How to help people cope when they’re triggered
  • leadership
  • Blog post

How to help people cope when they’re triggered

We’ve all seen it. Something happens that triggers one of your employees to anger, or sadness, or dejection. It’s not necessarily the kind of thing that would have affected you or the person’s colleagues in the same way. What matters is how it’s affected the employee in front of you, who is stewing in rage, or stammering in confusion, or breaking down in tears.

What’s happened here is that the person is “in the box.” The event, even if it seems trivial to you, has gotten them so worked up they’re incapable of rational thinking.

Thing is, we all have our triggers. This particular person isn’t alone. The question is, how can you, the manager, help them right now? There’s a three-step method that can guide you through a helpful conversation with someone who’s suffering from being in the box. The method is called Emotion, Truth, Choice, or ETC.

1. Emotion

Suppose this person has been triggered by what they perceive as a lack of respect from other members of their team. You want to help the person name the emotions they’re feeling. But first, have them take a deep breath, stand up and stretch their arms. An emotional hijacking alters us physically as well as mentally, and consciously shifting one’s physical state can reset the brain chemistry and help someone out of the box.

Now, ask them what emotions and physical sensations they’re experiencing. They might say, “I feel angry and disrespected. I feel tension in my upper body.”

Next, ask what negative self-talk they might be engaging in as a result of the situation. They might say, “I’m not good enough to be on this team,” or “People always misinterpret what I say.”

Then ask what it means if this self-talk is true. They might respond, “I have no future here,” or “I’m terrible at selling my ideas.”

2. Truth

Now help the person recalibrate by connecting to the truth — which is that they’ve had good or even excellent moments in the same environment that just triggered them. Ask them to state some of these truths. They might say, “When we were discussing a new product last year, I presented my ideas confidently and concisely, and the team supported me.”

The next step is to consider whether those negative self-talk statements were true or not. Ask, “What is the truth about these statements now that you’ve calmed down a bit?” They might say, “On reflection, I am good enough to be on the team. I’ve proven that in the past.” Or they might say, “Actually, people do follow my ideas when I present them clearly and confidently.”

3. Choice

In this final step, first ask the person what conscious choices they can make. They might say they want to go home, reflect, and try to understand the context of what happened to trigger them.

Then ask what they’ve learned and how they can use this knowledge. They might say, “I’m not good at winging it, which is what I did in today’s meeting. To be at my best, I have to prepare extensively.”

Of course, we’ve simplified this conversation and compressed it into a short amount of time but you get the idea. Using the ETC method, you’ve helped the person overcome the event that triggered them and get out of the physical and emotional box they were in. You can use it again in the future to help others, and maybe even yourself when you’ve suffered an emotional hijacking.

This blog entry is adapted from the Rapid Learning module “Coaching Someone Out of the Box: The ETC Method.” If you’re a Rapid Learning customer, you can watch the video here. If you’re not, but would like to see this video (or any of our other programs), request a demo and we’ll get you access.


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