Everyone gets “triggered” by something in the workplace. Whether you feel like you aren’t receiving all the information, or you dislike someone’s communication style, triggers are different for everyone and usually incite a strong emotion like anger, frustration or disappointment.

The experience of being triggered has three general steps: an outside force or action, an internal emotional response and then an external reflex. With greater awareness and mindfulness of the action and the response, you can manage your reflex, because the reflex is what’s actually in your control.

For example, several people I work with (at all levels in the organization) are triggered by leaders who micro-manage them. If you’ve ever been micro-managed, you know the emotional response: annoyed, maybe even distrusted. Often, the gut reflex is to follow that anger and then disengage or shut-down a little.  

To avoid that situation, here are five easy and implementable steps you can take to train your mind to manage your workplace triggers:

  1. Notice what set you off. Pause for a moment and bring awareness to whatever it is that caused a spike in strong emotion. Make a conscious effort to identify what was said or done to trigger you. 

  2. Let yourself feel it. As Robert Frost so simply put it, “The best way out is always through.” Get in touch with the feeling: disappointment, distrust, annoyance, anger or whatever it may be in your case. Give yourself a moment to acknowledge and experience that emotion.

  3. Give it a name. Literally. Attaching symbolism is key to helping you recall the trigger in the future, when it will inevitably come up again. If you’re someone who gets triggered by micro-managing, maybe you call it the “hovering trigger.” Now you have a way of identifying the trigger when it comes up, allowing you to get ahead of your reflex.

  4. Find the (hard) truth. This is the hardest and most important step. The truth can be about you, the other person or, more likely, both. In the micro-managing scenario the truth may be that you’re feeling insecure about the work and therefore worried you’ll get “caught.” Assessing whether that insecurity is real or imagined will help you get to the truth. On the other hand, perhaps your leader is feeling a tremendous about of pressure to meet results, and so you’re experiencing the weight of their pressure. A little empathy and understanding for their circumstances could shape how you see the situation. Finding the truth will leave you with a clearer and more rational mindset.

  5. Identify a productive way out. Based on the “truth,” what’s in your control? How can you approach it differently? Is there a conversation you need to have? Getting out of the emotional state by understanding the truths of the situation will allow you to more productively find a way forward.

The thing about triggers is until you identify and understand yours on a deeper level, you’ll always react in the same way rather than find a productive way forward. And you may be avoiding a “hard truth.”

No one is immune to triggers except maybe Matthieu Ricard, the happiest man in the world. But even he gets irritated. He says “The way the mind interprets the world is a crucial element in determining the quality of every instant that goes by.”

This reminds us of the importance of training your mind to understand your triggers, emotions and reflexes and how you can productively work through them not against them.   


Romy Rost is a leadership and career coach dedicated to creating more productive, empowering, successful and fulfilled managers and leaders.

Comment