Makarios Consulting Blog

Fight or Flight

When emotions are running high, our natural tendency is to speed up. Why? Because adrenaline is flooding our system and we are in pure fight-or-flight mode. The authors of “Crucial Conversations” put it this way:

Countless generations of genetic shaping drives humans to handle crucial conversations with flying fists and fleet feet, not intelligent persuasion and gentle attentiveness.

For instance, consider a typical crucial conversation. Someone says something we disagree with on a topic that matters a great deal to us and the hairs on the back of our neck stand up. The hairs we can handle. Unfortunately, our body does more. Two tiny organs seated neatly atop the kidneys pump adrenaline into the bloodstream. We don’t choose to do this. Our adrenal glands do it, and then we have to live with it.

And that’s not all. Our brain then diverts blood from activities it deems nonessential to high-priority tasks such as hitting and running. Unfortunately, as the large muscles of the arms and legs get more blood, the higher-level reasoning sections of our brain get less. As a result, we end up facing challenging conversations with the same intellectual equipment available to a rhesus monkey.

In such a mode, the probability of us resolving the conflict successfully is quite low. This is why it’s essential to intentionally slow down. How do we slow down the situation? Don’t speak and don’t take action before asking ourselves the following questions:

  • What emotions am I experiencing?
  • Why am I experiencing them? What thoughts preceded them?
  • Are the thoughts that preceded them reasonable? Do I have facts to support them?
  • What assumptions am I working under? Are they reasonable and rational?
  • Is my emotional response appropriate, based on my answers to the above questions?

Only after we have slowed down and answered these questions, should we decide what response or action to take. Notice an important word there: decide. As people living in this day and age, we should be making conscious decisions about our future steps based on logic and rationality, rather than reacting on pure emotions and adrenaline. One of the best ways to manage conflict is to manage our reactions. By slowing down our emotions and asking ourselves these questions in the moment, we give ourselves a way to beat our own adrenaline and control our fight or flight reaction.

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