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  • Herb Cohen

How to Manage Reactivity in the Workplace

Updated: Jan 17, 2020

We all have triggers: things that upset us, annoy us, cause us to feel angry, nervous or confused. Reacting emotionally to these triggers in the workplace is very common and not in our best interest. Although we may wish our circumstances were different, the things that trigger reactivity may or may not change. However, this is of little consequence. If, over time, we learn how to better manage our emotions, navigating our day-to-day life will be much easier.

We cannot make good decisions when we are angry or dealing with other difficult emotions. One of the debilitating things people can do to themselves is believe they are powerless to change the way they respond to emotional triggers. Today’s post outlines a two-step process to manage reactivity at work.

1. The first step is to improve your ability to choose. An easy way to remember this step is by “Obeying the Traffic Light”.

When we feel anxiety, we tend to react automatically. Before allowing an uncontrolled and potentially damaging response to surface, do the following:

RED = STOP! (Do not let your automatic reaction kick in.)

YELLOW = CAUTION! (Think of being OK with not acting on your desire.)

GREEN = GO! (Make an intentional controlled response.)

2. The second step is to MASTER the moment between a negative stimulus or event and your response using the following guidelines:

Master how important the situation is to you on a scale of 1-5.

Assess your initial reaction. (frustration, anger, fear etc.)

See the stimulus/response model in your mind.

Think about a proactive response, focusing on a desired outcome.

Engage or exit: use your proactive response or disengage.

Review your performance and results.

This process is best explained in a real-life example:

One of my clients is a senior manager who was tasked with collaborating with another senior manager on a project. They previously worked together and found it very difficult. My client described her co-worker as critical and sometimes condescending. After talking with her boss, it was recommended that they work it out. She realized that it was up to her to figure out what to do.

Together, helped her learn the process of MASTER. We went step by step until she was ready to put this into practice. At our next session she told me that when she was triggered, she stepped out of the room and went through the steps.

She determined that:

(M) She rated the situation a 3.

(A) Her initial reaction was frustration.

(S) She was able to focus on “Obeying The Traffic Light”.

(T) She decided to talk to her co-worker without emotional reactivity.

(E) She expressed to her co-worker that she didn’t think she was deliberately being critical but that it impacted her negatively. They decided that this warranted further discussion.

(R) She felt really good about how she responded.

It doesn’t always go this well, especially in the beginning. Each time you use this process, it's important to think of it as a practice event. Over time, it will get easier and easier.

Gaining control of our emotions in the workplace and personal life builds self-confidence and, at the same time, engenders trust and respect from those around us.

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