Often times, situations in the workplace can trigger us to respond in a very angry, distressed or  “less-than-rational” way. You may have a co-worker or boss who regularly sabotages your work or undermines your decisions. It may be a manager who instructs you to do one thing, then swears she told you to do something else. It may be a subordinate who regularly lies to the upper management team.

Whatever the case, you can feel your blood pressure rising, your heartbeat racing and you respond in a way that feels out of control and irrational.  This can be very frustrating because you may leave the situation feeling:

  1. I didn’t accomplish what I intended.
  2.  I may have made the situation worse.
  3.  I know better, why do I continue to get reeled in by this individual?

Nevertheless, there are strategies to diffuse these situations which will allow you to respond more effectively, rationally, and in control.

 Identify and write down your personal triggers.

The situations in the workplace that cause us to respond with our emotional self rather than our rational self are unique to each individual. A subordinate who lies to you may cause you to “go over the edge”, but may not effect a co-worker in the same way. The first step in the process of managing our emotions is to identify the situations that trigger you, then write them down. Often times, the act of simply acknowledging the triggers and writing down them, is enough to diffuse them then next time you are presented with the same situation. Here are a few questions to help you uncover emotional triggers:

  1.  Who are the people that tend to trigger me?
  2.  What specific things do they say or do that causes me to respond emotionally rather than rationally?
  3.  After I leave an emotionally charged situation and look back, can I identify the specific action that triggered the conversation to go downhill?
  4.  Do I notice any patterns in the situations that tend to trigger me?

Identifying the trigger is the first step in getting back control.


Once you identify a triggering person and situation, prepare a strategy for responding differently. For example, if you know that an employee typically lies about completing a task and this situation triggers you, ask him or her to simply show you evidence that the task was completed rather than engaging in a debate. If an individual has a pattern of denying that he or she agreed to something, send informal emails confirming your conversations. If co-workers are sabotaging your work, touch base with your team leader or manager on a regular basis to discuss your role in the project or work performed.

Email can be a very effective way to diffuse explosive conversations or meetings.


If you feel that the situation is beginning to escalate, the best strategy is to simply disengage and leave the situation. There are a number of effective phrases that you can use to accomplish this,

“Excuse me but I need to stop this conversation for now, and we can address this issue later.”

“Lets table this discussion for now because I need to think about the best way to proceed.”

Or even, “I’m sorry that we need to stop right now because I have to make an important phone call.”

Use any phrase that allows you to walk away, calm down, re-group, and re-connect with your rational, problem-solving side.

Many of us are faced with workplace situations that cause us to ” go over the edge”.  The most effective managers have these diffusion strategies at their fingertips, ready to use when situations trigger their emotional side.


{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Patricia Gardiner June 25, 2019, 3:25 am

    Excellent article, very ‘readable’ and concise.


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