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When our brains feel a threat, we shut down. Here are some examples of common work situations where we perceive threats:
- We disagree with someone's idea
- We don't feel that our perspective is being heard or respected
- Someone starts yelling
- Everyone in the meeting is silent
- We're suddenly asked to share our opinion with everyone
- We make a mistake
- We feel insulted
- Someone didn't do what they agreed to do
In these situations and many others, we may perceive that we're threatened, and our body reacts as if it's actually physically in danger. This is called neurobiological flooding.
When flooding happens, creativity and rational thought are extremely limited because our body is limiting the blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, where most of what we would call "thinking" takes place. This can be great if we need to run away from a physical threat, but for most of our work, it's damaging because it limits our ability to interact in healthy ways and to effectively and productively collaborate.
We need to be aware when we are flooding, and when others around us are flooding.
“Fear of a bully, fear of a volcano; the power within you does not distinguish. It does not recognize degree.” ― N.K. Jemisin
“Negative emotional states are a breeding ground for mistakes.” ― Sam Owen
“Stress should be a powerful driving force, not an obstacle.” ―Bill Phillips
Next time you sense you might be starting to flood, observe what's happening in your body. Is your face flush? Is your breath shallow and fast? Are you tensing some of your muscles? These are signs you can learn to watch for that indicate you're starting to flood.
To help you retain some of your thinking capability, take a second and ask yourself “What’s happening? Why am I flooding?”
If you are already flooding, try to take a break from the situation - walk around, take some deep breaths, and focus on something else for a while. Then, come back to the situation and try again.
When you sense others might be starting to flood: ask them how they’re feeling. (It sounds cliche, but just try it and see what happens!)
What has been a trigger for me in the past that causes me to flood at work?
Want to learn what makes you flood? Want to reduce flooding in yourself and others? Join Chris Conlin and I in our exclusive workshop to help you transform how you see conflict:
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