In our Amazon Top-10 Business book, Step Up–Lead in Six Moments That Matter, we have a chapter called Get Angry, Not Stupid and we also have a previous blog with the same name. The idea is that it’s okay to feel and express feelings like anger or frustration, even at work, as long as you can express those emotions in an intelligent and productive way; one that you will feel proud of later.
Most of you are familiar with the famous Amygdala Hijack. This is when a primal part of your brain senses or perceives danger, and, as a reaction, takes blood out of your pre-frontal lobe (where intelligent thought occurs) and pushes blood into your arms and legs so you can fight or take flight.
Some of the foundational work we do with leaders is coaching them to manage their emotions when they are feeling hijacked. How do we remain intelligent and objective, when facing challenging situations and/or people? It’s not always easy but it gets easier with focused practice. The feelings you experience are joined by physiological changes in your body. Afflictive emotions might make your chest tight, your breathing shallow, your hands clench into fists, your shoulders tense, or your jaw tighten. In other words, your body always gives you a heads-up that you are about to realize a feeling. When you sense that, you are getting hijacked by your amygdala. Here are two of the four techniques we offer in our book that can help you stay intelligent. (If you have the book, you will find the details starting on page 24):
Breathing. Deep, controlled breaths help restore blood back into the neo-cortex and stop the production of the chemicals that cause you to react suddenly and with great force. Sometimes it’s hard to take a deep breath when upset. In those moments, try breathing out. Do it now. Breathe all the air out through your mouth and you will notice that you cannot help but take a deep breath in.
Breathing out through your mouth may work well while sitting alone but may not work quite as well when sitting at a meeting or a dinner table surrounded with people looking at you. So, try an alternative for those situations. Slowly push the air out of your lungs through your nose. Again, you will notice that you can’t help but breathe in afterwards. Really, try it now. I promise you will have more oxygen available to you after you breathe out.
Questioning. When you ask your brain a question — any question — it forces blood back into the neo-cortex where intelligent thought occurs. So when you are triggered, ask yourself a question. Start with simple questions. What did I eat for breakfast yesterday? What is the last good movie I saw? What time did I wake up yesterday?
While any question will produce the desired result of a calmer emotional state and more rational thinking; as you progress in this practice, you can ask more sophisticated questions that are appropriate to the situation at hand. What can I say to make this person feel safe right now? What am I really trying to accomplish in this situation? What can I say or do to build this relationship?
Managing your emotions in the moment is not always easy. It requires practicing these techniques when you’re not being hijacked, so that they are readily available to you when you are.
Remember that your body will give you a heads-up. If you are aware of what is happening in your body, you can interrupt the cycle, stay at the stage in which you are simply irritated, and not let your emotions get out of hand.
Thank you, we look forward to hearing your thoughts. Let us know how you are doing.
As always, we appreciate your attention, and for additional ideas, follow me on twitter: @HenryJEvans