Kristin Robertson, KR Consulting, Inc.
In order to effectively deal with customers, service providers must first manage themselves and their emotions. Until you understand your own emotional reactions to situations, there is little hope of becoming adept at dealing with other’s emotions. Identifying and understanding your own emotional reactions is the first step in managing yourself.
It is similar to the oft-quoted instructions that a flight attendant reviews at the beginning of every commercial airline flight: “Please secure your oxygen mask before assisting other passengers.” If we don’t take time to take care of our own emotions, how can we possibly assist our customers with theirs?
In order to understand our emotions and how they affect us, let us examine a few basics of the current understanding of how the human brain functions.
The limbic system – the Emotional Brain
Our brains contain many systems and areas, each with its special functions and each interdependent upon the other parts. We’ll focus on a part of the brain called the limbic system, or the emotional brain.
The amygdala, an important part of the limbic system, is responsible for fast reactions. The amygdala controls our emotions and retains emotional memories that we may not consciously remember. By reacting quickly, the amygdala performs a very important role in our physical survival as a species. For example, if it detects something that looks dangerous, it will make a very quick decision to attack, run away, or hide. The reaction will happen in a fraction of a second. This is the fight or flight syndrome with which we are all familiar. Some of the physiological responses of the fight or flight syndrome are:
- Increased blood pressure, allowing for quick motion.
- Release of stress hormones (adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol) into the bloodstream
- Startle, run or hide reflexes
- Blood shunted from internal organs to major muscle groups
Such swift reactions are often useful. We might jump out of the way of an oncoming car before we even know what is happening, and save ourselves from injury. However, most of the time we are not in great danger, and we would be best off if the amygdala isn’t triggered so often and remains in a quiet state.
The amygdala’s reaction is probably what caused you to act in the way you described in the exercise above. Once we are aware of how our brains work, we can take action to ensure that we don’t get hi-jacked by our amygdala’s immediate reaction. The best way to do that is the STAR method:
Don’t go into auto-pilot mode! Don’t react – yet! Instead, take a deep breath to clear your body of any automatic stress reaction.
Instead of thinking of the worst thing that can happen – “awfulizing” – think about your reaction. What is the most emotionally intelligent reaction I can choose? What will serve me best at this moment?
Take another deep breath, and take action as needed.
Take time after the situation has passed to gently review what happened, and congratulate yourself for whatever you did well, no matter how small. What did I do well? Did stopping before reacting help me find a more appropriate method of responding? Did I behave like I would have liked to? What could I do better next time?
To practice this technique in advance, think of a situation in the past in which you lost your cool or got upset. With the STAR method in mind, what could you have done to better handle the situation? You might make a note of what you could have done, had you known what you know now. As you think about a better response, try to imagine yourself actually reacting differently.