Learn how to manage your triggers to effectively respond to emotional situations.
Leaders who understand how to manage their emotions in the workplace have greater influence and create higher performing teams. Your level of EQ is not an intrinsic characteristic, rather it can be developed over time with understanding, practice and reflection.
Negative triggers can be the most difficult factor working against that development, and they can derail your pursuit of greater emotional intelligence. So, let’s look at what a trigger is, how it affects your emotional intelligence, and how to manage trigger responses to stay on track to becoming emotionally intelligent leaders.
What Is A Trigger?
A trigger is an event that happens in your daily life that elicits an emotional response. Examples of triggers in your work environment may include constantly changing priorities, missed deadlines, excuses, or “tyranny of the urgent” requests. These triggers may cause you to feel frustration, anger, and anxiety. Triggers can also be positive. For example, being rewarded by your boss for a job well done will likely trigger feelings of pride and happiness. However, I think it’s fair to assume that it is the negative triggers that work against our EQ development, and it’s the negative triggers that are difficult to manage and overcome.
Oftentimes, we are triggered by the same event or person each day. Perhaps we just don’t like the personality type or communication style of one of our coworkers. That person becomes a trigger to you every time you have to work with them. But that person is unlikely to go away anytime soon, so is it really worth the detriment to your own personal development to continue to react emotionally each time you have a meeting with them?
Leaders need to constantly work toward developing their emotional intelligence by managing their triggers and emotions through the four key branches of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Learning how to effectively respond to a trigger takes practice. It is helpful to use our step-by-step approach, The Trigger Response WheelTM, to make positive responses to triggers a habit.
The Trigger Response Wheel™
Step 1: Breathe
Neuroscience teaches us that we all naturally react to triggers using our “Old Brain” – the amygdala. This is the part of our brain that puts us in “fight or flight” mode when we sense we are in trouble. When we are triggered, the amygdala sends us a signal that we are in a “fight or flight” situation. Blood rushes from your brain into your extremities, your adrenaline starts pumping, your body emits cortisol, preparing you for your “fight or flight” reaction. Suddenly, you’re short of breath.
Give your body a chance to settle down from this initial reaction by simply taking 5 – 10 seconds to pause and breathe.
Step 2: Name The Emotion
By recognizing and naming the emotion you are feeling, you are better able to manage it.
How often does someone ask you how you are doing and you simply answer, “Fine” or “Good.” When in reality you are not. That’s fine for casual conversation, but to overcome reacting to triggers you need to develop your self-awareness and identify how that trigger is really making you feel. Anger and frustration are two very different emotions that need to be managed in different ways but are often used to express emotion interchangeably.
Step 3: Bridge To The Positive
This is perhaps the most difficult step of The Trigger Response Wheel™ because it requires you to recognize that, even in dire circumstances, there is potential for an eventual positive outcome. When you have been triggered, if you take care to follow the first two steps, you will be well positioned to think clearly and bridge to the positive. For example, perhaps having to work with someone you “butt heads with” is a very difficult and exhausting thing for you to do, but it’s also providing you the opportunity to work on developing a higher EQ!
When you have a quiet moment, try this simple exercise. Print out the table below and then sit down and fill it out. Start with your triggers. Is there a person, a coworker or customer, that triggers you on a regular basis? Maybe it’s shifting priorities, or employees that don’t seem to be motivated or accountable for their work. Once you’ve filled in your triggers, really think about the emotion you feel when you are triggered. There may be more than one, but typically there is one or two main emotions. Write that down in the “Emotion” column. Next, you need to think how you can bridge this trigger to the positive. No matter how bad things are, there is a way to find an eventual positive outcome. Write it down in the “Bridge to Positive” column.
Now that you have given yourself a chance to sit down and really think about what triggers emotional reactions from you, and how you can bridge those triggers to the positive, you are better prepared to take on triggers as they come. You can think back to the positive of the trigger and use it to respond rather than react. You are ready to take the next two steps to complete The Trigger Response Wheel™.
Step 4: Practice
Effectively responding to triggers doesn’t happen overnight. Triggers catch us off guard. Sometimes we’re more tired or stressed, which makes us less effective at managing our responses. It happens even to the most emotionally intelligent of us all. Remain mindful and practice every day, and you will find that over time you will have developed a strong trigger response and these steps just come naturally to you.
Step 5: Reflect
Peter Drucker once said, “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” No matter what skill we are working toward developing, we must always take time to reflect on our progress. What is working? What isn’t working? When did we handle a trigger well, and when did we handle one not so well? How can we continue to get better? By reflecting on how far we’ve grown, we can continue to grow further.