Instead Of Reacting, Try This…

Picture this scenario: you are working away and then someone sends an email which makes you feel annoyed or angry. Chances are it may feel as though they haven’t listened to your thoughts on something, or perhaps they are challenging your work in some way, or perhaps it might even feel like they are blaming you for something they feel you could have done better.

Naturally you feel like you want to react in a fairly negative and defensive way because that’s how our brains are wired.

These situations happen all the time and so unfortunately many people actually feel threatened at work even if these things don’t feel like such a big deal at the time.

And one of the quickest ways to reduce the productivity of everyone in your team is to have people working in a threatened state. Why? When we feel threatened the amygdala in the brain jumps into action to get you away from danger. And the amygdala hasn’t evolved to tell the difference between a life-threatening animal and an annoying email.

And to add salt to the wound, the amygdala basically shuts down our pre-frontal cortex – the part of the brain which thinks rationally, gets our work done efficiently and which also helps us to regulate our emotions.

So here’s a simple process to help you to respond instead of react:

  1. Breathe using your diaphragm: This is the only way to gain back control of your prefrontal cortex quickly. And the breathing needs to be done slowly right down into your belly to send a message to the amygdala that you are safe – no wild animals here (at least not literally).
  2. Move: Movement releases “happy hormones” which combat cortisol (the stress hormone that you’ve just activated by being threatened). Personally, when this happens to me I find going for a run is the best way to release come cortisol and then think through a far more rational response rather than a less desirable reaction. Other people find that lifting weights helps, for others just a brisk walk around the block will do it.
  3. Imagine someone else is in your situation: Now that you are thinking more rationally imagine that it’s one of your friends in this situation and not you. How would suggest they respond rather than react? Often it’s easier to think more rationally when it’s about someone else rather than ourselves being impacted.
  4. Think back to your childhood: I remember when I was little, and if my sister and I were having a spat (as sisters often do) my parents used to say things to me like, “just because she started it doesn’t mean you have to finish it”, or “you’re the oldest, you should know better”, or “be the bigger person”. Bizarrely enough variations of these probably apply to the corporate and business playground too.

And if it helps to know that any negative behaviour which feels like it’s directed at you is generally a sign that that person is not feeling safe about something and you just happen to be on the receiving end. Basically their negative behaviour really doesn’t have much to do with you.