Life Lessons,  Navigating triggers

Increase Your Effectiveness: Pointers to Help You Navigate Challenging Situations

In a recent post, I talked briefly about what to do when you encounter a challenging situation. Now, I’m going deeper into this topic with pointers to help you respond more effectively.


Have you ever felt…

-a wave of emotion come over you that you weren’t expecting?

-knocked off your game?

-like your buttons are being pushed?

-angry, scared, nervous, embarrassed or excited to the point where you couldn’t think straight?

These are all what I call triggering moments.

In response, you may say or do something you really wished you hadn’t.

Triggers aren’t always negative…

You’re prepping for a party when the doorbell rings. You feel awash with excitement as you whirl around and start running to answer the door. In your haste, you knock something over and trip over the cat.

Is this a negative trigger? No – but it shows how anytime you’re not fully present in your body, you can react in ways that produce unintended outcomes (or worse, that cause harm). At the very least, you’re not as effective as you could be.

It’s about balance, really.

To be clear, just because you’ve been triggered doesn’t automatically mean you’re not going to react effectively. That’s where awareness comes in.

I use a scale of -10 to +10 where 0 is a neutral and the higher numbers represent higher levels of emotions. These emotions can be negative or positive – but the higher the emotion, the greater the chance that our “reptile brain” aka the amygdala – gets triggered and we end up not thinking as clearly as we’d like to. Try gauging your own emotions to help increase your awareness so that you can respond effectively.

I think we need to have a balance of emotions and thinking so that we consciously choose our responses instead of reacting based on our old habits – or without even thinking at all.

In a split second…

You’re at a family gathering when your brother asks how you’re doing. Given the political climate, you respond, “As well as can be expected…” You watch him fold his arms and (in your opinion) turn gruffly away from you.

Right away the wheels start turning in your mind – the two of you haven’t enjoyed the greatest relationship, and you’re sure he’s just giving you attitude because he didn’t like your response. All of this happens in a split second.

But wait – stop yourself for a minute – what if him folding his arms had absolutely nothing to do with you? Maybe he was just trying to get comfortable after eating or he wanted to shift positions. Sure, he might have been reacting to you – but you can handle it.

I like to say:

Change your thought > Change your feeling > Change your reaction

Staying true to your intentions

Think about what you want to achieve in a given situation. What are your positive intentions? Write them out.

When someone starts an intense conversation or makes an inflammatory comment, when they fold their arms or whatever – how do you stay true to your intentions?

First, get really clear on what your warning signs are: Observe how you respond to a triggering moment, both physically (i.e. racing heart, flushed skin, tightness, etc.) and mentally (i.e. planning what to say before the other person is even done talking).

At a casual dinner, your colleague makes a snarky comment about who you voted for in the presidential election. Instead of retorting back with an equally snide remark, try something neutral: “I’d love to have this conversation with you.”

Then state your intention clearly: “I want to have this discussion in a way that’s respectful to each other. I want to understand why you voted that way. I want to listen to you – I won’t put you down or make offensive remarks. And I bet if we actually talk this through, we might find we have some common ground.”

Ask the other person: “What are your hopes for our conversation?”

Understanding the other person’s intentions is a win-win. You hold yourself accountable, but you can also hold one another accountable, too.

Tip: If you’re anticipating an upcoming event that might be triggering for you, I recommend staying away from incendiary materials (think: Facebook, Twitter, mainstream news) just before the event starts. Exercise, take a nap, eat well – do whatever you need to ground yourself. But don’t add fuel to the fire by getting incensed over hot topics.

Get instant access right here to a free copy of my book, Turn the Tide: Rise Above Toxic, Difficult Situations in the Workplace. This will give you an in-depth look at what you can do to move beyond challenging situations – in and out of the workplace.


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