How Your Hot Buttons Work (and what you can do about them)

Here’s a promise. If you take the time to read this article you will have a far greater understanding of what is causing much of the tension in the world today. You will also have a strategy for managing that tension within your sphere of influence.

First, let’s define the source of tension, people’s hot buttons being pushed. So what are these hot buttons? Hot buttons are triggered responses to something that has been perceived.

What do we mean by “responses to something that has been perceived”?

Perceptions, in a short workable definition, are a result of beliefs and environmental conditioning.

Beliefs are formed by everyone, over time, starting at a very young age, based on observations and experiences. These observations and experiences are, over time, more and more made to fit within people’s expanding beliefs system.

Environmental conditioning is similar, in that it defines the boundaries that we operate in because of what we observe and grow to consider as normal in our surroundings. Think of generational behaviors and attitudes within families, organizations, or even regions.

All of these things mentioned so far are part of people’s individual thrive and survive strategies. This is the basis for judgments, and all people make judgments. Further, as judgments are part of our survival strategies, we tend not to question them. In fact, we tend to look for reasons to justify our judgments.

That is the essence of what everyone is dealing with every day. Look at the tension and stress that is being expressed all around you. Sometimes with words, other times with body language, facial expressions, actions, and very often in other more subtle ways.

In addition, the greater the stress, fatigue, disruption, or uncertainty, the more easily reactionary escalations can occur. In a social, or group, culture where escalation is seen as normal, or at least understandable, the tension builds, and distances between people and groups grow.

This is unfortunate given how easy these reactionary behaviours are to manage. Why is it easy? Because people’s basic human nature is to support and cooperate with each other, it goes back to basic survival skills. Not that long ago it was much more obvious that we had to depend on others in our group to enhance our chances of thriving and surviving.

Consider this example. Professional team sports as a model for winning, beneficial, or positive business or social interactions and outcomes. In all team sports there is competition in pursuit of reward. Therefore the culture is adversarial by definition at both individual and team levels. However, if an adversarial culture exists within the sports team they are less likely to succeed. Thriving and surviving, or winning, in team sports requires interdependence and support between team members. The same is true in business and in society at large.

So the question is, how can you build a healthy communication culture within your team or group so that you will be more competitive in pursuit of the best possible outcomes?

What is important to realize is that the seemingly overwhelming complexity of how people react to each other is the result of very basic principles. It is also important to realize that human nature gravitates toward teamwork when the culture, or environment, encourages it.

The goal is to inform yourself and others about how to recognize hot buttons (or triggers) and learn how to manage them. This is greatly assisted by leadership reinforcing that a healthy culture is a priority and unhealthy behaviour will be seen as a risk. The natural result will be a shift towards a healthy culture driven by an understanding of human behavior and empowered with tools and strategies to manage interactions so that tensions can be avoided and teamwork can flourish.

Here’s the very good news. All of this is much easier to learn than you might imagine. Once you have the tools to manage your reactions in a way that invites others to join you in moving toward better outcomes the natural result grows towards a team-oriented environment, or culture. It’s surprisingly easy. People don’t need a deep understanding of the entire body of knowledge that explains how instinctual and emotional reactions affect us. All that’s really needed is a decent working knowledge of the concepts behind people’s hot buttons and an environment that places priority on the value of teamwork.

Learning to identify and manage hot buttons, both in yourself and in others, changes everything.

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