That phrase is simply a red flag to the proverbial bull and many of us are familiar with the thoughts that follow. A gush of optional lame retorts floods our brain- “don’t judge me!” “How would you know?” “How dare you suggest my reaction is wrong?”
We were obviously on the defensive to begin with, and then we double down.
Once our primal fight or flight response has bolted, it’s a big challenge to rein it in. But the better woman in us will want to learn to try.
Negative emotional reactions are valid and will persist, but magic sets in when we harness them constructively and for positive effects.
When we are in control of managing our own response, there’s no need to deal with ‘that other person’. We’re suddenly empowered by personal choice and walk into the land of our emotional intelligence.
There has been a considerable amount of research done over the years on this topic, and many enlightening books have emerged. As an executive coach though, my prime interest is in moving clients from concept to practice.
A common comment is, “how on earth do I stop my emotional knee-jerk reaction once it’s started?” Here are some tips:
On the next occasion where you feel triggered to react, instead choose to create a gap between your initial emotion and your verbal response to it. Take a slow deep breath. Then, in a few seconds, ask yourself the following questions:
- What am I feeling? (Label it. Anger? Frustration? Resentment?)
- Where will it lead? (How will others be impacted by what I’m tempted to say)
- What do I value as an ideal outcome here? (Retain a comfortable relationship? Influence a decision? Do I really need to be on the defensive or is there an alternative approach?)
- Can I shift into a more constructive emotion such as curiosity or empathy?
- What response do I now strategically choose?
You may be asking yourself if it’s really possible to think through all of this in a matter of seconds and shift your gears in time. But you’ll find that even your increased focus on self-awareness will make a difference, and the rest will follow in time.
It’s true that significant effort and persistence is involved in practicing this art of taming our tiger, but from living room to boardroom experience shows that the rewards are plentiful.
These are some of the perks:
Increased ‘Presence’ through Self-Awareness:
Having a sharpened ability to recognise our emotions as they arise, empowers us with the opportunity to manage them purposefully in alignment with our true objectives. A common example, when the goal is to retain a comfortable working relationship, is to mindfully shift from anger to curiosity by asking questions instead of firing back,
When we work to identify, acknowledge, and accept our personal conflict triggers and are practiced at managing them quickly, we can bypass those spontaneous reactions that inflame, by creating a short gap in time. It’s in that space that we can contemplate our response of choice.
With this new emotional agility, we’re better able to curb our defensive tendencies, and avoid the disruptive finger pointing and blame. This level of presence helps us to generate the productive interaction dynamics that are the hallmarks of great friendships and successful business outcomes.
Our world is transforming so quickly, it’s more important than ever to develop a mindset that is skilled at being open, accepting, and adaptive to change.
By managing emotions and remaining as objective as possible during conversations that have the potential to be volatile and unproductive, we can focus our attention on outcomes.
We can’t control what others say or do, but we can elect to take responsibility for our own behaviour. Knowing how to regulate our emotional responses in alignment with ‘best outcomes’ is an empowering place to start.