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Today’s best companies are searching for leadership talent that can act with executive maturity. What does that mean? For one thing, executive maturity is the opposite of reacting emotionally, that is, without thinking. Intimate leadership enables today’s management teams to empower and enrich relationships between co-workers, colleagues, and even customers. Being an intimate leader means that you maintain excellent control of emotional responses in a variety of scenarios.

sign_think-before-you-speak_red-300x208All of us stock an inventory of automatic responses in our response arsenal. I’m not just talking about harmless responses, like scratching an itch, or yawning when we see someone else yawn, or rolling your eyes when your boss launches into a speech you’ve heard too many times.

I want to focus on knee-jerk, trigger-finger responses to events that touch an emotional nerve and cause you to behave in ways you don’t intend. I’ve come across some research that supports the four steps I teach leaders to use to help de-trigger such situations.

First the Research

Polish researcher Dariusz Doliński of the Warsaw School of Social Psychology has recently shown that people are more inclined to respond positively to a request after they have had an emotionally intense experience. He asked strangers in his person-on-the-street control group to do a simple favor for him. Most refused. But subjects whom he first engaged in emotionally charged events were much more likely to comply after they were relieved of the emotion.

To hear a summary of Doliński’s research, click How To Manipulate People Into Saying “Yes.”

I’m not relating this to suggest that you manipulate people. Rather I want to point out the brain activity that changed the behavior of the people Doliński tested.

In his experiment, people agreed to the requests after they paused, reset, and took time to think. Exactly what I propose in the de-trigger steps below. Doliński sheds light on why.

Stock vs. Thought

All the requests were reasonable, the kind reasonable people might comply with. But when asked in the absence of an emotional engagement, people defaulted to their stock responses. When emotionally engaged they connected and opened a relationship with the experimenter. Then they thought about the request in an adult, rational, and reasonable manner.

Wouldn’t it be great if you as an intimate leader could act that way all the time? You can at least get better at it.

How to Use Your De-trigger Muscle

You already have what you need to stop reacting automatically. I call it your de-trigger muscle. Like any muscle, you have to first, learn how to use it, then practice using it, in order to develop the habit of responding rationally, like an adult, to the kinds of events that currently kick you into your reactive mode.

Step 1 Recognize the emotion that arises and threatens to upset you. Name it.

Step 2 Pause and focus on the result you want to achieve.

Step 3 Carefully choose your language. If you’re at a loss for words, pause or gain time with questions like, “How do you mean?” or “Tell me more…” or “Help me understand…”

Step 4 Respond with executive maturity.

I know that sounds naively simple, but as a leader you should already be working on ­self-­regulation. To take your game up a notch, I invite you to practice using your de-trigger with other leaders at our next CoachQuest Leader-as-Coach Workshop. Learn more about how intimate leadership can help to improve your organization’s communication and performance. Register here.

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Helanie Scott
Helanie Scott
Helanie (pronounced yeh-LAH-nee) Scott, CEO and founder of Align4Profit in Dallas, Texas, has driven stunning leadership and cultural transformations for an impressive list of organizations. She has mastered the ability to connect with her audiences in the boardroom, classroom, on stage, or in one-on-one coaching sessions. Helanie’s Align4Profit clients rave at the way her engaging programs freshen outdated mindsets and deliver results-oriented, aligned action.