Unraveling Emotional Triggers

 

When talking about the connections between emotional intelligence and neuroscience in the workplace, someone inevitably asks, “how do I communicate with someone at work who triggers me emotionally?  Often people are looking for a quick-fix and a “logical” response to their experience.

So, first, let’s take a brief look at emotions through the lens of neuroscience. While it’s common to categorize emotions as positive or negative, I prefer to think of emotions as either having positive or negative consequences. Which is not the same thing as saying that we use our emotions to discern that something is positive or negative. A slight semantic difference perhaps, but a significant difference in how it can help us learn more about ourselves and expand our repertoire of choices in difficult situations.

Since we cannot separate our sense of self from our emotional life, every emotion we experience is a representation of a part of ourselves. There is, however, a tendency to avoid or deny emotions that we have identified as negative. In doing so, we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn more about ourselves. In other words, every emotion can have a positive function, because every emotion conveys information about our experience.

Using the language of neuroscience we  can create a new frame of reference to connect brain activity with behavioral change. And unlike the “baggage” that some may feel is too “therapeutic” or inappropriate for the workplace, sharing the language of neuroscience explains the dynamic process that is taking place in the brain.

According to neuroscientist Louis Cozolino, “Emotions are our conscious experiences and interpretations of our bodily states, involving many of the brain’s neural networks. Because our thoughts and emotions are so interconnected, it is difficult to know if they are distinct from one another or really different aspects of the same neural processes.”

When we are in the so-called “triggered emotional state,” our activated limbic system is already diverting “resources” from the part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) involved in logical, rational, evaluative and decision-making processes.  What we need in those moments is to do the cognitive and physiological work that can result in a calmer state and clearer mind. Continue reading