One Easy Way To React Like A Champ

Talk Less, Smile More.

If you haven’t heard the soundtrack or seen the show, I suggest you get your hands on the Hamilton music. What an incredible display of American history and hip hop.

I’m not ruining anything in saying that Aaron Burr famously advises a young Alexander Hamilton to “talk less, smile more.” It’s a theme Alexander comes back to near the end of the show, and it’s a life hack worth exploring.

First, let me give you some context.

A few weeks ago I was speaking to 1,100 F.B.I. employees about “dialing down the drama.” The timing was either fortunate or ironic… the verdict is still out.

My talk was the product of several weeks of MasterMind discussions and reading, and I was focused on Marshall Goldsmith’s Triggers, Judith Glaser’s Conversational Intelligence, and The Art of Living by Epictetus.

All of that could boil down to three points:

(1) There are things in your control and things not in your control. Most people spend most of their time worrying and obsessing over things not in their control. (Epictetus)

(2) The environment is rigged against you, and you are constantly being bombarded by stimuli (both from outside and from within) that want to trigger you in some way or another. It could be a good trigger, but most triggers are less than good. (Marshall)

(3) All words and conversations create electrochemical reactions. A conversation could be causing all kinds of internal processes, including the release of neurotransmitters and hormones like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, cortisol, and adrenaline. (Judy)

What I’m saying is that all day long you’re being triggered, and words have a powerful impact on your brain chemistry. You know that you would be happier if you worried about things only in your control, but suddenly something that you thought was in your control (your reaction), no longer is!

Huge problem, and it was a huge problem for these 1,100 FBI employees too. They were all ears.

You see, sometimes in life there is no “do-over.” If you have a bad reaction, someone gets emotionally hurt, and perhaps worse.

We expect do-overs because of the love and affection we’ve gotten from our families and friends. We are told nowadays to fail fast and often, to fail forward…well in relationships, and especially work relationships, sometimes that’s completely WRONG.

Sure we are going to fail and perhaps fail forward, but take the time to get it right if you can. If you don’t take the time to do this, you could really mess things up. People tend not to forget as quickly as you think they do, so don’t throw away your shot…

The best way to not throw away your shot, to not get triggered, to remain in control and be a master of your brain chemistry….is to….(drum roll please)….Talk Less, Smile More!

That’s right. When your Amygdala is hijacked, the very best thing you can do is to breathe, take a break, “go to the balcony” and look down at yourself, picture cute puppies or whatever you need in order to “snap out of it.” Your subconscious brain goes about 300,000x faster than your logical brain, so any pause you can take will give your logic a chance to get back into the fight.

And if it’s appropriate, go ahead and smile, even if it’s a tiny one. Have some fun, because emotion is contagious. Happy people tend to have less conflict and be more collaborative, and that’s what we’re going for.

During those critical conversations and those key career moments, take a pause; speak less and smile more. Don’t throw away your shot.

[In a future post I’ll dive into active listening as another strategy for buying a couple of seconds if you’re really under the gun].

If you’ve read this far, I want to hear from you. Please drop me a comment and share your experience.

Vik Kapoor, Esq., ACC is a leadership coach for millennials (www.extra-m.com), a professor of law and a professional dispute resolver (Ombuds) for the federal government. His work has been featured in the Washington Post and Harvard Business Review.

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