How many times a day do you find yourself offended?  Or triggered in response to what someone else has said or done?

If you are anything like me, it happens to you more than you would hope for. I have started to track and reflect on how often major issues have bubbled over from what was simply an emotional response to what could easily be determined as a misunderstanding—not a malicious intent to harm.

So the question then becomes, how do we spare ourselves this all-or-nothing reaction and how do we become so skilled to instead orient ourselves to stop, consider and then respond?

Imagine, how could our places of work be better served by us stopping, withholding conclusion, considering alternatives for why someone might have done something / said something, and to proceed with clarification and response in a measured way?

I know, easier said than done is what you’re thinking, right?  Think about it though, everything in life worth doing takes effort. It isn’t easy.  It takes intention and practice before it gives way to becoming habit.

David Rock has done some amazing work in the area of neuroscience and understanding the “fight or flight” response that we experience when our nervous system is triggered into response.

He asserts that we need to consider the threat response that triggers “fight or flight” carefully and monitor if Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness or Fairness are being threatened in some way.

What might be very helpful from a work environment perspective is to think about monitoring your “messages” to others around these items.  For instance, ask yourself, is anything I am saying going to trigger a threat response in my colleague – will it cause them to feel they don’t belong, that they don’t have a place here, that their autonomy will be taken away?  Is anything I am saying threatening their status on this team or on this project?  What am I saying or suggesting that may be perceived as unfair? How could I minimize the chances of that occurring?

In monitoring my own responses, I may have to remind myself to stay curious longer, to catch myself and ensure that I am not merely reacting.  To help with this, I use structure.  My structure includes a practice of asking at least two questions before I respond. These two questions can be reflective (for me to consider) or directed to the other party.

Some great questions to demonstrate curiosity are:  Um, that’s a curious thing to say, what exactly to do you mean?…..what might be leading you to say that?  What assumptions are behind that thinking?

Or, if more appropriate, I use reflective questions like: What are some other possible explanations for why they said/did that?  What could be going on for that person?  How about a clarify-what-they-meant by-that?  How healthy is my relationship with this individual?

I am going to take that intention and practice to both my work and personal life and see how well I do. Why not join me?  The gains for each of one of us are significant – improved relationships, fewer misunderstandings, and more opportunities to truly collaborate with colleagues.

Joanne Spalton, Senior Consultant