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Reaction vs Response

My reptilian brain is always overtaking my thinking brain.  It’s all related to feeling threatened and that automatic flight, fight, freeze response.  Lately I’ve noticed that fight and prove I’m right seems to be my immediate reaction to anyone questioning my skills and abilities.  My goal for the new year is to really work at those 10 seconds where you have the opportunity to change your “reaction” to a “response”.  Where you can think about what you want to say and how you want to say it.  Where you can be curious and ask that purposeful question.  Sounds simple, but unfortunately does not always equate to easy.

Cinnie Noble, a well know conflict coach in Toronto shares a method she developed to help us see the cyclical nature of conflict and how our reactions perpetuate the cycle.  She refers to it as the Not-so-Merry Go Round and shows how the emotional and behavioral dynamics of conflict repeat and escalate.   The precipitating event is what starts the cycle.  It may be a manager giving you feedback that challenges your perspective. “You need to be more positive for the team”.  This then triggers you based on how you perceive your needs, values or identity are being challenged. Note the word perceive.  You want to be perceived as an outstanding employee who is positive and engaged.

Conflict happens so viscerally that it triggers our survival instinct (reptilian brain).  Our brain and body don’t register the difference between a real and perceived event, so even the presumption of threat can be enough to start us off, or trigger us (fight, flight, freeze).  We then display a certain behaviour that is often an immediate reaction.  “What ? – I’m always positive, who said I wasn’t!” This behaviour creates a precipitating event for the other party and the cycle continues.  What needs to happen to get off the not-so-Merry Go Round?

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”  Viktor E. Frankl

Helping others understand the cycle and how they are reacting in situations may build some insight and awareness and enable others to choose their response and change behaviours.  Digging deeper to better understand the impact for you and your manager may shed some light. Here are some tips to help you respond in your next conflict situation.

  1. Take a deep breath before you respond.
  2. If your still stuck in your reptilian brain, indicate to the other party that you need some time before you respond to the comment and provide a time when you will get back to them.
  3. ‘Go to the balcony’ to enable you to find a new perspective.
  4. I recently was reminded of this acronym that I found helpful – THINK before you speak.

T – is it True

H – is it Helpful

I – am I the best one to say it

N – is it Necessary

K – is it Kind

Wish me luck with my goal for the new year and if you have any other helpful hints please share.

Conflict coaches support clients to think about any assumptions or interpretations they might have made about their conflict situation, encouraging them to look for other possible explanations.

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