It’s Not REALLY A Jungle Out There

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    Evolution is great: opposable thumbs; walking erect; corn chips. But when it comes to getting along at work, evolution has kind of failed us. Find out how in this video. And be prepared for the lion…


    It’s Not REALLY A Jungle Out There

    Not reacting, pausing, is arguably the most important conflict resolution move.

    But how do you improve your ability to pause?

    Well, it turns out, not very easily.

    To pause when we are upset and in conflict requires us to manage very powerful, involuntary impulses.

    Deep in our emotional brain there are two almond shaped masses of cells called the amygdala.

    One of the amygdala’s main roles is to determine whether something in our environment threatens our survival. Particularly things like lions or tigers or bears…

    If the amygdala decides we are threatened, it initiates a cascade of physiological processes: It expands the bronchi so we can get more oxygen, reduces the blood flow to our thinking brain, and floods our system with adrenalin for quick action. All to prepare us to fight, or to flee.

    This reaction is virtually instantaneous and largely out of our control.

    And it’s that way by design. If our fate had depended upon the slower, more deliberate parts of our brain, well…let’s just say it wouldn’t have been pretty.

    Now while this sensitivity is perfect for the jungle — and has been essential to our success as a species — it isn’t a good fit for the office. The amygdala doesn’t do a good job, for instance, of distinguishing between a threat to our lives and threats to our career or feelings or sense of identity.

    An angry or even a disappointed co-worker can trigger a similar, “fight or flight” reaction.

    The bottom line is this: When we have difficult conversations or conflicts at work, we have to manage the inevitable fact that, physiologically at least, we are going to be primed to fight or flee.

    And that makes pausing difficult.

    Fortunately, though there are no quick fixes, there are effective things we can do to strengthen our pause muscle. Many involve getting our thinking brain into the mix.

    More to come…

11 responses to It’s Not REALLY A Jungle Out There

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Thanks, Linda. That’s the fun part…

  1. Sharon M says:

    I was just having this conversation with a business leader today – he not only did a great job at pausing during an unpleasant encounter with an employee but he helped the “tiger” in his office slowly calm down and see that his reaction was a choice and it wasn’t helping him to get the outcome he desired. Yes, it IS difficult but wow, when you learn to hear the scream in your head that says “DON’T REACT” it makes the world of difference. Thanks Richard. Loving the videos!!

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Yes. Great example. And yes, yes: It’s about being skilled at getting the “outcomes we desire.” That’s the goal, that’s why it’s important. To develop the self-control to choose our next move rather than have it chosen for us by our triggered physiology. Thanks for writing, Sharon.

  2. Karen E. Cone says:

    This concept works great in ALL SETTINGS — work, social and home. I always tell my clients…..if you don’t know how to react, be still for a while. Mastering this type response is an invaluable skill in life and could actually be categorized as “Strategic Manipulation (not to be viewed in a negative context, however).” It’s very good advice; it works!! Thanks, Richard Happy New Year!!

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Yes, Karen. “Strategically manipulating” ONESELF. Really it’s self-control. And right you are about all settings. Like many of us I assume, I have a much harder time pausing at home than as work! But I keep trying…

  3. Stacy Davison says:

    Very well-produced, insightful video! And I too loved the outtake at the end.

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Thanks, Stacy. Glad you found it helpful. There were many more outtakes where that came from…

  4. Mark Rosenberg says:

    Great advice, and applicable to many contexts, not just around the office. I really enjoy these, Richard. Keep them coming!

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Thanks for letting me know, Mark.

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