Emotional Hijacking Gets in the Way of Being Happy at Work

During my career with AT&T for the most part I was happy at work.  I enjoyed the challenges of the work I did in Sales and Quality Management.

At the end my staff job as a Quality Manager I was transferred to a Branch and given a promotion to Sales Manager with several direct reports.  I’d never been a manager of sales people before and I had had no training for it.

The Branch Manager was a woman that I did not know well.  What I had seen of her made me very careful around her.  She was capable of huge outbursts of anger and she was focused on winning at all costs.  My instincts told me not to get in her way.

Soon after I started the job she called a meeting of the sales manager and staff people in the branch.  During the meeting she suddenly started talking about a manager doing something she did not like.  As she talked I began to realize that I was the sales manager she was using as a negative example and at the end of her tirade she did identify me.

I don’t remember now what she was angry about but she went on and on and I was humiliated in front of my peers.  What made matters worse I could feel my system freeze up in fear.  I do remember the feeling as if it was yesterday.  I just couldn’t get my brain to work and find a way to answer her.

I just sat there feeling very exposed and horrified.  The fear of saying the wrong thing made me say nothing.  Where others might have gotten angry and responded I sat mute.

Either reaction, being mute or angry, is an example of emotional hijacking.  I was in a stressful situation so my animal instincts took over.  It’s fight or flight.  I couldn’t run although I would have liked to so I left by shutting down.

Emotional hijacking is sometimes called amygdala hijacking because the amygdala is the part of the brain that controls the fight or flight response.  When this happens the higher cortex of the brain actually is disabled so you can’t make a sound, rational decision about what to do.

I froze.  Others might lash out and become defensive.  Neither is a great way to respond but anger will probably make the situation worse.

So, what could I have done in this situation?  The first step would be to just become aware that I was upset and what that emotion felt like. (Later I could see if there were other times when I felt the same way so I could identify what triggers my flight response.) Then the next step would be to take deep breaths and start calming myself.

Once calm it would be good to change the setting or take a break to give myself time to calm down and get my brain working again.  Of course, I couldn’t do that in the middle of the meeting but at some point, the meeting ended so then I could think about what happened.

I did return to my office but I wasn’t able to sort things out and I remained agitated.  A coach could have helped me but I wasn’t aware of the coaching profession at the time.

Finally, the best way to deal with the manager’s outburst and my humiliation would be to try to turn the negative into a positive and use that energy to achieve my goals.  The situation however had the effect of making me not want to work there anymore.  Instead I used the energy to find another job.

That solution worked for me but I might have learned a lot more by understanding what was going on and then learned how to deal with it.  There are lots of situations that happen that don’t make you happy at work.  The more you learn how to deal with them the happier and more successful you will be.

A coach is trained to help clients see the situation from many angles.  If I had known about coaching and had hired a coach, the coach would have helped me find a workable solution.

It really would have been helpful to have someone to share my experience with.  A coach would have asked me enough about my experience so that I could understand it more.   Once I had thoroughly reviewed the situation I could have found a way to deal with it successfully – maybe even without changing jobs.

Are you dealing with a difficult situation at work?  Think coaching could help you?  Call me at 781-598-0388 or email me at asparker@asparker.com.

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