Manage your Triggers to Effectively Respond to Emotional Situations

Leaders who understand how to manage their emotional triggers in the workplace have greater influence and create higher performing teams. 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. Learning how to effectively respond to a trigger takes practice. It is helpful to use our step-by-step approach:

  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, causing an adrenaline rush. Give your body a chance to settle down from this initial reaction by simply taking 5 to 10 seconds to pause and breathe.
  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. Identify the emotion you feel, whether that’s anger, frustration, or some other emotion.
  3. Bridge To The Positive: When you have a quiet moment, try this simple exercise. 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 are one or two main emotions. 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.
  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.
  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? Through reflecting on how far we’ve grown, we can continue to grow further.