Human’s possess an instinctive threat system – our internal alarm which warns us to danger by creating feelings of anxiety, fear or aversion in order to motivate us to action. It triggers our Fight-Flight response and it’s the reason you are able to read this page right now; in pre-history, a countless number of your direct ancestors successfully deployed the system in all manner of dangerous confrontations, perhaps during an unexpected encounter with a Sabre Tooth Tiger while out for a stroll with the family.
Here’s the thing though. It doesn’t necessarily need a moment of danger to trigger it.
Because this instinctive behaviour is hard wired, we are biased towards processing threat based information. It captures our attention more powerfully than positive information.
We are subconsciously vigilant at all times. It permeates our interactions with family, friends, colleagues, team-mates and our bosses. For some of us, the smallest criticism of our actions can get the adrenalin running with its attendant bodily reactions – the increased heart rate, sweating, anxiety and even outright hostility to the other person in the conversation.
If you think back to your last performance review; your memory of it won’t be the superlatives used to describe your good bits – it’s the ‘areas for improvement’ that stick in the mind. This negative bias triggers threat-based emotions such as fear or anger, which then motivate us to protect ourselves – that may result, after thoughtful consideration and a deep breath or two, in an attempt to improve on our weaknesses. Or slamming a fist onto the red button to launch angry missiles at our perceived tormentors.
It’s the reason a certain world leader so readily and damagingly takes to Twitter. For him, it’s the social media version of Defcon 1. Such is the volume of criticism his instinctive threat system may well be in overdrive.
In step six of I Don’t Agree, I speak to a counselling psychologist to learn how we can learn to control our Instinctive Threat System; to improve our lives at work, at home and in the community. Get the critically acclaimed book here…
“If you think you don’t like conflict, you’ll love this, getting good at disagreeing isn’t just useful, it’s essential and Michael shows you how.” –Sam Conniff, best selling author ‘Be More Pirate’ and ‘How To Be More Pirate’