The 3 A's of Moving Forward
Devising a path around triggers at work
Last week, I wrote about steps we can take when we feel triggered by a person or a situation at work. Because being triggered makes us uncomfortable, we often default to a familiar story about how someone always overlooks our contribution or why something is unfair. This may help us feel better in the moment but it does not serve us well. Instead, we need to rewrite the narrative in a way that gives us a positive path forward.
This does not mean we ignore the emotional response the trigger evoked, or tell ourselves we don’t feel what we feel. Instead, we acknowledge our feelings and accept them. Only when we’ve done this can we take action that serves us.
The frame I use for this process- the 3 A’s- is simple: awareness, acceptance, action. Acceptance is the part that most of us bypass or ignore. As soon as we recognize that we are upset about something, we are tempted to vent to someone we think might be sympathetic. This feels like taking action. But it keeps us stuck in our story, because we keep retelling it. And it holds us back from devising an alternate story that will change the dynamic.
Here’s an example of an alternate story, for a triggering situation involving a promotion we were expecting and did not get:
I’m so disappointed Kyle got that promotion. I was sure I was the top candidate, but clearly management didn’t see it that way. That’s upsetting but it’s what happened, so I assume there’s some reason for it. Maybe Kyle developed a skill I don’t know about, or took some action that grabbed management’s attention. Maybe he has a mentor who helped him position himself for the job. I’m going to find out so I can be prepared in the future.
This kind of approach sets us on the path to positive action.
Actions such as:
We might approach Kyle directly, congratulate him, and ask him what he thinks was the key reason he was able to land this position. He may have ideas we haven’t thought of. And by supporting him and asking for his thoughts, we may form or strengthen a relationship with him that could be helpful to us in the future.
We could solicit a colleague or our boss for ideas about how we could position ourselves for a similar kind of job. In this situation, we don’t want to ask for feedback, trying to find out what we did wrong or why Kyle was favored. We’re asking for feedforward, ideas about what we can do in the future: skills we can work on, connections we can cultivate, how to bring greater visibility to what we’ve done.
In this way, alternative scripting gives us a path forward, via useful action. But being able to take these actions depends on our willingness to fully accept what happened. As long as we’re living in the land of should–– I should have gotten that job, they should have noticed how much I did on that project–– we can’t fully move forward.
In fact, the word should is often a red flag indicating that we have not really accepted a situation.
When I recommend this approach in workshops or with clients, I often get pushback from those who view devising an alternate script as phony or inauthentic. They tell me, “I prefer being true to my emotions than trying to cover them up with some kind of fake response.”
This is understandable, but it’s rarely effective.
Giving others the benefit of the doubt does not mean we are being disloyal to ourselves. We are betraying neither our values nor our true emotions. We’re simply declining to buy into our immediate triggered reaction to a person or situation, so that we can do something that will actually help us in the future.
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