A Coaching Power Tool Created by Marcia Haber
(Transformational Coach, UNITED STATES)
Ambrose Bierce is often quoted as saying,
Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.
Humans are emotional beings with brains designed to react to real or perceived threats to ensure our survival. The challenge is to distinguish between perceptions that trigger survival impulses and alternative perceptions that can motivate effective actions that move us forward. How can we and others make this empowering distinction?
Learning how to take a healthy “time out” to calm a perceived threat and to cool down an emotional impulse allows us to reflect and focus. It can empower each of us to reframe perspectives before taking action.
Delay Response is a self-management practice to help us shift our thinking and emotional state to choose the actions that move us forward from being stuck in a challenging situation.
Who is powerful? He that governs his Passions.~ Benjamin Franklin
When an event or circumstance occurs, our brains take in this sensory experience and begin to immediately process whether this situation is a threat to our survival. Our perceptions and beliefs activate emotions which then motivate behaviors or actions.
Powerful emotions such as anger, frustration, resentment and anxiety make it challenging for each of us, as humans, to override our automatic impulses. These emotional reactions or amygdale hijacks are often triggered by a variety of external circumstances called Hot Buttons.
When a Hot Button gets triggered, the resulting amygdale hijack biologically limits us to three (3) possible options; to fight, flight (avoid) or freeze for the sole purpose of survival.
Each of us has unique experiences from the time we are born that form our respective brain patterns. Neuroscience research proves that our experiences, perceptions and memories are frequently inaccurate; yet, we believe what we think and feel to be the only truth.
Unfortunately, this “all or nothing” thinking often fails to consider other possible ways to interpret the situation and we miss discovery of effective options to move forward.
“All or nothing” thinking as defined by Bill Eddy, in his book, It’s All Your Fault at Work, sets the stage for the automatic cycle of extreme emotions that typically unfold into predictable harmful conflict dynamics.
How can we recognize when our Hot Buttons get triggered and what it would take to “cool down” that Hot Button before taking actions we are likely to regret later?
The goal is to break out of the cycle of “all or nothing” thinking which is focused on blame and personalities with a shift to flexible thinking. Flexible thinking can open up new perspectives that focus on ideas, goals and objective issues to be resolved. Delay response allows flexible thinking to occur in challenging situations.
Delay is defined as, “to put off to a later time, defer, postpone”.
Delay response is the opposite of avoidance. Delay response is an effective way of empowering ourselves and others to “buy some time” to calm and focus before acting in a way we may regret later. The practice to delay response is a choice versus an automatic survival impulse. When we delay response we take the time to recognize our thinking and the emotions we are feeling before taking action. This is our space and time to calm and reflect on possible new perspectives and beliefs that help us see creative healthy options to move forward. This self reflecting time gives us an opportunity to consider the choices that will benefit ourselves and others.
- When you experience a difficult situation and feel upset, what do you do to calm down?
- When you feel calm and focused, in what way can you see a challenging situation differently?
Avoidance is defined as, “keeping away from; keeping clear of; to shun and to prevent from happening.” Avoidance is not taking any action. It’s the automatic impulse to either flee or freeze due to perceptions or beliefs that taking action would be a threat to survival in some way.
When someone avoids communicating or acting to solve an issue, they are ignoring that which must be addressed to move forward. Absolutely nothing is accomplished when someone is avoiding because the issue and people involved are stuck in a holding pattern and no one is able to move forward.
“Avoiding is not a time out. Avoiding is a cop out.” Reputations are compromised when others lose confidence in the avoider’s ability to manage the challenging situation. The avoider appears to lack confidence and be hiding out. Nothing is said or done to move forward and the situation often escalates into harmful conflict with poor outcomes for all concerned.
- What possible benefits would likely motivate avoidance of situations that seem to be spiraling out of control?
- What possible costs or consequences could result from avoidance of difficult situations?
Lee had a reputation throughout the company for yelling and cursing at employees when a team did not complete a project on time and within budget. The company president perceived that Lee was just passionate about her job and was trying to push employees to give their best ignoring the high turnover in Lee’s department. Although, employees complained of being intimidated and scared of Lee’s angry outbursts, many talented employees either produced on time and within budget in fear of Lee or quit the company to work at a competitor. As long as the company President avoided communicating with Lee about the high turnover of talented employees and numerous complaints about her behavior, Lee’s job was safe and her angry destructive behavior continued.
If Conflict was a fire, there are some behaviors that put the fire out and some behaviors that make the fire worse.
Feeling angry is a natural and healthy emotion. When anger is triggered it can provide us useful information.. Anger can alert us to something important at stake such as our core values, needs, goals. However, expressing anger in a hostile and aggressive manner is not healthy and can create a toxic environment for yourself and others.
In the case study, Lee displayed hostile anger toward employees that resulted in them feeling intimidation and fear to produce the work outcomes. Employees were complaining or quitting the company. Lee’s perception is that her angry outbursts are acceptable to the president since he is not taking any action to prevent that destructive behavior. In fact, the president was ignoring the effect on company staff, focusing only on his perception that Lee is passionate about her job. The consequences of the president’s avoidance and Lee’s display of anger escalates. By avoidance, the president is keeping Lee, her employees and the entire organization stuck in this vicious cycle of escalating crisis.
Conflict Management Model
A useful conflict management model is at the heart of the Conflict Dynamics Profile. This model highlights the importance of understanding that we can manage our own extreme emotions to prevent destructive behaviors which often result in escalating harmful conflict.
Learning to recognize and manage emotions with constructive behaviors, such as delay response, empowers choices to strengthen relationships and produce healthy beneficial outcomes.
For instance, while you might be angry at your boss for interrupting you in the staff meeting, you do not yell at him or roll your eyes because it may harm your career and earn you the reputation of being a “hot head”. Additionally, avoidance of the situation that is making someone feel resentful and angry, will keep bubbling until a crisis boils over.
So, we learn how to cool down, calm ourselves and reflect on what is important. Once flexible thinking kicks in, options for what and how to communicate effectively to solve the meeting interruptions will become possible. We grow and learn, effectively resolve the situation while others around us have the opportunity to learn and grow also.
How can we manage our emotions to prevent automatic destructive conflict behaviors we will likely regret and shift to healthy constructive behaviors to achieve beneficial outcomes?
Delay response is a powerful practice for giving yourself an invaluable time out to calm and focus on what is most important you or to your client.
Steps to Delay Response
- Recognize what is happening in the situation: Emotions are information. Stop and assess what is happening. What do you feel? What are you perceiving? Has a Hot Button been triggered? Assess the situation to distinguish what perceptions could be triggering reactions that can lead to harmful conflict outcomes rather than perceptions that can lead to beneficial healthy conflict outcomes.
- Claim a “time out” to calm, focus and reflect: Communicate a need for a short break from a meeting or situation. Make an agreement with yourself to claim 15-30 minutes or more for yourself. Identify a place you enjoy to go or visualize to calm and restore yourself. This is your space and time to move forward to fulfill your goals and dreams.
- Ideas to practice delay response: Learning new skills take practice.
- Create your delay response action plan: Are you ready to make a commitment to practice delay response? What actions will you take today?
No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. ~ Albert Einstein
Conflict Dynamics Profile Development Guide. Managing Conflict Dynamics: A Practical Approach. Leadership Development Institute at Eckerd College. 5th Edition 2008 Eckerd College
Conflict Dynamics Profile. Assessing Conflict Behavior. CDP Individual Development Guide. Center for Conflict Dynamics at Eckerd College. 2012 Eckerd College
It’s All Your Fault at Work. Managing Narcissists and Other High-Conflict People, Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq, L. Georgi DiStefano, LCSW. 2015 Unhooked Books.
Mini Hot Buttons Quiz. Conflict Dynamics Profile. Center for Conflict Dynamics. http://www.conflictdynamics.org/products/cdp/hb/
High Conflict Institute. http://www.highconflictinstitute.com/articles
The Art and Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy, 2012 by Public Affairs http://frankpartnoy.com/wait/
Discover Conflict Solutions, Marcia Haber, Conflict Dynamics Profile LinkedIn: com/in/marciahaber