How to Enjoy Being Triggered

 In Blog, Effective Dialogue

(Time to read: ~ 3 minutes)

This is the time of year when many of us get together with people who push our buttons. So in this post I share my 4-step recipe for how to enjoy the experience – or at least get through it without damage to persons or property… 🙂

The key ingredient in the recipe is one key question that you can ask yourself.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

1) Pause

This can be a very tough choice to make. Because as soon as someone says or does something that triggers me, a very powerful urge arises to do something!

The problem is that the kinds of things my body is primed to do (like fight) are not helpful at a holiday party. Every time I’ve chosen to take action from this “do something!” energy, I’ve ended up regretting it.

A friend of mine calls this step “Stop”, but I haven’t found that helpful – it’s been more like a red flag in front of a bull. “Stop!?! Don’t you tell me what to do! I’ll do whatever I want…. !”

But “Pause” or “Let’s pause” is like a gentle, friendly hand on my arm. I can feel the caring support in it.

2) Breathe

I’ve noticed that the first thing I tend to do when someone pushes my buttons is to hold my breath. So this is a very helpful reminder.

It’s also very helpful at a biochemical level – supporting activation of the parasympathetic part of our nervous system – the part that helps us relax and be calm.

Some people combine these first two steps into one: “Pause and Breathe”. But I find that separating them helps me do both better. It’s like one is an inhale and the other is an exhale.

3) Ask the Magic Question – Silently

“What is it about this that bugs me so much? What am I wanting?”

In this step I take my attention off the other person and turn a curious microscope on my own reactions. And I keep asking the question until I have a sense I’ve gotten to the root cause.

For those of us into learning and personal growth, this can be a fascinating exploration.

4) If Challenged, Seek Easy Connection

Of course by putting my attention on my own inner experience, I’ve stopped listening to the other person.

At some point they may notice and make a comment about that, like “Are you listening?” or “Did you hear what I said?”

At this point, I may say something like “I’m sorry. Something you said early on – it struck a chord in me – and I’ve been contemplating the implications ever since.”

If they ask what it was they said, I’m likely to respond, “Unfortunately I don’t remember exactly – it led to such a long and complex chain of connections. Speaking of connections, did you ever see that TV series with James Burke? What did you think of it? … You never saw it? Well… what’s your all-time favourite program?”

The point of the redirection at the end of this sample response is simply to invite conversation onto a topic that I hope will be more easily connecting for us.

I encourage people I work with to pre-prepare their own response for these kinds of moments – something that will feel easy and natural. And to practice saying it out loud, so they can “smooth out” any rough edges.

Decide later whether to talk about the trigger

At some point we may want to talk to the person who triggered us and ask for their help to make connecting easier (e.g., by changing certain things they say or do). But this is not the moment to try to do that for two reasons.

  1. This type of conversation is best done one-on-one, without other people around who may interrupt at an awkward moment.
  2. Asking someone to change something that they do – in a way that is genuinely connecting and thus likely to “work” – takes a good deal of inner preparation. More preparation than can be done by most of us “on the fly” at a holiday party.
    For example, ensuring we’re not coming to the conversation with a belief that they “should” change or they “should” know better. Because these beliefs create a barrier that almost guarantees long-term failure, hurt feelings, and a damaged relationship.

If you’d like to learn more about how to have this kind of conversation in a way that feels comfortable, natural and connecting for both of you, I offer a series of 3 sessions to help you do that. It costs the same whether you do it one-on-one or in a group. With the one-on-one option you can schedule it at your convenience – and either in person or by phone or Skype.

I wish you a joyful holiday season. And that any moments that are not joyful may provide insights into how your life can be more fully satisfying in future.



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