How do you respond when you’re triggered at work?
Do you respond from a place of anger or frustration, or do you avoid the situation for days or weeks? If you fall into either of these categories, you’re taking a “reactive” approach.
A reactive approach means taking action without pausing to think and process. You may also be focusing your thoughts and energy (either consciously or subconsciously) on the things you can’t control. This often results in burnout, added stress and could even lead to fractured relationships and lost opportunities.
We want to limit our reactive responses as much as possible. Instead, we want to be proactive.
Proactivity is taking time to process your triggers before taking action.
It requires pausing, reflecting and acting from a place of thoughtfulness and leadership. Proactivity also requires us to focus on what we can control versus the parts that are outside of our influence.
If I’m being honest, I haven’t always taken the proactive approach. Too many times I’ve responded to an email or text from a boss, colleague or family member from a place of anger.
And what’s the result?
It has often led to a lot of wasted energy, poor communication, disagreements and it has even had a negative impact on the relationship.
I’ve also felt shame and regret after the fact, and I’ve spent hours ruminating.
After the last time I was reactive, I made a promise to myself to give “Proactive Belma” (I made up a name for this part of myself 😂) a chance to come through, especially when it feels like taking a pause is so hard. I know she’s there. She’s the wiser part of me, and she’s taken the proactive approach many times.
When we’re triggered or upset by something, it can feel so challenging to take a proactive approach. But it’s so important as we advance not just in our careers, but in our lives, that we take responsibility for how we communicate and how we show up. Our response (or lack of response) has a direct impact on our relationships and the people around us.
We all have the capability to be more proactive.
Here are 4 quick steps you can take to become more proactive and significantly improve your work life.
1. Use your triggers as an opportunity
I don’t know about you, but when I’m triggered, I want to fire back right away. I have this need to be heard and understood.
You might have similar needs, or different ones. I’ve seen clients whose reactive response is to avoid. For example, instead of responding, they stew in anger or hide from the situation by not addressing it. That’s not good either.
In whichever category you fall, next time you’re triggered, notice your immediate response.
Do you have the desire to fire back immediately without pausing?
Or do you avoid the problem? Maybe you leave the email unread and it’s slowly eating at you inside.
Whatever your response is, it’s ok.
Be curious about it before you try to fix the behavior. One way to do this is to observe what’s happening in your mind and your body.
When we’re reactive, our minds are racing and our bodies tense up. When we’re proactive, our minds are more calm and our bodies are relaxed.
2. Find your trigger outlet and use it
What will allow you to release or process your emotions?
For me, my trigger outlet is writing. If I received an email or text that triggered me, I need to write that response but not send it. Or, I need to speak to a friend to let out my feelings and concerns.
It’s important to allow yourself to have the response. This is a form of self care, and it’s saying to yourself – my feelings are valid.
Because they are!
Then notice how you feel.
Is there a sense of calm? Is there continued frustration? Whatever it is, it’s ok.
This is an important part of changing your behavior next time around.
3. Make a list of what you can control and identify your proactive action
What can you control when you’re in a difficult situation? Make a list of everything that’s under your influence.
For example, if you received a request at work that was triggering, you want to pause and acknowledge your response. Then write out everything that you have influence over. That might include:
- How you think about the situation
- The time you take to process and respond
- Who you enroll to support you
- Your response
What’s not under your control may include:
- How the other person feels
- How the other person responds
Take a look at this list, and decide what your proactive action will be.
4. Set a boundary for yourself
Make a commitment to respond or not respond (that’s an action too!) within a certain time limit.
I like to give myself at least 24 hours of processing before I take action. Maybe you need more or less.
If your reactive mode is avoidance (i.e. you tend to ignore responding), you might want to give yourself a shorter timeline to be proactive.
It can take time to find the right boundary so give yourself room to explore.