How to Shift From Emotionally Reactive To Calmly Responsive

calm responseEmotional reactivity indicates a lack of self-control. When you are an emotionally reactive leader, people will follow you – but out of fear rather than out of respect. And they certainly will think twice about showing initiative because they can’t predict if and how you’ll react. Alternatively, if you respond without outburts and negativity, not only will people follow you, they will respect and admire you.

Calm responsiveness shows an ability of your neocortex’s rational executive function to quell the illogical emotionality of the limbic brain. A calm response is less likely to send others into a fearful survival mode. The discipline to calmly choose your response in challenging situations gives you a better chance of displaying emotionally competent leadership as compared to “losing it”.

Taking the time to think through options and to respond consciously is a hallmark of a strong leader and can payoff big. To wean yourself of the habit of reactivity, practice 3 things:

1. Notice and acknowledge when something has triggered a reaction.

You can’t do anything about your reactivity if you don’t know when it’s happening. Often, the best sign that you are being reactive is that you experience a negative emotion – anywhere between mild irritation to an outright meltdown. That unpleasant emotion often expresses itself physically in your body. This can include a contraction in the stomach, a palpitation in the heart, or a flush in the face. When you notice these sensations, take note and acknowledge to yourself that you’re in reactive mode.

2.  Do something different than your usual reaction.

When you notice your reactivity, you can break your usual cycle and choose to do something different. You won’t break your reactive tendencies if you keep allowing yourself to automatically act on the negative emotion by raising your voice, using choice words, or physically acting out. Instead you can choose to rewire your brain to create a more appropriate response.

To do this, slow down. Observe yourself from an outside perspective, like floating above yourself. Then you can try reframing the situation in the best possible light or affirming the good intentions of the other person. You could even interrupt the automatic reaction by excusing yourself and taking a short walk (like to the restroom) to remove yourself from the situation.

The goal is to interrupt your automatic negative reaction. For example, once you notice irritation or anger when stuck in traffic or cut off by another driver, reframe the traffic situation as a lucky thing because it is positioning you precisely where you need to be to avoid a problem. Or you can make up a story about the other driver’s good intentions even though an accident resulted. This way, you’ll be less likely to feed your frustration or pound on the steering wheel.

3. Practice.

Rinse and repeat. Every time you feel the negative emotions coming on, practice catching yourself and choosing a different thought or behavior. The more you practice interrupting your cycle of reactivity, the more likely you are to build new neural networks. When you do that, you will build different capabilities that are more calm and responsive to these triggering situations.

Think about the last time, you reacted negatively in a noticeable way. What did you do or say? If someone behaved that way in front of you, what would you think of that person? Is that the leader you want to be?

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with senior leaders I work with corporate leaders to increase employee engagement and retention by aligning strategy and tactics in times of rapid growth and change. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: