Over the years I’ve learned that when others talk too much, too long, too loud, or too closely, I can experience negative emotions, or triggers. I recognize this by sensing and acknowledging how I feel, both physically and emotionally. Feeling the urge to step away, turning my head away from someone, looking away or down, feeling my heartbeat increase, a drop in energy, or sensing my mind wandering are all indicators to me that my brain’s relational circuits have gone off. When that happens, my mind will be operating from in a non-relational mode, focused on solving the problem. (Read more about your brain's circuits here.) You have probably sensed similar feelings and thoughts such as “I have to step back, or get out of here,” or “They need to back down.” It is important to sense these indicators and respond in a way that helps you and others, rather than build barriers.
You can get yourself back into relational mode - if you want. Sometimes the right or best option for you is to literally escape - walk out, leave. By protecting yourself this way, you are also protecting other people. Remember, you’re in fight-or-flight mode. Unless you “flight,” you will likely start to fight. By walking away you are helping both people. Give yourself permission to get some relief and time to recover from the overwhelming situation. Then you can work on getting yourself back into relational mode.
Think of a time when you’ve been in an argument with someone close, like your spouse or partner. Most of us stay in the fight to make our point and prove being right, rather than walking away for a few minutes, cooling down, switching back to relational mode, and then re-engaging. Arguments, fights and resentment can be avoided when both of you give each other some space and time to switch back to relational mode. (More on this in a future blog – Being Right vs Being Relational.)
In addition to disengaging to calm and recover from being overwhelmed, another method to re-engage your relational circuits is to force yourself to be curious. Genuine curiosity is a function performed by the right side of the brain and it is a good sign that you are in relational mode. It is impossible to be relational while operating in the fight-or-flight mode. Therefore, it is almost impossible for your brain to be both genuinely curious about a person and non-relational. By intentionally becoming curious, you help your brain switch your relational circuits back on. Curiosity helps both people. When you’re curious and can re-engage with the person you’re with. This helps them switch to relational mode as well. Now you can both enjoy being with each other (joy) and have a much more productive dialog.
Noticing these possible causes of becoming overwhelmed in ourselves and others (too much, too long, too loud, or too close) and being intentional about how we respond can support good relationships, nurture team health and increase productivity. When we recognize that our brain has left relational mode, we will know some steps to help us get those circuits back on before fight or flight makes the problem bigger.