What Do You Do When You Feel Your Hackles Rising?

Talent Plus Talent Plus

March 07, 2017 Leadership

One of my colleagues brought the following question to a meeting of executive coaches in which we share emerging challenges and best practices. This question came from an individual he’s coaching.

“Sometimes during meetings, I find my ‘fight or flight’ response ramping up. I feel attacked by someone who is arguing or disagreeing with me, and then I respond in a way that others perceive as defensive or aggressive. I feel this is non-productive. How can I handle these situations better?”


I suggested he coach this individual to decide ahead of time that he will be committed to responding differently in these situations, then to use that “hackles-rising” feeling as a stimulus to initiate this sequence of responses:

  1. Breathe – Seriously…inhale, exhale all the way and inhale again before any words come out of your mouth (without audibly sighing). While you’re breathing do these things to reframe your thinking:
    1. Depersonalize – Don’t perceive this interaction as a personal attack. It may only be a personal attack in your own mind.
    2. Empathize – Try to put yourself behind the other person’s eyes before you respond. Consider how that person is feeling and how their feelings (especially feelings of fear) might be fueling whatever is coming at you from them.
  2. Ask – Let the first thing that comes out of your mouth be a question. Use questions as a way to help everyone shift gears. Carefully monitor your tone of voice and inflection. Ideally, aim your questions at understanding the other person’s perspective. Questions that start with the word “why” are often the best kinds for rooting out underlying issues, but in the wrong tone they have the potential to put the other person on the defensive. That said, asking a question … even if it’s just, “Tell me more,” or “Help me understand”… instead of defending your own position right out of the gate is a great first step.
  3. Listen – Really listen to what comes next. Don’t use the time to think of your next question or to compose your defense. Listen. See what you hear. See if it doesn’t help you feel more in control, more in a learning mode, and less in a fight or flight mode.

What about you? What do you do when you experience that “fight or flight” feeling? What works for you? Do you think the suggestion above would help?

Latest Posts: Blog

Individual taking a Talent Plus Talent Online Assessment

Blog June 20, 2024

Integrating Talent Plus Assessments with Your Applicant Tracking System (ATS) 

Learn how integrating Talent Plus assessments into your ATS can streamline your talent acquisition process and improve candidate volume.

Fran Westfall Fran Westfall

Read More
Mother with two kids on school break working at home.

Blog June 03, 2024

How Workplaces Can Support Working Parents During Summer Break

Summer breaks rarely match up with work schedules, affecting working parents. Leaders must adapt & accommodate or risk losing good employees.

Zack Robertson Zack Robertson

Read More
Employee who has great well-being at work.

Blog May 09, 2024

Well-Being, Burnout and How To Invest in Your Employees

Boost employee engagement and well-being with these four strategies. Learn the keys to fostering a dynamic and flourishing workplace culture.

Zack Robertson Zack Robertson

Read More
Happy individual at work

Blog May 03, 2024

Unlock Your Potential With the Talent Card

Unlock your potential with the Talent Card. Discover the benefits of understanding your talents and learn examples of how to leverage them.

Talent Plus Talent Plus

Read More
Diverse employees congratulate man on business achievements, excellent work results or promotion.

Blog May 02, 2024

DEIB Strategies for Fair Promotion Processes 

Maribel Cruz explores the impact of unbiased evaluations and standardized promotion processes within organizations.

Maribel Cruz Maribel Cruz

Read More