Posts Tagged ‘amygdala hijack’

13 Ways to Be More Collaborative

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

Boy, are people cranky these days! And for good reason, right? Our norms have been turned upside down, and, combined with fear, uncertainty, financial strain, and worry — it’s a sure recipe for contentiousness.

Just take a look at just about any social media page. People can post the most innocent of comments — or not — but no matter, there’s always someone, or some-many, who will jump on their soapbox and argue, call names, sling insults, and make snide remarks, sometimes just to be disagreeable. Why is it when things get tough, we tend to throw teamwork and collaboration out the window?

Some would say it’s human nature and can’t be helped.

“Bad temper is its own scourge. Few things are more bitter than to feel bitter. A man’s venom poisons himself more than his victim.” — Charles Buxton

Oxford Language Dictionary defines human nature as “the general psychological characteristics, feelings, and behavioral traits of humankind, regarded as shared by all humans.” Why, then, if it’s something we all share, are some people kindhearted, uplifting, and encouraging, while others seem prone to be the thorn in everyone’s side?

It comes down to choice.

Contrary to popular belief, we get to choose how we react to the emotions we are feeling. Every single one of us can either choose the path of collaboration, or, decide to go down the path of contentiousness. We have the choice to either fall victim to our emotions and allow them to take us down the spiral of negativism, cynicism, and criticism, or use them as a vital source of data which can lead to greater connectivity and cooperation with others, leading to healthier, happier relationships.

No matter your circumstances, no matter how tough things are, no matter how utterly frustrated you may feel, you get to choose how you respond.

Experiencing negative emotions is normal. But we don’t have to act out on them. So why does it feel like poor behavior sometimes is an automatic reaction, one that can’t be helped? The answer has to do with how our brains are wired. When presented with stimuli which trigger a strong emotion, the signal first arrives to the emotional part of your brain, and communicates that you either need to fight or take flight, without delay. It takes another six seconds for the signal to hit the rational part of your brain and allow you to use reason in choosing your next steps.[How to best manage the six seconds that can change your life (for the worse)].

If you choose to react within those first six seconds, chances are your choices may be clouded by the hot emotions you’re feeling. Those are the moments when we shoot back that feisty text, fire off a heated email, or exchange hurtful words in a disagreement. This out-of-control response is a result of an amygdala hijack, a term coined by Daniel Goleman in 1995. The amygdala, the part of the brain designed to respond quickly to  threats, in order to protect us from danger, can interfere with our functioning in our day-to-day lives where perceived threats are now rarely a matter of life and death. 

If we delay reacting by just a few more moments, allowing the brain to take the emotional stimuli and process it with the rational part of our brain, we have a much greater likelihood of making a thought-out, cooperative and productive decision. [Amygdala Hijack and the Fight or Flight Response]

Easier said than done.

Becoming a team player, and leading others toward collaboration, takes emotional intelligence, including self-awareness, self-management, other awareness, and relationship management, to pull it of. These traits often don’t come easy. But with some focused effort and the help of a social + emotional intelligence coach, you can take steps in a new direction.

If working collaboratively with others is not one of your strong points, here are some things to try to work toward  a more cooperative approach:

  • Hit pause. When you feel your temper rising, take a break. Inhale deeply, step away, take a walk — anything to give your brain a chance to bring reason to the table.
  • Look for opportunities to team up with others. Instead of going it alone on your next project, find a few others to collaborate with and let them know you’d really appreciate their input.
  • Enhance your listening skills. When others offer their insights, even if you don’t like what they’re saying, tune into what they’re trying to communicate and take a genuine interest in learning more. Understanding their motivations may help you be more open to a differing viewpoint.
  • Keep others informed as to your goals, projects, timelines, and successes along the way. Communicating with others helps them feel like part of the team.
  • Be sure to say thank you to those who are working with you. Gratitude goes a long way in building rapport with others. Some people thrive on public recognition while others appreciate a private “thanks”. Learn your team members and be generous with your appreciation.
  • Lead without dominating. Seek out ways you can ask for input and allow for time and space for others to come up with suggestions, ideas, etc…especially those who may be quieter or less assertive.
  • Give validation freely. Letting others know their input is valued, even if the ideas presented are not ones you’d necessarily incorporate, goes a long way in building a cooperative spirit. An old proverb says, “In a multitude of counselors there is safety.” A variety of ideas, even the ones which sound crazy or far-fetched, can contribute to finding successful ones.
  • When conflict arises, attempt to resolve it sooner than later. Unresolved conflict can eat away at cohesion. Though avoiding hard conversations may seem easier in the moment, they’ll need to take place eventually. The sooner you can resolve disagreements, the sooner you can move forward toward your goals.
  • Treat everyone with respect and courtesy. There’s never a time when it’s OK to be rude, distasteful, or demeaning. No matter the job title, position, or lot in life, practice treating all people with high regard.
  • Share your resources with others. Don’t be an idea-hoarder. Who knows if your insights may spark imaginative ideas in others?“

“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

  • Allow others to take credit. Your innovative ideas may spur others to come up with creative ways of doing things…so much so that they may forget the original idea came from you. That’s OK. Exercise enough personal power to not need to have all the credit all the time.
  • Empower others to be successful. Good leaders look for ways for others to be successful. Which of your behaviors turn others off? What hurdles may be keeping others from feeling like part of your team? What needs do they have? How can you go out of your way to meet those needs?
  • Get to know your colleagues. Learn their spouse’s names, ask about what their kids are up to, and seek to understand their motivations and personal interests. When team members feel understood, and appreciated, they’re much more likely to be strong contributors.

Learning to get along and work well with others will enhance your own sense of well-being, as well as contribute to happier, healthier relationships and a greater sense of community…something we all could use more of these days.

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

Exploding emotions: Do you know your triggers?

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

I couldn’t help myself. I knew it would be better to stay silent, to not comment, to cool down and walk away. But my frustration levels had hit an all-time high and I could feel my heart beating faster and faster as I thought about what I wanted to say…what I needed to say…what I had to say. So I opened my mouth and out it came. It’s as if I had no filter to screen out the ugly, hurtful, harmful words — they just tumbled out in a jumble of anger, resentment, and fury. I regretted them immediately as I saw the pain on my friend’s face — he didn’t deserve this lashing.  Sure, I was upset — but my lack of self-control made an already difficult situation even worse.  Now I’d inflicted hurt upon another with my sharp tongue, and both of us now felt bad.  Oh, if only I could take those words back! But the harm was done and it would take weeks to repair our relationship.

How many times do we act on impulse only to regret it later? If only we had a way to control our reactions…

Wait a minute. We do. It’s called behavioral self-control and it’s a competency of emotional intelligence. It’s that ability to keep disruptive emotions and impulses at bay. It’s that capacity to stay composed, upbeat, and unflappable, even in moments where our patience is tested.  It’s the power to restrain negative reactions and keep a clear head when we’re under siege. Those who are good at this are able to maintain their composure even in high-stress situations, and when faced with hostility or opposition, remain ‘cool” under pressure. Behavioral self-control is a powerful competency to possess, and we are all capable of owning it.

But let’s admit it: some of us aren’t so good at it. We react on impulse and become angry or agitated when conflict arises. We tend to be quick to anger, defensive, and can get involved in inappropriate situations because our ability to resist the temptation of a non-constructive response is weak.

What is it that causes us to make knee-jerk reactions when our emotions are involved?

Have you ever attempted to open one of those cans of pre-made biscuit dough?  You know the drill — you peel off the paper at the “Peel Here” tab, slowly, carefully, knowing once you pull it back to where it’s sealed, the trigger, there’s no going back: the can will explode and out pops the dough. It can be a bit of an unnerving process. I’ve actually heard of people who have a fear of that impending explosion and choose to not open the cans!  Similarly, we can be afraid to open our ‘can of emotions’ as our brain has a trigger point, too. The Amygdala is located in the temporal lobes and is the part of our brain that is involved with experiencing emotions. Part of the limbic system, its primary role is to process decision-making, memory, and our emotional responses (http://brainmadesimple.com/amygdala.html). An Amygdala hijack is a phrase coined by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence, to describe an overwhelming emotional response that does not match up to the actual stimulus. Fear is usually involved. Looking back on the interaction with my friend, though my angst was understandable, my reaction was over-the-top in comparison to the reality of the situation. I exploded just like that can of biscuits, startling and disturbing both of us in the process. I experienced an Amygdala hijack. Instead of responding with reason, an emotional trigger caused me to, in the moment, experience fear, then determine that the situation was of much greater significance than it actually was.  The result? I said things that weren’t exactly the most beneficial to our relationship.

“He who blows his top loses all his thinking matter.” – Chinese proverb

We all explode from time to time. Losing it is natural, and normal if you will — but not conducive to building healthy relationships.  The good news is that behavioral self-control is something we can grow in, even if we’re pretty bad at it.

A good place to start is to keep an emotional mood journal.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy — just grab a piece of paper and a pen and/or your cell phone memo pad and start taking note of how you’re feeling in the moment…and why you’re feeling it.  Go ahead and try it — right now, how are you feeling?  Try to be specific with the emotion — especially around the negative ones. Instead of “mad”, maybe you’re frustrated, or disgruntled, or discouraged, or just plain tired.  Alongside the emotion, write down what you think the cause may be.  These ‘whys’ are your hot buttons — your triggers — that place where the seal on the can will burst.

Do this for several days — a week maybe — and look back over your entries to see if you notice any trends. Are certain emotions coming up at a particular time of day (pre-coffee, maybe?).  Are they only when you’re around a certain person? Are they occurring when you feel stress, or a pending deadline, or are they arising when you’re fearful about something? Jot down any patterns you observe.

Once we are aware of the emotions we are feeling, and when we’re feeling them, we then can move to managing our behavior. In week two, write down how you react when you are feeling these emotions. Do you get quiet? Do you say something mouthy? Do you stuff the feeling down deep and distract yourself with something else? Do you eat? Do you get negative and depressed? After noticing your reactions, note whether your reaction is helping the situation or making it worse. Then do a damage report. Access the destruction your actions are causing, on yourself and on your relationships with others. Sometimes, unfortunately, it takes seeing the harm we are doing to spur us to make a different choice.

“Anyone can become angry — that is easy.  But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, and the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — this is not easy.” — Aristotle

The next step is to begin to look for new and more positive responses to those emotions. Brainstorm what  you could do differently and write these down. Post these somewhere where you can see them throughout the day. If the biscuits would stay fresh, I’d recommend setting a can on your desk as a reminder of how quickly an Amygdala hijack can occur — and how powerful the explosion can be. Maybe just download a picture and keep handy to serve as an admonition. When that old familiar feeling arises, glance at the photo and check your list. Take a breath, pause, and choose the response you want rather than reacting. Easier said than done, I know. Working with a trained social + emotional intelligence coach can help with this process.

“Our ability to pause before we react gives us the space of mind in which we can consider various options and then choose the appropriate ones.” — Daniel Siegel

Finally, once you’re able to respond to these emotions in a more constructive manner, note how you feel after making better choices. With most skill sets, practice makes perfect. Well, in this case, you won’t be perfect, but with practice you can start down the road toward behavior change, improving your mental well-being and making choices that lead to happier, healthier relationships. And maybe take some of the fear out of opening that can.

 

 

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