Too Much. Too Long. Too Loud. Too Close.
Every single environment that we’re in with others presents us with the likely chance we will bump (emotionally) into someone. We have all experienced some type of frustration, disappointment, anger, or fear in different environments. Like most if not all of you, I have organized, led, participated in, or facilitated nearly every different type of meeting. They’ve ranged from one-on-ones to hallway huddles to team meetings, all-day executive team sessions, and multi-day team-building retreats. Their varied purposes have been to check-in, regroup, solve problems, make decisions, brainstorm, share information, meet others, and more. Let’s look at some possible causes of uncomfortable moments that can derail these events and create pain and dysfunction in your relationships.
Too Much. When someone else talks too much, I become overwhelmed. I am a visionary by nature, so details and a lot of technical information all at once trigger me. I shut down. I have had to tell others who worked with or for me, “Please watch my body language. If it looks like my eyes are glazing over, it’s because my brain is as well.” I had a code word with one person who worked for me. That word was “weeds.” Both of us had permission to call “weeds” when we noticed that the dialog was becoming too much for either of us.
Too Long. We’ve all been on the receiving end of someone droning on, seemingly with no end in sight. Our brain loses its ability to process all of the information and “shuts down.” The brain protects itself by disengaging and switching over to ignore the information. Oftentimes, the person pontificates unaware that we are ignoring the information as our simple nod or “Uh-huh” inspires them to continue. We need a rest.
Too Loud. I was at a networking function once and could hear another man talking from across the crowded room. He was definitely talking too loudly. He hadn’t even finished his first beer, so this was more an indication of how he behaved than the alcohol making him loud. I avoided him. And it appeared that most others did as well. Even at church sometimes it seems that the pastor is yelling. While holding a microphone that does an excellent job amplifying their voice for all of us to hear, they raise their voice to the point of yelling. In cases like this I shut down, stop listening, and think about walking out to get some relief.
Too Close. In the North American culture, standing too closely in a social setting can cause someone to feel as if they are being attacked. They literally feel as if their personal space (about a 4 foot radius around them) is being invaded. When this has happened to me, I want to take a half-step back or turn my body so that I feel like I have a larger invisible barrier between us. I have some friends who were raised in Central and South America. They tend to stand much closer than we’re used to, inside the personal “bubble.” I have to work at not stepping back around them as I know this is their culture, and they engage better at close distances.
There are several ways to protect yourself and those around you from getting triggered. Why bother? Because, when you're overwhelmed your brain switches off its relational circuits, the "problem" becomes bigger than the relationship, and team health and productivity decline. We'll learn some best practices for responding to these triggers by protecting yourself and others.