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How to Manage Your Emotional Hot Buttons

I had just returned from a rare weekend away with friends when I walked into my house to find a mess–clothes all over the floor, living room pillows scattered everywhere, papers littering the table and floor, and about fifty tiny staples stuck in the carpet. I felt my frustration rising as my calm, relaxing weekend faded away by the minute. This is a familiar scene in my house, since I have three kids, ages eight and under. Even though they have a playroom full of toys, they love to play with my things-namely office supplies and the pillows on our couches.

I like order. I think things to be the way I left them when I left them. I like the pillows to stay on the couch. This has been a hot button with me, these pillows, because every night before I go to bed, I find myself annoyed by having to put the pillows back where they belong. Having three young kids, things don’t always go how I want them to go. This has been a huge adjustment for someone who is orderly, on time, and structured. Because kids are not orderly, on time, or structured. I used to react really negatively when my kids would mess up my neat and orderly house. The past few years, I have been working on adjusting my mindset around how we live; setting new expectations for the reality of our daily life. I remind myself regularly that kids are kids, and that getting angry or upset every time I find the pillows on the floor will only make me more miserable, not them. I am working on embracing the chaos, even though it goes against my values and triggers my hot buttons.

Hot buttons. These are situations, events, and sometimes people, who trigger a negative emotional reaction in you. We all have them. And being aware of your hot buttons is an important piece of effectively managing your emotions.

You have undoubtedly heard a lot of talk about emotional intelligence and how important it is for successful leadership. Despite what most people think, emotional intelligence is not just about getting along well with people. That is certainly important, but it’s deeper than that. Emotional intelligence has many elements-how we feel about ourselves, how we interact and connect with others, how we make decisions that involve emotions, how we manage stress and change, and even how we feel about life overall.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to notice your own emotions and the emotions of others, understand why you are feeling how you feel, and consciously choosing your actions and behaviors, even in the face of emotion. This is a skill that is not always easy, and becoming familiar with your hot buttons or triggers can be a great starting point for understanding yourself and increasing your self-awareness, thereby increasing your emotional intelligence.

Which brings me back to the pillows. One of my hot buttons is when things are out of order. This is not to say that my house, my office, and my life are always neat and orderly. On the contrary, there are many times when I feel off balance because my space isn’t how I want it. I’ve noticed that when I am feeling overwhelmed, it is usually because things are out of order-my desk is messy, my schedule is overloaded, or the house is in disarray. Knowing this about myself has been integral in helping me to manage my emotions around it. Instead of becoming angry, I have learned to pause, take a breath, and identify why I am feeling the way I am feeling. I have learned to respond rather than react. As my husband and kids can attest, this has been a big step toward a happier and a (semi) peaceful household.

Below are some questions to ask yourself to bring awareness to your own hot buttons or triggers:

  • What makes me angry, or brings out a negative emotional reaction in me?
  • What irritates me at work?
  • What makes me crazy/frustrated/annoyed?

Perhaps your hot button is not pillows on the floor. Maybe it’s when someone talks over you, or doesn’t listen, or makes a lot of mistakes, or makes excuses, or when your schedule is packed full of meetings and kids’ activities.

Becoming conscious of your hot buttons allows you to build your self-awareness and actively work on handling your reaction when you feel triggered. Managing your emotions is an important part of being an effective and successful leader. This skill creates the ability to approach situations more mindfully and calmly, connect with people on a deeper level, and collaborate more effectively. Noticing other people’s emotions helps you to navigate challenging conversations and be purposeful in responding.

Increasing your emotional intelligence allows you to bring your best self to each situation–to approach your employees, your boss, your colleagues, and even your kids-with a long-term perspective that builds and strengthens relationships.

Over the next week, whenever you have a strong negative reaction, whether it be frustration, anger, or annoyance take note of the situation.

  • What specifically happened?
  • What were you feeling in that situation?
  • How did you respond?
  • Is this a pattern that shows up in other areas of your life?

Taking note of your triggers and hot buttons is the first step to learning how to manage them better.

Now please excuse me while I pick up the pillows off the floor. For the fifth time today.

Laurie Maddalena

About Laurie Maddalena

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