In his book, Triggers, Marshall Goldsmith says a trigger is any stimulus that influences our behavior. Every day at work things can happen that will trigger an intense emotional reaction in us. When we are triggered we have an emotional impulse. As leaders, we cannot afford to act on every impulse. We cannot react. We must respond. There’s a big difference.
As leaders responsible for engaging others and leading real change, we must respond to each situation, including those in which we experience an intense trigger, with careful thinking and effective communication. Responding versus reacting means that we feel fully and are in control of our response to our emotional experience.
Many times we do not feel fully; we feel partially. We are triggered. We have an emotional reaction. We act. Emotional reactivity usually manifests as passive-aggressive behavior. Passive-aggressive behavior is a sign of someone feeling partially. Leadership is neither passive nor aggressive; it is assertive.
We feel fully and demonstrate emotional intelligence when we are able to create space between the triggering event and our behavior so we can think carefully and communicate effectively (through our words and deeds).
Like everything we want to get better at, becoming more responsive and less reactive takes practice. Here’s a quick self-management process based on our A3 model to enable you to feel fully and to be responsive and not reactive.
When you get triggered, stop, breathe, and reflect. Be present to the feeling. Emotional reactivity keeps us replaying the triggering event (the past) or imagining our revenge (the future). You’re thinking is not careful when you are emotionally in the past or future.
1. AIM: Get into the present moment. Focus your breathing. (Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Do this for 1-2 minutes to reground yourself in the present. Create space between the trigger, the impulse, and the behavior.)
- What just happened?
- What am I feeling?
2. ALIGN: Shift from Reactivity to Responsiveness.
- What do I want most in this situation?
- What outcome am I willing to accept?
- What would a leader do (not a victim)?
3. ACT: Own your reality.
- What will I do next (if anything) to respond?
- Who needs to know my next step and how will I tell them?
These three steps and the inquiry at each point support our feeling fully, and thereby better self-management. Self-awareness about what triggers us and why we got triggered in the first place requires further reflection. To grow in awareness ask, “What internal shift would I need to make to not be triggered in this way again?”
Don’t fall victim to your emotions. Feel fully in order to respond and not react when triggered.
Marshal Goldsmith, author of the New York Times bestseller, Triggers says, “Anyone facing stagnant processes, corporate infighting, and the usual roadblocks at work will deeply appreciate the great lessons in Ultra Leadership! Adopt a breakthrough leadership strategy that will fundamentally change your workplace, and your personal leadership style, for the better!”