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Are you a Fight or Flight Manager?

Being a manager/leader takes serious work and focus. In ordinary times, it’s challenging to manage reactions and effectively handle tough situations.

These days there is an extra level of stress on many of our interactions. It’s understandable that people would be tired, agitated and anxious spending so much time on video calls at home, with a myriad of distractions from kids to spouses to pandemic news. Let’s think about how we handle stressful situations, how we can take a pause and try a different tact to de-escalate challenges.

When we have to deal with an unpleasant or difficult situation, our brains react with a “fight or flight” response. The term "fight or flight" represents the choices our ancient ancestors had when faced with danger in their environment. They could either fight or flee. In either case, the physiological and psychological response to stress prepares the body to react to the danger.

Physical reactions can include an adrenaline rush, a higher respiratory rate and quickened impulses. I’m sure we can all remember situations that made our blood boil! So it makes perfect sense that if we feel everything in front of us is a possible threat, we have the potential to overreact, exaggerate fear and distort thinking.

If you are a manager that “takes flight”, you tend to:

  • Minimize the problem. If it’s no big deal, you don’t have to face it.

  • Ignore or tune out the issue. If you don’t pay attention to it, maybe it will go away.

  • Avoid telling others (your boss, colleagues, or clients) for fear of having to face it.

More productive alternatives include:

  • Acknowledging that it’s a serious problem. Show empathy by saying, “I’d be frustrated if I were you, too.”

  • Craft an opinion and make a decision to engage. Lean in and talk to the person about dealing with the issue, the situation, the behavior.

  • Involve others who can help or should understand what’s going on, vs. staying quiet.

If you are a manager that “fights”, you tend to:

  • Spend mental energy planning your “comeback” vs. listening.

  • Talk more (faster, louder, and higher) – over the other person.

  • Find yourself arguing and jumping to conclusions, another side-effect of not listening.

  • Rehash and belabor the past, pulling out things from weeks/months ago that have no bearing on the current issue.

More productive alternatives include:

  • Focus on what the person says while speaking less (and in a deliberate, calm-but-concerned fashion.) This shows the other person you are engaged and care about their points.

  • Ask questions. This is key in clarifying what you don’t fully understand.

  • Remain focused on the present/future vs. reaching back into the past. Don’t exacerbate the issue by bringing up old struggles.

Whether you tend to fight or flee, these alternatives can bring calm to a situation and help you and the other person face it to reach a good outcome.

So, what’s your style - do you fight? Or tend to take flight? And how do you handle it? Comment below!

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