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5 tools to prevent knee-jerk reactions

Knee-jerk reactions have become common.  We react based on our current emotions, and often, regret the reaction later.  Often, it’s an angry reaction to what someone says.  Sometimes, it’s a decision made hastily.  Knee-jerk reactions are not to be confused with gut feelings. Gut feelings are based on a sub-conscious matching of current event to past experiences.  Knee-jerk reactions are based on the emotions we feel in response to current events.  Most often, anger, anxiety or fear.

Knee-jerk reactions are easy!  Electronic communication channels have made us fast and furious.  Face-to-face meetings are reducing.  Snail mail is dead.  So, the window of opportunity to think and reflect before reacting is now miniscule.  This article gives you 5 tools to deal with knee-jerk reactions.

Tool #1:  Understand your triggers

Whenever we blow our tops or react in a way we regret later, there’s always a trigger.  Its critical to understand what that trigger is.  What caused that emotion?  Often, the immediate situation or person might not have been the trigger at all. Understanding our emotional triggers is the first step in changing our reactions.

Tool #2: Don’t make quick people judgements

This one’s a subset of Tool #1.  Yet, it’s so common, it merits a separate tool.  In psychology, the Fundamental Attribution Error explains our tendency to judge others character by their behaviour, while we judge ourselves by intent.

Once we make judgements, it’s a permanent trigger.  It stays in our head, and manifests whenever we meet the person or events associated with the person.  So, try to judge people’s actions by intent and not solely by behaviour.

Tool #3: Understand what emotion is being triggered

Mother Nature has given us three responses to a stressful situation.  Fight, flight or freeze.  Anger is the most visible.  Yet, it’s often the manifestation of a deeper emotion.  For example, we might not like a certain idea proposed by a third party.  And react to it with anger and annoyance.  Yet, that anger, may be triggered by fear.  Fear that the person might be right, and the apprehension and powerlessness that, if it’s true, we might not be equipped to implement it.

Tool #4:  Don’t repress emotions, or submit to them

This may sound like psycho-babble, but its apparently been proven.  When we repress our emotions, they stay inside us, and suddenly rear their head at an unexpected time.  Often, at an unsuspecting person.  We then scratch our heads wondering why we got so angry, and it takes a toll on our relationship with the ‘victim’.

Even if the unexpected explosion doesn’t happen, its unhealthy for emotions to stay inside.  It festers inside and can be a cause of stress or even physical ailments.

Tool #5: Make strategic choices on how to act (not react)

We really can’t do anything about our emotions.  They are a part of us.  Something we can’t get rid of.  What we are in control of is how we react.  As with anything, practice will make our reactions much more controlled.  Bear in mind Tip #4 though.  Don’t try to repress the emotion.  Instead, feel it and understand it so that it can’t control your reaction.

So, if you’re angry about something, express that anger.  But in a strategic, intentional and respectful way.  That way you are expressing your emotions and having a positive, fruitful interaction at the same time.  The trick really is learning to act positively, rather than react.

In kayaking, the best way to get out of a strong funnel current is to do nothing.  You’ll get spit out soon enough.  If you fight against the current, you will (at best) remain stuck.  Do the same when you feel strong emotions overwhelming you.  Observe and understand the emotion.  And then act once you are in control of your emotions, don’t (knee-jerk) react.

Closing thoughts

All of this is easier said than done.  Theoretically sound but difficult to implement.  It’s a struggle.  But trying is free.  And if it reduces your knee-jerk reactions by even 10%, it’s well worth the effort.

Do your active knees cause you stress?  How do you keep calm and deal with your emotions? Let us know down in the comments. And if you like the article, please share, by clicking the links below

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