A complaint women leaders sometimes receive is they can be too “emotional”, which can feel unfair and untrue. Emotions such as anxiety, frustration and sadness are at an all time high, and leaders are asking how can I be authentic AND user-friendly while engaging with others?  

To answer this, let’s start with neuroscience. The oldest “lizard” part of our brain is responsible for emotions, triggered by any stimuli it experiences as a threat, occurring multiple times everyday, with most people living in a constant threat response during the Pandemic. 

Threats can be as simple as someone cutting you off in traffic, your boss wanting to discuss your performance review, or your family’s groaning about tonight’s dinner. Anytime you feel threatened, your brain triggers one of three responses: FIGHT (get defensive, aggressive, justify), FLIGHT (change the subject, say yes, agree even if you don’t) or FREEZE (paralysis, don’t answer the phone, ignore).

When the brain gets “hijacked” into one of the responses, it shuts down the rational thinking part of your brain. That is why you walk out of a meeting and wonder why you didn’t say the most important point, why you draw a blank when asked a question you know, or why you respond with strong emotion you regret.

The solution to return out of hijack? Deep breaths. Research shows that breathing deeply (ideally in through your nose, out through your mouth) three times can reduce this hijack effect by 80% in less than one minute. Go ahead – take a deep breath now. Feel yourself soften, relax and come back into yourself. Maybe picking up your coffee cup is a reminder to pause.

The next time you are in a difficult situation, the pause will allow you to respond calmly so you can express yourself authentically while protecting your relationships and maintaining healthy communication.

Gisele Garcia Shelley, Executive Coach, Nyack, New York www.theglenbrookgroup.com