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Knowing Me - My Buttons, My Responsibility

It was a sight to behold. Not a pleasant one, but a sight, nevertheless. We had heard of his reputation for a short fuse and outbursts but seeing them first hand was somewhat uncomfortable. From an observer’s point of view, it was seemingly very little that triggered it. A colleague had arrived just on time and forgot to close the door as they entered. What followed was a personal tirade about laziness and poor standards, along with the archetypal comment of ‘were you born in a barn?’ Everyone went quiet and no-one pulled him up on it. After all, he was the boss.


The meeting began tentatively as people sensed the boss was not in a good place. The contribution felt flat and nervous as people feared a reaction. The boss became frustrated. “Come on you lot, you’re like wading through treacle today. Where has your spark gone?” The room remained emotionally numbed for fear of failing, despite the instruction to sparkle. Psychological safety was fractured.


As people filed out of the meeting, the boss greeted his observer enthusiastically, a consultant who had been asked to come in to see how the leadership could improve. “See what you are dealing with,” he said. “I hope you can get some sparkle back in this team.”


The consultant paused, took a moment to reflect on her words. “The start of the meeting, you seemed a little tense about the door being left open.”


His reaction was immediate. “Yes, I do get irritated. That’s just the way I am. I’ve always had a short fuse. The team know that about me.”

Just the way I am

That’s just the way I am’. It’s so easy to fall into that lazy thinking that our thinking, our reaction, or our behaviour is indeterminable and can’t be changed. And yet, it is something that many of us fall into. Maybe ours might not be as extreme as this leader with such ferocity or over such a small thing. But nevertheless, we can write off an unhelpful behaviour or trait by claiming it is engrained in us. This is lazy thinking. Our character, what we become known for starts with our thinking and how we manage it. Thoughts lead to feelings and then to an action. The more we react to those thoughts in action it becomes a habit and eventually part of our character. But our character can be changed by changing our thinking. Knowing what thinking triggers and behaviour and what feelings in our body and our emotions result, can be used as an alarm bell for us to respond to. Once we know our trigger, the sign in us that tells us we are agitated, then we can choose to PAUSE, REFLECT and the RESPOND rather than REACT.


Reason for change

For any change to happen in us, we need to have a greater reason for change than staying as we are. It starts by considering what the impact of unhelpful behaviour is on ourselves and others. It is clear from our example above that when we behave in unhelpful critical ways it can affect the psychological safety of those around us. This is a huge reason for change as a) it is an unpleasant environment for people, b) it is likely to lead to mistakes being made because people are fearful, c) work output may drop. The other reason is it is unhelpful behaviour for us. We are likely to be having an impact on our physical health and well as our emotional health when we allow our buttons to be pressed.


Managing ourselves

As well as knowing our identity, journey and purpose, to get the best from ourselves also means knowing what presses our buttons and knowing what works for us to manage them.


The first step is to recognise sorts of things that press your button. I know for example that things of injustice, patronising comments and disrespect press my buttons. Raising awareness helps you then see the button press coming a little earlier.


The second step is to notice the reaction chain. Work back from your reaction and look at the steps before that and what signals were in your body. When the observer of the boss’s reaction in our earlier story asked him to note what ran up to the outburst, he noted how his heart rate and breathing felt and the moments earlier when he could have chosen to go for a brief walk before the meeting to ensure he felt calmer.


The third is to note your body's reactions. It gives you clues.

Four questions can help you regain control of yourself and consider who you want to be in situations

  • What do I notice in my body’s feelings and emotions?

  • What are they telling me?

  • What do I want my body’s feelings and emotions to be?

  • What action would help me create those feelings and emotions?

The fourth is to use PAUSE, REFLECT & RESPOND. This reduces the chance of you REACTING. In your reflection moment you can identify the button, the impact you want to have instead. You can tell yourself what you intend to do and why. That gives you opportunity to consider the impact of that behaviour before acting.


The fifth is to create some new habits.

To make a change it is about creating a new habit. Creating new habits are hard, although there are some things that make that easier. James Clear in his book Atomic Habits, talks about how it is hard to break an old habit and that it is easier to we can develop a new one, similar or habit stack. This is placing the new thing you want to achieve next to or after something you already do. So, the boss in our story recognised he raised his hands a lot when he got angry. So, he chose to still use his hand only this time it was to place it on his heart, that reminded him his heart was beating faster and was a warning signal. He then was going to take 2 slow breaths in and out.



The key steps for regaining control of who we want to be is

  • RECOGNISE the button

  • Take RESPONSIBILITY for it

  • REALISE a point of change and take it earlier

  • REFLECT on who you want to be

  • RESPOND with a new habit


Recognising and taking responsibility for our buttons, could in fact enable us to develop our identity into the person we want to be.



Can we help you? 

We hope this blog has been helpful and if you would like some more targeted support to explore discovering your identity and gain better insight then Everyday Leader is here to help you. We particularly want to help you if you have found it hard to manage your emotional reaction. We have a simple 1 hour exercise that can help you to do that and invigorate you. Imagine feeling purpose driven in life. Our clients find their coaching empowering, as we help them gain a full perspective and find a way forward.  If you have a challenge and you would like our support, then do get in contact with us. Give us a call on 01449 710438 or email if you would like us to help you explore this and empower you.  


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