How Not to REACT Emotionally in Your Relationships
Your assistant makes mistakes and has an attitude. You can’t get your colleagues to take you seriously and follow your ideas. Your boss uses a tone, changes his mind all the time, or doesn’t go to bat for you,
You and your spouse get stuck in communication dead-ends? You have drama in your dating. A family member continues to be needy and frustrating.
The best way to keep your relationships supportive of your goals and not distracting or draining is
Reacting is your effort to try to get the person to stop being the way they are. It lets the other person get you off track from who you want to be and the results you want to create. Reacting makes you lose time and you waste your focus being upset about what they did.
Of course you know you are not supposed to REACT, but its not always easy!
What makes it hard to not react is that your brain has evolved to respond in stressful interactions in ways that are unproductive. It hijacks you to:
– Personalize: To respond you have to explain why the person acted the way they did. You will ask yourself what does the other person’s behavior mean about me? You might “put words in their mouth” and think they are saying you are “not good enough” or your job or client relationship is not secure. You will worry about how the situation “will affect you”.
– Focus on the Problem: Our nervous system evolved to respond protectively when large predators were running at us. That’s why when someone is annoying, we tend to focus all our attention on getting them to stop acting the way that’s making us feel out of control (hint: rather than focusing on what you CAN control so you don’t have that panicky feeling of not having control)
– Negative Forecast: To save energy and respond quickly, your brain will use shortcuts and default to well-worn grooves in your thinking. You will believe the person is going to act the way they’ve “always” acted in the past (even if they don’t always act that way). You will believe your worst fear will happen (e.g., homelessness, lose their love, feel forever guilty) and then act as if it already has.
The factor that causes you to have these unconstructive responses is feeling that things are “out of your control”. The best antidote to not reacting is to control what you CAN control.
The first thing to do is get the thinking part of your brain back in charge, rather than the emotional part. One way is through “Reverse Breathing”, in which you breathe slowly in through your mouth and out through your nose, experiencing a cooling sensation over your tongue.
Instead of Personalizing, try to genuinely explain the person’s behavior as stemming from their own limitations or from a “benefit-of-the-doubt” explanation of their motivations.
Instead of Focusing on them as the Problem, see the problem as part of an overall system that happened between the two of you, and focus immediately on generating solutions and ways to prevent it from happening in the future.
Instead of Negative Forecasting, focus on at least one thing YOU can do on your own (either in the moment or at a later time) to have control over preventing your worst case scenario.