Help! My amygdala got hijacked aka I got triggered, overreacted or simply flipped out. Sorry, I guess people do not flip out in the business world, unless of course they do.
Have you ever been in a situation where you could not control yourself? For example: you were talking to a family member and while one part of your brain was saying “don’t say that”, you said exactly that, or the copier broke down at work and you heard yourself saying “&*%$&$%$” out-loud in front of the CEO. Guess what? You are not alone. I don’t know anyone who has not lost it at some point in their lives (either at home or at work or both). All of us human beings find ourselves from time to time negatively overreacting to situations. And actually if we were really honest we would admit that many of us get triggered or overreact several times a day. We get upset when the boss or the spouse looks at us wrong, the kids make a mess in the kitchen or our neighbor’s dog leaves a present on the front lawn. We worry about things that were said, were not said and when most of us are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Rarely is our emotional reaction matching what is actually going on. We take everything personal, blow things out of proportion, etc. and … okay maybe I am blowing things out of proportion now. Now, I am not. Think about it, it is always about you…we take everything, everything personal. Why, for crying out-load, why do we do that? It is not very logical.
Much research has been done about human beings’ ability to overreact. The psychologists have looked at the emotions and their correlation to the past, the scientists have looked at the brain, we hear about overreactions and human drama in country-western songs, and we watch it over and over on the screen (the news as well as regular TV). About twenty years ago, Daniel Goleman brought this human phenomenon called “being emotional” into management development. Not sure if he borrowed the term from Darwin or American psychologist Wechsler, he called it Emotional Intelligence. According to Wikipedia, emotional intelligence describes “the ability, capacity, skill to identify, assess, and control the emotions of one’s self, of others, and of groups”.
It took me a long time to understand what emotional intelligence was all about but when I finally got it, I was really disappointed. Perhaps I am still missing something but wasn’t it obvious that people and managers were going to be better off if they could get a hold of their negative reactive pattern? Weren’t employees going to be more productive if they did not anger, scare or frustrate their colleagues with their hijacked emotions? I know that I am simplifying but, to me, the discussion about emotional intelligence was just a bunch of high powered managers giving themselves permission to be emotional at work and people finally acknowledging that human beings have a heart in addition to their brain. The truth of the matter is that we have dozens of amygdala hijacks happening every day. It is normal and part of our process. It is not always productive but how do we actually change our visceral responses that are triggered by the so-called Lizard brain?