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May 09

Keeping It Together: How Self-Regulation Can Prevent Embarrassment and Save Your Job

You are in control. The opportunity to create strong and safe relationships at the office and across departments is yours for the taking. You may ask: How could something that so few professionals have mastered be so simple for you or me? The answer is also simple. It’s called the practice of mindfulness and empathy.

When you observe your comrades’ emotions and witness their stressors, you can note what type of appreciation delights them vs what sets them off. Then, you can tailor your interactions with them going forward, assuring the kind of consistency that keeps everyone even-keeled and feeling respected. However, there is a prerequisite to maintaining such interactions, and it addresses the way YOU react to certain workplace situations and personality types. It’s called Self-Regulation, the mastery of which is crucial for sustaining the type of cool attitude that you wish to see in others. And just like mindfulness and empathy, it, too, is within your reach.

Mastering The Jedi Mind Trick

In today’s fast-paced, distraction-saturated workplace, I’m sure you can recall moments when you were blindsided by someone’s inconsiderate or irrational behavior, prompting you to spin out in public. You know the feeling: You felt either cheated, misunderstood, scared, furious or otherwise powerless because of someone’s words or actions, and had a strong emotional reaction which came on suddenly. Upon reflection later, you felt regret that YOU had acted inappropriately.

But here’s a fact: Freak-outs need an external catalyst to ignite them. The catalyst can be a kindling fire that’s slow to grow, or it can be a short-fused explosion. Regardless of the manner, we are all susceptible, and it’s truly a differentiator in the workplace. This is perhaps why it’s said that “Self-Regulation is the Jedi mind trick of corporate America.”

The Magic Quarter-Second

Keep in mind that the difference between an uncontrolled outburst and a logical response to the offense is a quarter-second. This tiny window of time that lies between the “uh-oh” realization and the jolting response can be metaphorically aligned with seeing the lightening before you hear the thunder. Viktor Frankl summed it up poetically when he said:

“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.”

This magic quarter-second is actually a neuroscientific truism. Scientist and researcher Benjamin Libet discovered in the 20th century that the part of the brain responsible for movement activates a quarter-second before we become aware of our intention to move. There is then another quarter-second before the movement begins. This means that before we make a conscious decision, our brain has already set the gears in motion! But on another level, this information offers us an opportunity.

Acknowledging how your brain works in this manner affords you the ability to reign in that regretful flip-out before it occurs. It all begins with a single breath. That’s right! When a self-inflicted amygdala hijack is imminent, if you take a moment to breathe, it allows your Executive Brain to catch up to your amygdala. This is precisely the move that can prevent embarrassment, not to mention client loss and even job loss.

U-Turn from a Slow Burn

If you’ve utilized DRIVEN’s solutions in the past, you’re aware that “simple” doesn’t always equal “easy”. This is indeed the case when learning to self-regulate. A helpful move is to identify the first physical manifestation of anxiety you experience before you’re triggered. It might be a pounding heart, a reddened face, or something as innocent as tapping a foot or a pencil. Once you narrow it down, you can then permit yourself via mindfulness to take that breath and emerge in-control, preparing your response, not your reaction.

You can even take it one step deeper, and proactively mitigate the amygdala hijack. This means dialing into your emotional condition, which is reliant on being mindful and in the present. During your conversation with the “offender”, continue to check in and assess your feelings. If you begin to sense you’re being defensive, judgmental, anxious or inpatient, these are signs that your amygdala is experiencing a slow feed of negative energy and is preparing the body to protect your safety (just performing its job). As you remain present and begin to endure these unpleasant sensations, become curious. Simply the act of asking the question of yourself and others will settle your reactive brain and reengage the Executive Brain. Before you know it, hijack averted!

Stick with me on this topic as I tie it into our previous discussions on emotions in the workplace, beginning with my next post.

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