How to Identify and Manage Your Triggers

“He knows how to push my buttons.” 

“She just gets under my skin.” 

Is there a person, place or situation that always seems to trigger a dramatic emotional response from you? There are many common behavioral and situational triggers. These include not feeling heard, encountering a person who needs to be right all the time, being in a situation that makes you feel excluded, feeling inequity, others talking too much, others not talking enough, and observing arrogance or entitlement. 

Yes, many people respond with frustration or irritation at these situations. But only some people will have a response that is quick and deeply emotional, a feeling of button-pushing that likely comes from past experiences, and perhaps a conflict with our deepest-held values and beliefs. Sometimes the triggers are related to blind spots we have, or unconscious biases.

In coaching, it’s helpful for me to understand triggers so I can help clients reach their full potential by responding intentionally and resourcefully. 

Leaders who don’t understand triggers can be reactive and create unintentional impacts. 

These are steps I recommend for tackling trigger situations: 

  1. Notice. When you feel intense emotion, pay attention. Is this a trigger you’ve felt before? How do you feel it in your body? How does it manifest in your relationships and interactions? 
  2. Ponder. Begin thinking about where the reaction might come from. Is this a particular situation, person, or context in which you regularly react? What in your past or in your values, beliefs or biases might be causing this?
  3. Prepare. Be ready for the next time you encounter this trigger. You can start by determining how you want to show up in that moment. Is this trigger your own issue to work through? If so, you may plan to take a deep breath, note your feelings to yourself, and work through them privately later. Alternatively, you want to share your feelings in the moment, and plan for later discussion after you’ve had time to process them. Is this trigger related to someone else’s issue? If so this trigger may require a conversation. If this is the case, prepare for how you will respond in the moment, and for the conversation you will need to have. 

Learning to manage triggers builds confidence and resourcefulness, reduces stress, and can lead to better conversations and relationships. 


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