Understanding and Avoiding Emotional Hijacking
The news of AOL CEO Tim Armstrong firing one of his employees in front of approximately 1,000 coworkers is still fresh in professional circles. Some good analysis has been done on the potential lessons to be learned from this rather awkward episode.
If what is written is to be believed, Armstrong asked the unfortunate employee to not take pictures and then declared "you're fired." The behavior that Armstrong demonstrated could be considered nothing short of brash, but there is a slightly different way of deciphering what really happened in the mind of the AOL CEO.
Managing emotions at work is one of the key but underrated concepts of work life. To manage emotions effectively, it is prudent to understand the difference between reaction and response. Reaction is much akin to an uncontrolled impulse, and response is more thoughtful—driven by logic more than by sporadic emotions.
In his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman introduced a term called "amygdala hijack." Amygdala is a part of the brain that gets triggered when humans experience a physical threat, and it helps generate a response to the situation.
Emotional brain (amygdala) activity processes information milliseconds earlier than the rational brain, so in case of a match, the amygdala acts before any possible direction from the rational brain can be received.
When the emotional brain perceives a threat, it can lead that person to react destructively, thereby causing amygdala hijack or emotional hijack. Tim Armstrong likely went through an emotional hijack when he did not see his orders being responded to immediately.
In her book And the Lion Smiled at the Rabbit, Rashmi Datt says that there are many situations during the normal work day where people could be prone to emotional hijack and react in an unpredictable way.
Whether at home or at work, when someone pressurizes us with undue demands, disagrees with us, shows us they are better or smarter than us in someway, criticizes or gives negative feedback, does not cooperate, interferes with our work (invades our territory), insults us, does not follow instructions - it invokes anxiety or fear.
And this could lead to emotional hijack. To avoid emotional hijacking, one of the foremost things is to be aware that such an uncontrollable situation can occur to anyone. If the flow of thoughts suggests that the logical part of the brain is being overridden, it’s wise to go slow and delay making any decisions until the fuzziness has subsided.
In his book Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, Brian Tracy suggests creative procrastination as a means to say no to the tasks that are of low value. Avoiding emotional hijack takes this concept to a different level, where deliberate procrastination in making any decisions would help the cause and eventually help make more sound decisions in the long run.
How do you deal with emotional hijacking?