3 Trigger-Point Questions

Two political conventions rolled over us in the US. Public discourse in the aftermath got more heated than it had already been. Even if you tried to avoid the coverage, chances are you watched. And, pardon the gun metaphor – you got triggered.

There’s having a reaction. There’s being triggered.

I have a point of view. Based on my values, my narratives about a person, a party, the world. I react. And I react with at times strong emotion.

And yes, then there’s being triggered. A whole other stratosphere of reaction. Think of triggered as a reaction on steroids. Boiling hot emotion. Eruptive and enraged. Outsized. Coupled with obsessive thoughts that I seem incapable of letting go.


Here’s the gift of the triggered response. Yup, really – there IS a gift. A highly triggered response invariably points to our own personal shadow. That is the dark side we try to hide. The side of ourselves we may not actually be conscious of. The side that consistently gets us into trouble because, well, we like to think it simply isn’t there.

Because we’re more perfect than others. Because the dark side isn’t pretty.

This is what triggered looks like at work: We vilify a certain colleague. We rage in silence during a meeting we can’t stand. We complain incessantly behind the scenes about everything that’s wrong. We cut corners to beat the system.

Triggered. And squarely in our dark side.

Not paying attention to the dark side is a vicious derailer in our professional lives. So, accept the gift. When you find yourself triggered at work, think of it as the shadow calling you to lift your leadership game. Lift the game by asking 3 simple Trigger-Point Questions:

  1. What am I feeling right now?

This may sound simple. Don’t we usually know what we’re feeling? Well, actually, most of the time we don’t. Especially when we’re triggered, we get so caught up in our obsessive responsive that we’re unaware of the intensity of our reaction. By naming what we feel – I am enraged, I am insulted, I am furious – we direct the attention away from the external trigger back to us. Because that’s where we ultimately lift our game.

  1. What core beliefs do I hold dearly?

The severity of my response to you is likely triggered by my perception that you are violating one or several of my core beliefs. People should be honest. Policies should be fair. A leader should be empathetic. A decision should be just. Everyone’s opinion should be valued. And so on and so on.

  1. When has MY behavior not been aligned with my core beliefs?

When we ask this question honestly, the answer likely is often, a lot, on a daily basis. Be specific in your answer to this question. Answer it without beating yourself up. Notice your desire to, even here, want to cover up the dark side. Don’t. Scrupulous honesty with ourselves has two powerful impacts: It lessens the severity of our triggered responses. And it shows us at once where we can lift our everyday leadership game. One conscious choice, once conscious behavior at a time. It’s that simple.

Have your reactions. Notice when you’re triggered. We’re in a year when we will likely be triggered a lot. The gifts will keep on coming, and our personal leadership lessons are endless. Choose to learn. Lift your game.

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Achim Nowak is an author, speaker, C-Suite coach, international authority on personal presence. His book "The Moment: A Practical Guide to Creating a Mindful Life in a Distracted World" (New Page Books) has just been published. His previous books have become prized resources for entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 executives around the globe. Achim and his work have been featured on 60 Minutes, Fox News, NPR, in The New York Times and The Miami Herald.