When people’s brains are in defensive mode, it becomes harder to see common sense. Small disagreements can end up holding back progress beyond reason. ~Caroline Webb
Manage your own baggage. That’s the header author Caroline Webb used to introduce this section of her book How to Have a Good Day, which combines the sciences of behavioral economics, psychology, and neuroscience. I believe that the most effective leaders have the emotional intelligence to “manage their own baggage.”
We all have triggers. Those things that consistently set us off. We feel our blood pressure rise, our palms may sweat, our breathing changes, a sense of anger begins to form deep in our gut, etc. Our brains move into defensive mode and if we are not careful, we will likely regret what we say next.
So what do you do in the heat of the moment? Hit the reset button. We can each develop our own personal reset routine. It only takes two steps and a few seconds. But they can be very critical seconds that will significantly impact how a conversation continues and the ultimate outcome of that conversation. Here are the two simple steps Webb suggests to deploy when you feel your temperature rising.
- Step back. What small, personal routine or action can help you to stop and take a deep breath. It might be a specific breathing technique (breath in for a count of three and out for a count of three, etc.). Or maybe what works for you is doing something physical like taking a pen and roll it between your fingers while examining it. Another example could be a phrase you say to yourself like, “Easy does it.” Whatever you do, it will likely only take a few seconds, but it’s the action you will always take in order to force yourself to mentally take a step back.
- Reset. Ask yourself a curious question that will be your go-to question when you begin to feel your blood boil. Examples could be: “What is my real intention for this conversation?” “When I look back on this conversation what will I feel good about having done?” “What really matters?”
Leaders, just like everyone, have their own baggage, the triggers that set them off. But effective leaders manage their own baggage by quickly, and instinctively, hitting the reset button. They first have some way of “stepping back,” followed by the “reset” question they ask themselves.
In a new frame of mind with a calmer physical presence, these leaders shift their tone and perspective as they re-engage in the conversation.
We likely all know people who seem to be unflappable. They are calm and cool even when conversations get heated. I believe that they too have triggers, and those triggers are set off periodically. They haven’t eliminated their triggers, but they have learned how to “manage their own baggage” because they have a reset routine that has become instinctive.
What’s your reset button?