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Triggers: How We Act Under Pressure

Everyone acts differently under pressure. Luckily there is a simple formula that can give us awareness of how we act so as to understand ourselves and others more compassionately. Great news hey!

Triggers happen in 2 stages:

1) We are under pressure; the stress is mounting, and this is our first stage default pattern

2) The pressure has mounted so much that we can’t deal with a single thing more, taking us to our second stage where we are in our absolutely most stressed state. Think here ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’

Phase 1

When we are under pressure it is because there is some fear about what might happen.

Think about a time when you are under pressure. How do you act?

Below are a list of behaviours, pick the ONE that is most true for you.  

Avoids: “I retreat and internalise when things get stressful”

Action: I hide away when I am overwhelmed. I internalise my emotions, I procrastinate, I become quiet and I overthink.

Fear: I’m scared of being wrong and I like to be right.

Authoritative: “I tell people what to do. I aggressively give orders”

Action: I become louder, more direct and authoritarian, I am dominant and overbearing.

Fear: I’m scared of losing and I like to win.

Acquiesce: “I do what I am told, I say yes”

Action: I become passive, I agree even if I don’t want to, I’m compliant and I believe if I do not go with the flow, I will make things worse.

Fear: I’m scared of not being liked.

Attack: “I attack people instead of the issue”

Action: I make personal attacks on people, I am very emotional, I am cutting with my words, I am loud and create drama.

Fear: I’m scared of being ignored and I like recognition.

Phase 2

As shown in the image above, when the pressure gets completely overwhelming, we go into our second phase. This will happen much less frequently and is associated with feeling completely helpless or when we are triggered by something of extremely high value. For example:

Avoiders become Authoritarians

Liam is a calm and reliable man. He is an accountant who has a deadline for an extremely important client and he is feeling the pressure due to the short notice. He has dealt with this alone and has avoided communicating his feelings with anyone else in his team about the pressure. Once the deadline was met, his manager came back with some negative feedback about his style of communication and the lack of it. Between the deadline, other clients and the criticism, Liam goes from avoiding into his second phase, authoritarian. He reacts with aggressively pushing tasks back onto his manager, raising his voice and demanding support. This is very out of character for Liam and creates a huge amount of internal stress.

Authoritarians become Avoider

Sarah is a direct, controlling and fast paced manager at a hotel. The hotel is having an inspection and everyone is feeling the pressure. Sarah is demanding a lot from her staff and is being extremely autocratic, wanting everything to be done really fast due to the fear of not doing the best job she can. A complaint is sent to reception about the state of someone’s room and Sarah is feeling maddened and frustrated about her staff not being able to do what she asks from them. This leads her to her second phase, avoiding. She is now exhausted, she lacks trust in her team and goes inwards deciding to do all the jobs herself and internalise her emotions. This is a feeling of complete helplessness for Sarah.  

Acquiesce becomes Attacker

Lucy is a bubbly and friendly part of a marketing team. The team have been working on the company’s strategy for the last 3 months, the deadline is approaching fast and the team are not ready. Lucy feels under pressure so has been compliant with her team to avoid conflict or cause anyone any more stress.During the penultimate strategy meeting, the Marketing Manager is not happy with the results and tells Lucy they are disappointed with her performance which moves Lucy into her second phase, attacking. Lucy begins to attack with words like ‘you are completely unsupportive,’ ‘you have let the team down too’ and ‘you’ve not dealt with this strategy effectively’. This is completely out of character for Lucy and genuinely creates real stress for her, she gets angry followed by upset and she is disconnected from her team.

Attacker becomes Acquiesce

Josh is a successful company owner who is very demanding of his team. He is in a board meeting where there is a difficult discussion about a firing a member of staff. Josh is under pressure as he hired this member of staff against the advice of another board member and so he is attacking their points arguing that they don’t understand that particular part of the business as well as he does.  Other members of the board also start to criticize Josh’s decision until everyone agrees that Josh made the wrong call, making him feel completely isolated. At this point Josh feels completely exacerbated and hurt by the lack of support he has been shown, which leads him to his second phase, acquiesce. Now Josh will be quiet, he will comply with the team and go with the decision, which is very out of character. He feels hugely let down and unsupported which will impact his relationship with his board and create a lack of trust.

Which is your default pattern?  Can you recognise it? How can you ask for support in phase one to avoid going into phase two?  In what ways can you look after yourself when you feeling pressure, in order to relieve it?

Being triggered is completely normal, it happens to everyone. When we understand what our patterns are, and why they show up (what is the fear behind our reaction) we can treat ourselves with more compassion. We can look after our own needs and we can start to be more empathetic to those around us when they are reactive.

Next time you feel triggered, why not reflect on how you may catch yourself earlier or respond differently?

If you’d like to develop your self-awareness and understand your leadership style, Lea_p’s Gauge Leadership Lab is a 12 week course that incorporates 3 full day workshops, a powerful 360 leadership assessment and 12 weekly assignments to amplify your leadership.

*Adaptedfrom the iLEAD Model.


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