Join Britt Andreatta for an in-depth discussion in this video Knowing your triggers, part of Having Difficult Conversations (2013).
As we just discussed, our fight or flight response is designed to protect us from danger. And if we're being robbed or in a car accident, this response could literally save your life. The problem is that our amygdala goes off when we're not in real danger. This happened to Scott. A pretty tame staff meeting had his heart racing like he was facing a saber-tooth tiger. This is because Scott was triggered. Triggers are the non-life-threatening situations that set off your fight or flight response. There's a dial on this, too. You might have a reaction that builds slowly or floods you quickly. There're four important things I want you to know about triggers. First, it will serve you well to know what triggers you. Knowing your triggers will allow you to navigate any kind of difficult situation more successfully.
Take a moment to think over the past year, both professionally and personally. Identify the situations that triggered you. Scott has three major triggers, when he feels demeaned. When he thinks someone is picking on or bullying others. And when he feels trapped like on an air plane. Second, have a plan for managing your triggers. As we know, the fight or flight response is completely outside of our control. That's why you want to have two to three key things you can do to calm yourself down. For example, you might want to focus on your breathing for a few minutes.
For me, it helps to grab a piece of paper and jot things down like "you just got triggered breathe girl, you're actually safe". I can do this in a meeting and folks think I'm taking notes. I also have a photo of my daughter on my phone and looking at her helps too. Take a moment to jot down the actions you can take when you feel yourself getting triggered. Third, triggers are actually the land mines of our old wounds. Let me explain this a little more. Recent research in the fields of biology and psychology have shed light on this process.
Our bodies are continually scanning for danger and the first thing it uses is past experiences that were harmful. When something is similar to a threatening situation in your past, the alarm bells fire off. Literally saying, danger, danger, this was bad before, so watch out. Interestingly, it doesn't have to have been a physical threat. It can also be emotional. Researchers now know that our need for survival includes three emotional areas that are core aspects of our identity. These are, am I competent, am I a good person, and am I worthy of love? Well, it's just the human experience that sometime in your past these aspects were threatened in some way. For example I once had a client who'd become triggered if anyone questioned her integrity.
This dated back to a painful experience in college and I worked with another client who would get triggered if he felt that he was being left out of the loop. Both of those have to do with competency and feeling like your a good person. Triggers are our bodies' way of protecting itself. The problem is that it's not very nuanced. If your boss has mannerisms that are similar to the kid who bullied you as a child, you could be triggered by your boss. If you don't know it's a trigger, you could literally feel that your boss is a jerk because he seems threatening to you. And this is what is happening to Scott.
Joe's demeaning behavior hits one of Scott's triggers. Scott's older brother was exceptionally cruel to Scott when they were growing up and he tormented him on a regular basis. When we're triggered, the feelings seem like they're caused by the person standing in front of us. But you don't want to let someone take the rap for someone else's crime. Knowing your triggers will help you know when someone might be setting them off. In this case, Scott now realizes that he may be over reading mal-intent into Joe's actions. Think back on your life. What are some things that happened in your past that could be at the source of your triggers.
Think about family, friends, school and work situations. There's 1 more thing I want you to know about triggers. Everybody has them. Even if you were raised in the most functional and wonderful home you still have triggers. The goal is to know your triggers and manage them. The good news is there's ways to greatly reduce, or even eliminate, your triggers. I've had great success with this myself, and have also witnessed it in many of my clients. Use the handout in the exercise files to reflect more on your triggers, and how you can manage them.
Along the way, learn the secrets of turning difficult conversations into successful interactions that enhance communication and rapport. Improve both your professional and personal relationships, finding your way back from conflict through mutually successful outcomes.
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- Understand why conversations go badly
- Define the influence of power structures and patterns in a difficult conversation
- Identify observable behaviors and use them to focus on facts and on how behaviors affect the business
- Control the direction of a conversation
- Build a blueprint from which to structure a conversation
- Identify and prepare for resistance during a difficult conversation
- Identify the conversational choices available to you when others resist your efforts