What do you react to?

By Dr.Niloufar Aga
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We react at many different levels in our day-to-day interactions.

2 incidences of strong reactions are still etched in my memory. One was about my own reaction. The other incident involved other people driving on the road.

In the event of the first incident, I was taken unaware!  I had just come out of a meeting and was still thinking about the implications of the policies being discussed.

Just then, my senior, who was standing along with my team member called out to me saying “Suresh has been out for 3 hours when he was supposed to be working! He says you have given him permission! Is this true?”

I was totally taken aback! Suresh had not asked for permission and now he was misquoting me. I was furious – not only because I was misquoted, but also because there was so much of work to be done on the project with tight timelines! I confronted Suresh there and then. In the heat of the moment, my voice pitch had gone up. I brought the whole house down attracting a lot of attention from colleagues since this incident happened in a central place. I was indignant too! How could someone just use my name and do whatever they pleased? My credibility was at stake!

The other incident involved another traveller. My son and I were on our way to a family get together.  We cruised along and talking.  Both of us were relaxed. At a juncture, we stopped at the signal and then I proceeded to take a right turn to cruise at a relaxed pace.

Out of the blue, my serene mindset was rudely interrupted by an elderly gentleman. He cut into the path of the car, aggressively signalling for me to stop. I was quite surprised! I pulled up to the side and asked “what’s the matter? “He started raising his voice and said “do you know when you took the turn, you were almost going to knock me off!  Totally unaware of what he said I just kept saying “I am extremely sorry” In a bid to pacify him. After 5 to 7 minutes of expressing his anxiety, the gentleman calmed down.  We both went our way.

Upon reflection of the above incidents, it dawned upon me that an elderly gentleman and I in the earlier case had just experienced an amygdala hijack!

I recalled what Josh – my emotional intelligence teacher told me during my leadership training, saying “there is small almond-shaped part of the brain called the amygdala. It is a part of the brain that works like nature’s alarm system whenever we perceive some kind of threat. In the event of the hijack, we stop thinking rationally and overreact.”

What could be the impact of understanding this aspect of neuroscience? This is where I believe my emotional intelligence training gets useful. Firstly, it helps me understand why I react. Secondly, it helps me become more aware of my perceived threats and helps me remain calm in the face reaction. When I see others reacting, I simply tell myself “he/she is being emotionally Hijacked.” I do whatever is in my control at that point of time and pacify the person or ask questions by which the other person would engage their rational brain. Knowledge gives us the gift of choice – react or respond.

What do you react to?

Emotional Intelligence is more significant than ever in today’s time where colleagues, peers and team-members hail from diverse cultures and backgrounds, creating a very dynamic work environment. It helps you explore the complex interactions of emotions, that generally go unnoticed during various verbal interactions, and make sense of what they mean and how they can be controlled and expressed in a healthier manner. Essentially, emotional intelligence in the workplace comes down to understanding, managing good relationships and solving problems under pressure.

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One thought on “What do you react to?

  1. Shilpi Suman says:

    Well expressed the importance of sang froid especially when the other party is in the midst of an amygdala hijack.
    More importantly it is a reminder to self not to let an emotional outburst dilute the sincere message one wants to put across.

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