We all have things that we have personal reactions to, things that are hard for us to listen to without some emotional reaction. The emotional reaction can be strong or hardly noticeable, and it can be a positive or negative reaction. The main thing to remember is that our emotional reactions – our triggers and likes and dislikes potentially affect how you facilitate and coach: how you listen, approach the discussion, and participate.
Triggers can then affect your neutrality and multi-partiality in the facilitation session or coaching process. They might trigger you to want to share what you think, or at least make you steer the group and discussion to certain directions and avoid others.
What triggers you?
It is then important to know your triggers.
What are your triggers? What are the issues that you find “triggering” – the hard things you can listen to without a strong emotional reaction? Why?
You can think broadly about triggers in different contexts – it can be personal, related to your personality, or broader political topics and current events. What do you and your friends or family have heated discussions on? In cross-cultural dialogue or introductions, sometimes certain ice-break activities, you are likely to discuss current events. You need to be aware that if there is a topical issue you are so passionate about, it is hard to resist sharing your views as a person, not as a trainer or instructor?
What current events do you feel so passionately connected to that they trigger a reaction in you? Can you think of a topic that will most likely make you want to say what you think?
I highly recommend before your session to take a moment to think about your triggers. Any moments when you can identify a trigger point or topic will help you be more prepared and grow as a leader.
What happens to your listening when you are triggered?
It is highly likely that when you hear something that you disagree with – sometimes passionately, it becomes hard to listen in an unbiased way in those moments actively.
When triggered, we have a hard time hearing what the person is actually trying to say because we hear them through the lens of our own response. For example, in our minds, we focus on all the things we feel the person is wrong about or how we can counter what they say. This means we are not taking in what the person is saying anymore but focusing on our own response.
This can impact how open we are to listening to those triggering views and how, neutrally, we can facilitate the discussion.
Don’t ignore your emotions.
First, we need to acknowledge that it is okay to have our own opinions and hot spots – everyone does!
Being neutral and multi-partial as a facilitator or coach does not mean we should try to turn our emotions off or ignore our personal feelings on issues. In fact, a good leader recognizes their own emotional reactions and works with them to enrich the dialogue experience. Strong emotions and being triggered can take you by surprise as a facilitator or coach. Your own reaction to the presence of emotions matters a great deal. How we react to others’ strong emotions usually depends on how comfortable we are with those in our life. That’s why your self-awareness and preparedness is important. With the knowledge of our behavior patterns, we can make better choices on responding in different situations.
How to manage being triggered?
Here are some tricks I follow when I realize I am triggered while facilitating or coaching:
Be self-aware! Think about those things that you have a hard time listening to or discussing without a reaction. Know your triggers and know-how they might impact you in your role. When you have a sense of what issues are likely to trigger you, you can watch out for any reactions you might have that could impact your neutrality.
Try to stop the emotional process of being triggered. Try to return to the space you are in, and bring focus to your body. There are different ways to do that: 1) Breathe! Focus on your breathing for a moment, take a little deeper breath, and then another one. 2) Press your feet on the floor, change your posture or seating position slightly. 3) Take a sip of water.
Once you have done this, encourage yourself to be curious: ask why someone has that opinion and understand underlying assumptions and feelings, especially when you disagree with them!
Be aware of the interventions you make. Make sure the questions you ask are unbiased, and you give space to all opinions.
Check the group for any reactions. If you have been triggered by something said in the group, someone else may have had the same reaction. Watch out for any signs of being triggered in the group (body language, tone of voice). If no-one else has the same reaction, your reaction might still be valuable for the discussion: your counter-argument is likely relevant for the topic more broadly, in which case you can introduce it to the discussion in a multi-partial manner.
Do you have a good tip on managing triggers? Could you share it in the comments?