Do You Own Your Conflict ‘Hot Buttons’?

What Are Conflict Hot Buttons Mary Rafferty Consensus Mediation

Conflict ‘Hot Buttons’ are what specific behaviours and actions by other people trigger you is an essential step to good conflict management:

  • Do you find there are people in your life that irritate or annoy you and while you have a vague idea as to why that is, you haven’t ever really thought about it?
  • Do you tend to spend more time ‘giving out’ about the list of things they do/have done that bug you rather than thinking about what exactly or why it is this bothers you?
  • Do you sometimes react outwardly to someone but wonder afterwards what it was that annoyed you so much?

If you do, then you are like most of us, we tend to focus our energy on that other person and find reasons to support the ‘grrr’ feeling we have about them rather than to reflect on ourselves. But one of the ways that can help us cope better both internally (how it affects us) and externally in how we react to them is to become aware of what it is exactly about their behaviours or attitude that bothers us and the reasons that underpin this.

What are the ‘hot buttons’ that are particularly triggering?

In terms of research in this area, the Centre for Conflict Dynamics in Florida, U.S. has found that there are 9 behaviours/attitudes or ‘hot buttons’ that are found to be particularly triggering for people in the workplace. These are: 

  • unreliablity,
  • overly analytical,
  • unappreciative,
  • aloof,
  • micro-managing,
  • self-centered, 
  • abrasive,
  • untrustworthy
  • hostile   

Your hot button may of course be none of these or perhaps even a few of them (none of them are particularly appealing characteristics anyhow!) although it’s worth thinking further to identify which one would lead you into reacting back as opposed to just being mildly irritating.

Why does that particular behaviour bother you?

So the first step in what I’ve termed ‘owning your hot buttons’ is to clearly identify what the exact behaviour or attitude is that bothers you. But knowing ‘aloofness’ bugs you is not enough.
Next, it’s important to try and figure out why exactly that particular behaviour bothers you – what is it that’s important to you that this behaviour gets at or challenges. Getting underneath the hot button for yourself is a key part of having ‘ownership’ on it and being better able to manage when it gets pushed.

One way to help you figure out why it’s important to you is to ask yourself: “What comes up for me when I meet this behaviour?” and then take note of the thoughts, feelings – both physical and emotional, interpretations etc. that you make about that person doing this.

So let’s take for example someone whose behaviour I would term ‘aloof’.

For me, reflecting on what this attitude brings up for me, I would say that aloofness would give me a sense that the person doesn’t want to connect with me and isn’t interested in me personally. By considering this, I now have more information about myself – that connection with others is important to me and that this person is violating a value I hold dear as opposed to just being someone I complain about. I also realise that I have made a couple of assumptions, neither of which might be correct – they don’t want to connect with me, they aren’t interested in me.

The process of doing this exercise has however taken me out of my stream of negative and blame-focused thinking about this person and brought me to a better understanding of my own values and a realisation that perhaps I should check out my assumptions rather than just believe them all.

I feel calmer and more objective about how I view them and myself, rather than being caught up in the irritation or annoyance that the behaviour provoked. I am therefore in a better place to manage any potential reaction I might have the next time I meet their aloofness.

I also have a slightly softer attitude towards it, now that I’ve thought it through and see that it’s about my values being different to theirs perhaps rather than them being a ‘person who annoys me’.

The other interesting thing to reflect on from the list of unwelcome traits and behaviours above is which, if any of them, do you think that you might possess and might trigger others?

Try out the hot buttons exercise and let me know how you get on. I’d also like to hear your opinion of the ‘hot buttons’ list that the research identified…does it ring true for you, when you think about the kind of behaviours in your workplace that seem to upset people?

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