by Achim Nowak

When You Are Triggered, Take 3

May 5, 2024

This is just another week of war in the world, violence where we don’t normally see it, lies and more unethical behavior exposed. Public discourse got more heated than it had already been. Even if you tried to avoid the coverage, chances are you watched. And, pardon the gun metaphor – you got triggered. I got triggered. You bet I did. 

There’s having a reaction. There’s being triggered. 

I have a point of view. Based on my values, my narratives about a person, a party, the world. I react. And I react with at times strong emotion. 

And yes, then there’s being triggered. A whole other stratosphere of reaction. Think of triggered as a reaction on steroids. Boiling hot emotion. Eruptive and enraged. Outsized. Coupled with obsessive thoughts that I seem incapable of letting go.

For every minute you remain angry, you give up 60 seconds of peace.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Here’s the gift of the triggered response. Yup, really – there IS a gift. The severity of our triggered response often points to our own personal shadow. That is the dark side we try to hide. The side of ourselves we may not actually be conscious of. The side that consistently gets us into trouble because, well, we like to think it simply isn’t there.

Because we’re more perfect than others. Morally superior to others. Because the dark side isn’t pretty. 

There were many reasons to feel strong emotions last week. Here is what triggered looks like at work: We vilify a certain colleague. We rage in silence during a meeting we can’t stand. We complain incessantly behind the scenes about everything that’s wrong. We cut corners to beat the system.  

Triggered. And squarely in our dark side.   Not paying attention to the dark side is a vicious derailer in our professional lives. So, accept the gift. When you find yourself triggered at work, think of it as the shadow calling you to lift your leadership game. Lift the game by asking 3 simple Trigger-Point Questions:

My THREE Trigger-Point Questions

What am I feeling right now?

This may sound simple. Don’t we usually know what we’re feeling? Well, actually, most of the time we don’t. Especially when we’re triggered, we get so caught up in our obsessive responsive that we’re unaware of the intensity of our reaction. By naming what we feel – I am enraged, I am insulted, I am furious – we direct the attention away from the external trigger back to us. Because that is where we ultimately play, or possibly lift, our game

What core beliefs do I hold dear?

The severity of my response to you is likely triggered by my perception that you are violating one or several of my core beliefs. People should be honest. Policies should be fair. A leader should be empathetic. A decision should be just. Everyone’s opinion should be valued. And so on and so on.It’s great to claim the core belief. Claiming it helps us to connect the dots between emotions that seem to run away with us, and our core that ignites the severity of our response. It also begs the question: Does someone else have a different core belief? And as indignant as I may be – what might be their reason for embracing such a different belief?

When has MY behavior not been aligned with my core beliefs?

When we ask this question honestly, the answer likely is often, a lot, on a daily basis. Be specific in your answer to this question. Answer it without beating yourself up. Notice your desire to, even here, want to cover up the dark side. Don’t. Scrupulous honesty with ourselves has two powerful impacts: It lessens the severity of our triggered responses. And it shows us at once where we can lift our everyday leadership behavior. One conscious choice, once conscious behavior at a time. It’s that simple. 

Have your reactions. Notice when you’re triggered. We’re in a year when we will likely be triggered again and again. The gifts will keep on coming, and our personal leadership lessons are endless.  

Choose to learn. Own your game. The 3 Trigger-Point Questions will help you do just that. 

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