Jon Pratlett

Jon Pratlett has over two decades of experience, coupled with extensive study and on the ground action, supporting leaders and their teams steward their organisations to transform to their desired state.

Newsletter

Subscribe to our regular 2 minute leadership tip, based on the latest brain science, with links to valuable research.

* indicates required

Services
Categories

Jon at the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon 2000 World Championships - 3.8k Swim, 180k Bike & 42k Run.

« Insight/Reminder 1 | Main | The New Leader 1 - Insights From Neuroscience - Creating Meaning and Engagement. »
Thursday
May092013

The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss

Let’s take the example of Steven, now in his mid 30’s, and in a fairly senior leadership role. He has two goals; firstly he needs to improve his ability to relate to others in the workplace, some of who perceive him as cold and hard as evidenced by 360 degree feedback and some personal feedback; and second he wants to improve his ability to handle an overbearing and threatening boss, Tom. In regard to the latter, Steven describes how he feels goaded into an un-resourceful state on many occasions when he meets with Tom.

He describes to you, his reaction to his boss’s manner as often freezing and feeling threatened, leaving him unable to think clearly or speak coherently—not the most productive of states for a high potential leader.

Would developing a palette of emotional regulation strategies help Steven? You bet!

You talk to him about the fight, flight, freeze response and introduce him to Dr Evian Gordon’s Brain 1-2-4 model (Gordon et al., 2008) to provide a broader context.

So how does the brain work?

Neuroscientist Dr Gordon, one of the wise elders of neuroscience, distilled hundreds of theories of brain operation into this one model, that he termed “Brain 1-2-4” (Gordon et al., 2008).

Dr Gordon explains this in terms of the brain working off one key principle: it wants to minimize danger and maximize reward.

It has two modes of operation, Non-Conscious and Conscious, with most of its operations occurring at the non-conscious level, which is far quicker and more energy efficient than its conscious mode.

It involves four methods of processing: “Emotion, Thinking, Feeling and Self Regulation”.  You can view Dr Gordon explaining the model in his own words at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYU1WgteWKU. It runs for 8 minutes.

In this model, emotion occurs automatically (non-consciously), by basic signals of danger and reward (feedforward), e.g. a car backfires and you jump.  At around 200 milliseconds (1/5th second) thinking and feeling emerge in conscious awareness providing “feedback” from the body and brain. You might notice your heart thumping or your palms sweating. Thinking allows for the initiation of voluntary actions and selective attention to significant input, which can then be communicated to longer-term memory. Long-term memory confirms “It’s OK. It was just a car backfiring!”

The new-generation leaders will have learned explicit emotional regulation strategies that enable them to have effective control over their emotions.

Back to Steven and as you explore the circumstances leading up to his freezing, he says he became aware of experiencing a dry throat initially and of feeling his heart pounding in his chest.

Although quite experienced and in a relatively senior role, Steven describes becoming incapable of thinking clearly and feeling threatened, embarrassed and inadequate when in this state. As empathy and trust built between you through careful listening, gentle probing and acknowledging, he reveals that as a young boy, he had been sent to a strict boarding school where the teachers were very aggressive, as were some of the prefects.

He describes how he learned to cow-tow to those in power to survive and to try and ignore the taunts of the other boys. He did his best to hide any outward signs of his inner feelings.   

As Steven talks it through, he has an “Aha” moment. He realises that since that time whenever someone (particularly his boss) becomes aggressive and loud, he freezes. He acknowledges that this response might have also contributed to his being perceived as cold and hard. His face now softens, his eyes fill with tears and a smile emerges.

You mention to Steven that empirical research is showing that the capacity to make decisions, solve problems and collaborate with others is generally reduced by a threat response and increased under a reward response (Elliot, 2008, Fredrickson and Losada, 2005, Fredrickson, 2001).

The brain treats many social threats and rewards with the same intensity as physical threats and rewards (Lieberman and Eisenberger, 2009, Eisenberger and Lieberman, 2004, Eisenberger and Lieberman, 2005).

Steven acknowledges that Tom’s manner often evokes a stress response in him where he finds himself unable to think or speak coherently.

Professor James Gross at Stanford University’s Psychophysiology Laboratory is a leading researcher in the field of emotion and emotion-regulation. He has proposed a model that provides a framework within which to appreciate emotional regulation strategies and you bring this to Steven’s attention. It may help in meeting both of Steven’s goals.

Emotion regulation, is the process by which people influence their emotional experience and expression (Gross, 1998).

The Emotional Regulation model is a way of examining a range of strategies, in time sequence, that you can adopt where you are anticipating or find yourself being emotional challenged, for example, a performance appraisal or conflict situation.

Emotion may be regulated at five points in the emotion generative process. The strategy of reappraisal, (also known as reframing) comes in at point four, and is about changing the meaning of the perceived threat. In the case of a performance review, as the leader, you may have wanted to avoid having one with a particularly difficult individual, and utilizing the model, you reframed at as a great opportunity to clear the air.

At each of the five points there are strategies you can adopt to decrease  the emotional impact and regain your brain’s executive functions. Another strategy, suppressing emotion, comes later in the emotion generative process. It consists of inhibiting the outward signs of inner feelings to hide, for example, embarrassment. Some strategies will be more effective than others. I will simplify the model to suit our purposes.

A Process Model of Emotional Regulation (Gross, 2002)

Wow! What is all this. Well, let’s first divide the model in two, based on emotional response –

Emotional Regulation Strategies - Proactive and Reactive

For ease of recall I am going to call Antecedent-focused Emotional Regulation strategies, Proactive strategies - ways to regulate emotions before you experience a full blown emotional response, such as anger or frustration e.g. you begin to experience the emotion building steam and have strategies available to adapt appropriately. These strategies are potentially available to you at about half a second after the initial stimulus and you have a window of around 0.2 of a second to veto your habitual emotional response. Given the brain is driven by evolution to conserve energy, anything that is done repetitively, will become a habit.

Response-Focused Emotional Regulation Strategies I will call Reactive Strategies and these come into play once an emotional response is fully underway inside you, from around an 1/8 of second following the initial stimulus.

Proactive strategies come under each of the following headings and the time progression is from left to right with Situation Selection, happening at the planning stage of a facing a challenging situation.  Situation Selection   S1 - S2       

Working from left to right, you begin to explain Situation Selection.

Situation selection refers to approaching or avoiding certain people, places, or things so as to regulate emotion. Steven acknowledges that there are some occasions when it is easier to talk to Tom than others, and that he could actively choose to create more of these opportunities. He identifies three, such as “Friday afternoon around 4pm”, and makes a note for himself of this and other times.

Situation Selection  Situation Modification  (S1x, S1y, S1z)

You next look at Situation Modification; this involves strategies to change the situation. Steven comes up with some ideas, e.g. meeting in a café, rather than Tom’s office. The public environment might stunt any overtly aggressive behaviour by his boss and allow him to speak up.

Situation Selection Situation Modification Attentional Deployment A1 - A5

Attentional Deployment

Steven hears next how choosing where to place his attention during a conservation with his boss can alter how he responds emotionally. Steven suggests he could try to distract himself immediately when he got a hint of trouble. How you ask? Pinching himself, he replies.

Distraction gives some distance from threatening social cues such as an angry facial expression, as it helps modulate amygdala activity through engaging other brain networks. The amygdala plays a key role in the processing of emotions and forms part of the limbic system. In humans and other animals, this subcortical brain structure is linked to both fear responses and pleasure, and might be termed the “Uh Oh!” centre.

Another useful strategy, in terms of redirecting your attention, is known as position shifting.  You tell Steven that he probably already uses this strategy at times, unconsciously. The strategy involves taking perspectives other than your own by imagining, for example, the other person’s point of view (second-person), or that of a neutral observer (third-position), a fly on the wall or video camera. 

Both strategies—distraction and position shifting—have been shown, in experiments and in practice, to reduce activation of the amygdala and, in the process, calm one’s emotions.

You suggest to Steven that he could, if necessary, use another strategy of physically distancing himself from his boss: this would allow any “Uh Oh! Response (limbic response) to ease and his executive brain functions to regroup to inhibit self-perspective (thinking about self). Self-perspective creates that internal chatter about how well you are going, or not. This chatter is more often than not negative, further stimulating the Uh Oh! response and further clouding thinking.

Another handy strategy that helps any Uh Oh! Response and calm down and allow your executive functions to regroup is to physically distance yourself from the individual or situation – the “back-off strategy”

Another emotional regulation strategy that fits here in Attentional Deployment is known as affect labeling.

You explain to Steven that affect labeling simply involves putting feelings into words. Labeling or naming the emotion that you are feeling appears to also assist in calming the amygdala, allowing you to move out of the fight/flight/freeze mode, and thereby free up energy, helping your prefrontal cortex (PFC), your executive functions for thinking, deciding, planning, a high energy user with very limited capacity, to regain its strength.

As a result, you will be able to think more clearly about the issue at hand. When used regularly, this strategy also appears to lead to long term improvements in mental and physical health, in part due to increased conscious awareness of what you are feeling, giving you a short opportunity to choose your response instead of merely reacting.  

Steven has a go at labeling how he is feeling in the here and now. “Optimistic,” he says. You then speak of emotional distancing and, from the look on his face, this resonates.  

Further strategies for Attentional Deployment.  

This next one concerns taking conscious control of your emotional state through being aware of your breathing. The first step in this strategy is to check in with your breathing. e.g. “Am holding my breath -  breathe” To test this out, breathe fast and shallow and notice how you feel; now breathe deeply and slowly and notice how you feel. Start to become aware of when you are holding your breath, most often than not it is when you are under some form of threat.

To review, the strategies under attentional deployment include:

  • Distraction.
  • Position Shifting – 3 different views of a given situation - Self Perspective, the Other Person’s      perspective, and the "fly on the wall" perspective.
  • Physical Distancing – Back-Off!
  • Labelling the emotion.
  • Breathing - focus on it with 6 counts in, 6 counts out.

Summary

So far you have you have shared with Steven the tactics involved in Situation Selection, Situation Modification and Attentional Deployment to assist him in better handling his emotions. Keeping his emotions in check will allow him to access his memory and thinking, better decision making, better planning and enable him to speak normally.

In Part 2 you will take Steven through the remainder of the model looking at cognitive change or reframing and suppression.

Best wishes in apply these strategies to your existing repetoire. Drop me an email at  success@jonpratlett.com and let me know how you go.

References 

Gordon, E., Barnett, K., Cooper, N., Tran, N. & Williams, L. 2008. AN “INTEGRATIVE NEUROSCIENCE” PLATFORM: APPLICATION TO PROFILES OF NEGATIVITY. Journal of Integrative Neuroscience,, 7, 345–366.

Gross, J. 1998. Antecedent- and Response-Focused Emotion Regulation: Divergent Consequences for Experience, Expression, and Physiology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology., 74, 224-237.

Gross, J. 2002. Emotion regulation: Affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology, 39, 281-291.

P.S. The potential benefits of applying insights from neuroscience to leadership (Neuroleadership) include improvements in thinking; learning; making more effective decisions; overcoming negativity biases; finding more creative solutions; increasing the capacity for attention to key tasks and goals; dealing more effectively with stress; having a positive attitude, optimal motivation, engagement, teamwork and outcome focus in the workplace.

To learn more about other key competencies that form the foundations of new leadership and the new leader, invite Jon to come and speak at your organization. Call 612 93694120 or email success@jonpratlett.com

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

References (59)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    If you like football, you possibly have a preferred group from the National Football League or two and have a list of players who like to have observed.
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: Potty Training
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: buyadsensesite.com
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: buyadsensesite.com
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: Stefan
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: healthy dinner
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: Hay Day Cheats
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: child custody help
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: Mn dwi lawyer
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: columbus burgers
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: gre-Edge review
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: Groupwise Inc
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: new movie
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: premium cleanse
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: Diet
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: Mass PM Reviews
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: Procellix
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: Hca Thin
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: pawn1st phoenix
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: Vivaxa review
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: facebook.com
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    Response: Dr. Rashmi Patel
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    近日,美国有一位名叫Hunter Cayll(朋友昵称Nubbs)的青年在社交网络上火了。他双手残障,却通过不断的努力成为了一名优秀的射手,他不但能准确地击中目标,还能轻松完成上膛、换弹夹等动作,速度甚至比射击初学者还快。不少网友看后称赞到,这是美国版的"励志哥"。
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap
  • Response
    The New Leader - Insights from Neuroscience 2 - Handling an Aggressive Boss - Blog - Minding the Gap

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.