Got Triggers?  The Things that Bug You at Work

Don’t let them sneak up on you.  Or undermine your credibility.

Call it composure, poise or dignity, leaders who have the ability to lead under pressure garner more respect and followership.  This is not to imply that a display of emotions is not valuable—it absolutely is.  This is the difference between responding appropriately with emotional reactions in a manner that builds trust and aligns with our intentions.

Last episode I talked about the importance of being aware of and transparent about your values.  Today we’ll talk about the dark side of values.

But first, consider the answer to a few of the following, fill in the blank:

  • It makes me so angry at work when others ____________________
  • If I could change one behavior about people I work with, it would be _____________
  • If only people I work with would _________________ I would be so much less stressed
  • I get so frustrated at work when _______________


  • Emotional triggers consist of thoughts, feelings, and events that seem to “trigger” an automatic response from us.
  • The word “trigger” is important here because the idea is that our reaction occurs automatically.  It might seem as if the emotional reaction is completely involuntary.
  • The truth is that this reaction, like everything else that we do, is a choice. Learning how to identify our personal emotional triggers is the first step to taking control over how we choose to respond.

By Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

Not surprisingly, triggers can have a significant impact on leadership effectiveness.  What I’ve also come to notice and observe is that oftentimes our triggers are connected to our values.  If I value honesty and integrity, I’ll probably get pretty upset if I believe someone is lying to me.  If I value hard work and dependability, I’ll likely be ticked off at those I think aren’t putting in the time or effort required to do the work.

Here’s the process:

  1. Trigger
  2. Automatic Thought
  3. Destructive Response

It’s important for you to be aware in advance of your triggers, so you can maintain self-composure. Our challenge then is to disrupt this process.  [Spoiler Alert!  This.  Is.  Hard.]

Changing our response to triggers is a challenge because the more consistent we react in a certain way, the stronger the neuropathway is in our brain.  We now have a superhighway to a potentially destructive response.

To interrupt this very automatic reaction and intentionally choose a response, the process looks like this:

  1. Trigger: Effective self-management begins with self-awareness.  So, the more proactive you can be in recognizing the people, issues and challenges that can de-rail you, the better.
  2. Feel the Emotion: Emotions are felt in our body.  Think about anger and how it shows up…like warmth in your body, your heartbeat speeds up, muscles feel tight, get shortness of breath, etc.  We must get good at identifying when we are experiencing an emotion, in order to interrupt the pattern.  This means paying attention to the signs in your body.
  3. Identify the Thought Error: Our thoughts produce our emotions, so it’s time to identify the thought creating the negative emotion.
  4. Reframe: Reframing is a critical piece of altering our reactions.  We have to ask ourselves, what we are thinking, and also the following:
    1. What are the facts?
    2. Am I exaggerating?
    3. What might be another explanation for this situation?
  5. Respond Constructively: Choose your thought and emotion.  Respond with composure.

Planting some seeds:

  • Do the triggers values inventory. Identify what you care about.  Then do the same for the triggers inventory.
  • Print out the triggers worksheet and examine your patterns.
  • To create awareness, for the next week, do a daily reflection on your thoughts at work. Then identify the feeling or emotion you experienced as a result.
  • Identify possible thought errors and possible ways to reframe the thought. Then consider a different response.