How "Button Pushers" can be Amazing Teachers

      Recently I was facilitating a team meeting on the topic of Change Management and one of the participants was not happy with the way things were shaping up.  Her world was being rocked and she wanted to assert herself as the covert leader of the team (a not so positive pattern that we were trying to shape differently). She directly challenged me and indicated that I was not showing respect and treating everyone equal, a concept we had just agreed needed to exist on this team. Wow…did I feel myself become activated. As someone who prides herself on being respectful and inclusive, my initial reaction was that I needed to vehemently defend my values and principles.


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      There was a time when a direct challenge like that would have derailed me as a coach and facilitator, especially in a group setting. When someone pushes our buttons, we tend to automatically want to defend ourselves and it can cause people to lash out both verbally and physically.

      Daniel Goleman coined the term ‘amygdala hijack’ based on the work of neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux. LeDoux’s work highlighted that some emotional information travels directly from the thalamus to the amygdala without engaging the higher brain regions, or neocortex. This causes a strong emotional reaction that precedes rational thought...

      ...when was the last time your amygdala got hijacked and you got triggered

      What did you do?

      How did you handle it?

      Are you happy with the results?

      Lucky for me in that moment, I took a deep breath and started asking questions. I got curious with this person about her interpretation of the situation. We got to the heart of what was going on when she finally blurted out, “I don’t want to change!” The room went silent. After a few minutes I thanked her for being brave enough to speak her truth and the group went on to have further conversation that really helped them talk more candidly about the change process they were going through. I was silently thankful that I had subdued my initial defense response long enough to be of service to this team. 

      What to Do After

      Once you have dealt in the moment with what happened you are not done.  Doing a post-mortem after a ‘trigger incident’ can help you understand yourself better and potentially help you handle things differently in the future. Arlin Cuncic has some great suggestions in this article.

      Think of a time when you had a strong emotional reaction that you could not control, and ask yourself the following questions:

      • What triggered your emotions? Was it a particular person or situation?
      • What emotions did you feel? Were you angry, upset, or frightened?
      • What bodily sensations were you experiencing? Did you have a racing heart or shaking hands?
      • What were you thinking at the time? Did you have negative thoughts?
      • How realistic were those thoughts? Were they realistic given the situation?
      • Was there another way to view the situation that might have led to a better outcome?

      The next time someone pushes your buttons, stop…take a deep breath…and then thank them for being so generous as to share that insight with you. Get curious with them about their perspective and then do your own work afterwards to get to the heart of what is triggering you…amazing things can and will happen!


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