[How to NOT Act a Hot Mess] When Your Buttons Get Pushed

Recently I attended a workshop led by my dear friend and colleague Beth Racine, the founder of Envision Innovation (envision-innovation.com). She presented on the topic of effective listening to a room filled with around 50 men and women ranging in all ages.
 
At first mention, it’s easy to assume we know all that there is to know about being an effective listener. But let me tell you, there is something to be learned here. 
 
Think about the last time someone pushed your buttons.

Where were you and what was happening? How did you feel in the moment? For me, an immediate flash takes me back to last week as I was inside a home my husband and I are considering buying, when I looked outside to find an officer writing up a ticket on my car for parking on the street! How about that for a warm welcome to a new neighborhood? You can imagine the tightness I felt rise up in my chest as it took all that I had to not run out screaming like a crazy person.
 
Can you think of a similar moment when your buttons were pushed? Maybe it was with a colleague, significant other, family member, or a complete stranger on the street? Once you got it, hold on to it and stay with me for a moment as I bring a little science into the mix.
 
As Beth mentioned in the workshop, our initial reaction when we are feeling frustrated is to either fight or flight. We either go into attack mode or completely shut down and walk away. This is totally normal. That’s because when we feel an immediate threat, which is sensed in our brain stems, we go into a state of survival. For me, this was that moment I looked out the window and saw the officer by my car. For the record, I decided to fight, as I swiftly headed over to the officer.
 
After the fight or flight response, we enter into the emotional part of the brain—the limbic system. This is where we react. [Cue the part of me that wanted to scream like a crazy person.]
 
Lastly, the frontal lobe, or pre-frontal cortex is our rational part of the brain. Beth described how in this part of our brains we think clearly, discern choices, access creativity and problem solve with others. As you can imagine, this is where we react with the most intention and respond in a way that helps us feel good about what we are wanting. This is precisely why after some time has passed we can more effectively react and listen.
 
The good news is we can access this rational part of our brains in about 6 seconds.
 
That’s right. Only 6 seconds! But the problem is that we are wired to fight or flight first and react in the emotional part of our brains. Both of these parts by the way, are very “self” and “me” focused. Our rational parts, however, are more “we” focused as we attempt to work with others.
 
So, the key here, is to create some space, roughly 6 seconds of space, to pause and react effectively. This is important as we interact with others so that we avoid jumping to conclusions, acting out of character, or creating tension.
 
I’ll leave you with my favorite take-away from the workshop on how to create this space. It’s a coaching tool Beth calls 3-2-1. 
 
Here’s how it works: The next time someone pushes your buttons, first pay attention to the signs your body is giving you. Is it a hotness in your chest? Do you feel a tightness in your throat? Do you feel flushed in the face? Notice it because that’s the signal you are about to act a hot mess. As soon as you notice these “check engine lights” as Beth affectionately calls them, you can practice 3-2-1. 

In your mind, state 3 things you see, 2 things you hear, and 1 thing to say out loud.

I recommend identifying the word you will say right now to start getting in the habit of this exercise. My word is “LOVE.” It is a reminder to respond from a place of love and understanding, which I am NOT experiencing while in the fight or flight and emotional state, so that once those 6 seconds pass and I'm in my rational mind I can react more effectively.
 
So, let’s get out there and try it. Surprise the people in your life next time by responding mindfully with some emotional control. While we can’t control how others will respond to us, we can maintain the peace on our ends and feel better about how WE respond.