Why We Snap at Work—and How to Avoid It
When I came across an article titled “Why We Snap,” I knew it was about losing one’s temper. But this wasn’t just losing one’s temper; it was more like road rage, and other sudden, extreme, out of control reactions in which emotion totally overrides reason. Routine advice for managing anger, such as counting to ten before responding, is worthless in this context because the response of a person who snaps far precedes the conscious decision to start counting.
Research is discovering that this sort of extreme behavior is the result of the hardwiring of our brains. This means these violent reactions aren’t necessarily the result of psychological defects or personality aberrations. And it means, alas, that we are all capable of snapping.
Neuroscience research has identified nine major triggers that can invoke a rage response, including risk to life and limb, family, verbal threats, and environment. These triggers evolved to generate defensive action that can be appropriate in certain circumstances, but they also can misfire in others and result in extreme reactions. These reactions happen rapidly and aren’t conscious.
This is important because, of course, it’s not just on the road or at home that we can become enraged. It can happen also at work, and needless to say, flipping out at work—especially if it happens repeatedly—can send you back down the career ladder. Actually, it’s miraculous that most workplaces are calm most of the time, given all the situations that can trigger anger. And yet, the stress that so many people feel at work means the triggers of rage are much closer to the surface and more prone to misfiring.
To avoid snapping at work (or anywhere else), try to identify your hot buttons—those triggers—when you’re in a relaxed and interruption-free frame of mind so that you can be alert for them when they arise. By being aware of the things that set you off, you can devise ways to avoid them, work around them, or minimize their impact.
In addition, think about how you can react positively if those buttons gets pushed so that your reaction is of your conscious choosing, not your brain’s unconscious choice. If the trigger is something another person has said or done, ask questions and seek additional information. You may find that things are not how they first seemed.
By becoming aware of your triggers, you can learn to recognize them, identify them, and consciously choose how to respond.