Your Triggers at Work

Work life can be challenging to say the least, even downright precarious. Situations arise or are ongoing that have us feeling anxious, frustrated, jealous, scared as well as many other adverse emotions. In short, we get triggered. These feelings sometimes overtake us and lead us to take actions that don’t get us the results we want in our organizational relationships. Why is this so? And what, if anything can we do about it? This article explores a model for trigger management that can potentially keep us from reacting to life and able to stay in control of ourselves.

Most of us feel pretty calm, caring, rational, and happy-go-lucky most of the time (what I call our baseline feeling). We plug away giving our best to the job and feel good about our work life. Then, for instance, a vendor is going to be late with your product leaving your energy shifting from your baseline feeling to feeling anxious or frustrated about being able to fill your customer’s order on time. Or a coworker’s consistent complaining has you anxious just by thinking about seeing him at work that day. The feelings you feel in reaction to a non-ideal stimulus is what I call a trigger. In the first case the late product is the stimulus and the trigger is anxiety or frustration. In the second the thought of the coworker’s complaining is the stimulus and anxiety is the trigger. Our unmet expectations, desires, and needs culminate in a propensity to feel a trigger. Some routine situations that cause us stress are: Organizational power dynamics and politics, too much work to do, unclear direction, lack of communication, technology woes, differing personalities and perspectives, poorly run meetings, problem behaviors as well as a multitude of other scenarios.

I recently created what I call the STARR model to explain how triggers seem to work. STARR is an acronym for Stimulus, Trigger, Action, Result, and Repeatable pattern. We have already seen that when our needs, desires, or expectations aren’t met (stimulus), we feel an adverse feeling (trigger). This leads us to take action and get a result. Usually this is a repeatable pattern. In the example above of the complaining coworker we know that the complaining is the stimulus and anxiety or frustration is the trigger. Let’s say you then avoid the person, tune out, or roll your eyes and walk away, this would be the action you have taken to deal with the feeling. The result is a poor working relationship and feeling disconnected from the coworker and within yourself. Over and over again this happens making it a repeatable pattern. And to put the icing on the cake you probably blame the coworker for your stress and complain to others about him, thus perpetuating the very same behavior you disdain in him.

In my coaching work I have asked hundreds of individuals and teams of people if they want to have stress and negativity in their lives. Nobody has ever raised their hand. This is curious because most everyone has some negative stress in their lives. I also ask people: “Who is in charge of your well-being?” Of course everyone says that they are in control of themselves. Theoretically and rationally we know that we control ourselves, but when the rubber hits the road and we are triggered, all bets are off: We act in ways that don’t support our desired outcomes all the while blaming others for our misfortunes. But, as John Yokoyama, author of When Fish Fly said: “Blame is a lousy teacher.” Fortunately, acting from trigger is not the only option available to us. We can take control of our inner world even if we can’t always control the outer. This is worthy of inspection because, after all, nobody really wants to feel stressed.

In the interface between having an adverse feeling from a non-ideal stimulus and taking a non-supportive action can be a pause, what I call a calming tactic. This is an action you will take to calm down your trigger first before rolling your eyes at your co-worker. Taking a couple deep breaths, taking a pause or break, taking a walk to the water cooler, saying a catchphrase in your head, etc., are ways to keep you more calm and collected. Think about something that would fit for you to calm yourself down and employ it immediately. By doing this there will be a little wiggle room to think rationally about the situation and take an action that will actually support your desired result.

What is your desired result? Your triggers are actually messages in a bottle for you to take out and read. They can shed a light on how a less-than-ideal situation would look if it was to your liking.   Once you understand what you are doing in reaction to a stimulus, you can ask yourself what result you really want in the future. Is it for your coworker to stop complaining around you? Well…instead of the actions that don’t support your desired result (tuning out, avoiding, eye rolling) one inspired action you could take is to give the person feedback about his behavior. Delivering feedback itself can be scary (another trigger!), but if you don’t do anything different it most likely will persist. You get to show up for what you truly desire, take a risk and speak up to hopefully effect a change in your world. Believe it or not most times when feedback is given properly people tend to be receptive to it and desire not to impact us negatively.

So… that’s triggers in a nutshell. You get to shake hands with your triggers and thank them for showing you what you really want. In short, you put your triggers to work for you instead of against you. Having triggers at work may not stop, but putting them to work for you can start. This has the propensity for you to live more in your baseline feelings and effect great working relationships with others.

Attend a Hannah Grimes Workshop Offered by Jeff!

Manage Your Energy or Suffer
Tuesday, May 27, 2014, 9-11 a.m., Hannah Grimes Center, Keene.

We all know how it feels to be angry, frustrated and disappointed. We feel sometimes as if we are at the whim or mercy of life and other people. We all have more power and control than we think we do; we can master our energy more. Or we can do what we always do and suffer the consequences.

In this Workshop, participants will learn:

* The anatomy of a trigger (what Jeff calls the STARR model)
* How to identify calming strategies
* How to avoid the blame game

Click here to register!


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