Earlier this week I wrote about why being emotionally reactive can really get in the way of communication, collaboration, and team work — whether it’s in your personal life or your professional life. (You can see that post here.) But some people, it seems, are just plain hot headed — whether it’s because of their in-born temperament, experiences in early years, or an overload of stressors in their adult lives.
Unless you’re really in deep denial, you probably know if you tend to react (as in get angry or withdraw) or respond (as in size up the situation, make an informed decision, and then act constructively). So what can you do?
First off, it’s crucial that you learn to identify when you’re about to have some kind of emotional spasm about something. Tell-tale cues may be physical (your scalp tightens, throat burns, fists clench, eyes squint, back stiffens, etc) or mental (you may notice thoughts like “how dare he treat me like that?” or “why aren’t they including me?” or “Oh god, I’ve failed!”). Those thoughts may not be accurate, by the way — they’re just there.
Second, figure out what sets you off. Granted, you might need professional help with this — but the idea is that you begin to notice patterns in what makes you react. Is it being stressed about time? Feeling overwhelmed? Thinking you’re not being given credit where credit is due? Feeling criticized? Whatever it is, knowing what triggers you can help you prepare for those feelings when they arise. Which brings us to…
Third, have a plan. With awareness and practice you can get to the point where you a) note a physical or mental reaction; b) acknowledge what’s causing it (e.g., “I’m getting angry,” or “I’m not feeling appreciated”) and make a conscious decision about how you’re going to react.
Next Up: Some ways to deal with your own reactivity less reactively.