You’re at your desk and a coworker comes by with their half of a project.  The finished product falls short of your expectations… Your immediate response is fueled by emotions instead of calm inquiry and you instantly regret your quick reaction. 


Does this scenario sound familiar?  Trust me, we’ve all been there!  

So what is the first step in decreasing these emotional responses?  It’s recognizing what’s happening.   

  • Notice when you respond quickly or give an emotional answer instead of the one you would have liked to give. Is there a pattern?   
  • When our brains sense a threat, the thinking part (pre-frontal cortex) shuts down and the “animal” part of the brain responds. This is our “fight-flight-freeze” response.
  • The pre-frontal cortex needs oxygen to perform better. 

 Ok, now what?  Some strategies you could employ in the moment:  

  • Take a drink of water before responding (gives you a moment to assess)
  • Take a deep breath before you respond (this activates the prefrontal cortex)
  • Use a quick breathing technique –
    1. Breathe in for a count of 4
    2. Hold for a count of 4
    3. Breathe out for a count of 4
    4. Hold for a count of 4
  • Use inquiry as a strategy to pause (from Human Systems Dynamics Institute)
    1. Turn judgment into curiosity – “I’m curious what led you to that decision…”
    2. Turn disagreement into shared exploration – “Let’s examine how this issue may work for both of us”
    3. Turn defensiveness into self-reflection – “What is my part in this?”
    4. Turn assumptions into questions – “Was there a circumstance I don’t know about which prevented this person from accomplishing their task?” 

There are also tactics you could use between meetings, prior to or just after a conversation, or as a break in your day: 

  • Use the “4 count” breath exercise to connect with your thoughts…
    1. What made that conversation go the way it did?
    2. What can you take away for future conversations or meetings?
    3. With whom can you discuss this?
  • Movement
    1. Take advantage of breaks to get some natural sunlight
    2. Even just 10 minutes outside can stimulate your body and brain
    3. If you must stay inside, take a few minutes for a stretch break

What other strategies could you use to improve your communication with your team?

What conversation can you start with your co-workers to change the way they communicate with you?

Amber Peterson is a partner at Peterson & Perme Associates, LLC.

Amber Peterson

Contact The Amber Edge

Phone: 218.213.1303


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