Managing Workplace Hot Buttons
Do you ever wonder why you get upset when a colleague behaves in a certain way? Everyone has different triggers that upset them. These “hot buttons” signal that our values or expectations have been challenged. They typically develop early in life and operate almost unconsciously in adults.
How you manage your hot buttons, though, has a lot to do with how effective you are in the workplace. When a person feels emotionally upset, it is very difficult for him to react in a calm manner. If he gets angry or frightened, he will usually default into fight or flight behaviors. These destructive responses tend to escalate emotional tension and prolong conflicts.
You can learn how to control your hot buttons though.
First, you will have to identify what they are. We use the Conflict Dynamics Profile® instrument to measure people’s hot buttons. It looks at a variety of typical workplace hot button behaviors like untrustworthiness, abrasiveness, micro-managing, and hostility. Even without an instrument you can ask yourself, what kinds of behaviors in others make you upset?
Once you have identified particular behaviors that upset you, we recommend reflecting on why they do. The interesting thing about hot buttons is that people have very different hot button patterns. A third person’s actions may upset you, but not another colleague. So it is not the other person’s action itself, but rather your reaction to it, that is the key. Ask yourself what values underlie your particular hot button. Understanding your hot buttons makes you less susceptible to being thrown off balance by someone else’s behaviors.
When your hot buttons are pushed, it is easy to become angry and react to the other person with hostility or some other destructive behavior. This invites further reaction from the other person and conflict becomes enflamed. Instead, we recommend an approach we call Cool Down, Slow Down and Engage Constructively.
Another approach involves reframing or reappraising the initial behavior that caused the upset in the first place. Research has shown that considering other, non-hostile ways of interpreting a situation can lower your emotional upset. When someone is late for a meeting it may be easy to get upset at him for his thoughtlessness, especially if he has been late in the past. Rather than acting out angrily at the moment, you could think about other possible reasons for his tardiness. This will enable you to cool down enough to be able to inquire about the situation in a non-reactive way. You can still hold him accountable if he has been careless, but you’ll be able to do it more effectively.
While we may always experience hot buttons, we can learn to manage them so that we can respond in a constructive, emotionally effective manner. When important issues are at stake, make sure you know how to cool your hot buttons.
About the Author
Author: By Tim Flanagan, Craig Runde, and Patricia Viscomi