulness and Ancient Wisdom every October and the Conscious Leaders Tribe, which meets monthly via web meetings. Learn more at SmartTribes Institute.
Originally published at smarttribesinstitute.com