How & Why to Be UnTriggerable in Conflict


Trigger Head

Hi All,

We’ve all been there.  Someone with whom we’re dealing gives us a look, calls us an asshole, or simply walks away in a disrespectful manner while we’re talking to them. Or some variation of dismissive, insultive, disrespectful behavior.  As a Contact Professional (e.g., Law Enforcement, Security, Parking Enforcement, etc.), it is our duty to maintain our professional behavior despite provocations from others.  That is for what our agency or organization pays us, that is, to be a professional and not an amateur.

Read this useful article by Lt. Dan Marcou on how and why to remain unprovoked by others’ behaviors, on how to be untriggerable.  Referenced in this article is Dr. George Thompson, the creator of Verbal Judo.  Dr. Thompson created Verbal Judo which, still today, stands as the premier system of how to communicate with all people and navigate through conflict when it arises.  Many systems are rooted in, or at least inspired by, his original Verbal Judo, as the concepts, principles, and theories he created were firmly based in perennial knowledge of human persuasion (namely Aristotle), have been proven in the harshest environments, and have stood the test of time.  As it’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel, it’s valuable for Contact Professionals to invest energy in becoming skilled in quality conflict communication (CONCOM) such as Dr. Thompson’s Verbal Judo or one of the several other systems which trace their roots to it (such as Surviving Verbal Conflict).

Dr. Thompson taught at length about how to not allow others to provoke you with their words.  He taught of the need to have an “emotional trigger guard.”  This is not unlike a trigger guard on a handgun in how the trigger guard mitigates against an accidental pulling of the trigger.  Developing an emotional trigger guard consists of the following:

  1. Do some personal introspection to discover (you probably already know) what is your personal hot-button.  It could be the dismissive person, the person who uses profanity, the person who acts like policies and rules apply to everyone else but them, the person who spews racist language, etc.  Identify YOUR hot-button. 
  2. Then give that person a name.  Literally, come up with a catchy name for the person who exhibits your own personal hot-button behavior.  It could be something like: “Mr. Thinks he’s always right,” or “Ms. I’m calling my attorney,” or “Mr. Don’t you know who I am,” or “Mrs. Bigot.”  Come up with a name that you commit to memory and is associated with your personal hot-button behavior.  This is not a name you would ever utter to anyone.  Rather, it’s for your own internal pre-planning.  
  3. Now visualize how you respond to that person with an appropriate, calm, in-control-of-yourself response.  Noting who they are when you encounter this person during professional or personal life (the name you memorized will come to mind), you remain far more in control of yourself.  Remaining focused on your organization’s professional mission, address the person.  Whenever this behavior now happens to you in your professional (or personal) life, you now possess a trained, pre-planned, and practiced response that will effectively help you in responding in a far calmer and unprovoked manner.  This tactic helps you to become far more mindful of your hot-buttons so that, when they actually happen in real life, you have a prepared mind.

Always visualize toward a positive outcome where you remain in control of yourself and achieve your professional goals.  You will become more emotionally resilient by doing this drill.  Make no mistake; this is a major and effective training drill to help you remain rationally detached to the behavior of difficult people, and thus impervious to being emotionally triggered.  Incorporate this brief mental training drill into your regular CONCOM training regimen.

Note in Lt. Dan Marcou’s article the passage:

One thing that may help is to watch how artfully suspects choose their words. You will not only be educated by it, but you may also be entertained by it – if, of course, you understand the motives behind it. You will also see they are willfully attempting to trigger a deliberate overreaction.

It is indeed true that difficult people artfully choose, with intention, words to push our buttons and get under our skin in their attempt to make us lose our cool.  Tell me, then, why should we not also artfully choose our response and words to remain under control from their verbal assault?  Tell me why we should not also plan our response to such attempts at provocation?

We should indeed artfully plan our response, choose our words (literally picking them and practicing them beforehand in training).  We should artfully develop a pre-planned and practiced response to all threats (especially including the most common threats we encounter daily, that is, words).  Don’t allow others to rope-a-dope you (provoking you to over-react by calling you names and other tricks of emotional hijacking).  By staying in control of ourselves, we:

  • Remain physically safer
  • Remain emotionally untriggered, emotionally imperturbable, thus mitigating unhealthy hyper-vigilance
  • Remain legally safer by refusing the provide the difficult person any damning evidence that s/he can post on social media, give to an attorney, share with you boss, etc.
  • Remain in control of ourselves, physically, emotionally, and otherwise so that, for instance, we are not triggered into unreasonable, unsafe, or undefendable behaviors (e.g., excessive use of force)
  • Remain calmer and thus refuse to take that person (in our heads) home with us after work.  By refusing to allow others to inappropriately occupy space in our minds, we remain saner, less worried and, ultimately, happier.

As the author notes, it’s highly valuable for Contact Professionals to include, as part of standard training, drills in bystander mobilization and ethical intervention.  We should include scenarios in which we train low, medium, and high behavioral over-rides.  Specifically, this includes pre-planned and practiced cue-words where I can intervene with a colleague who is losing it.  I literally step in and take over in a manner which causes no one to lose face and which, literally, can save the life (or career) of my colleague and the reputation of my organization (think in terms of minimizing media and legal damages).  We simply cannot stand by and watch our colleagues fail.  Hopefully, they will do the same for us.  Remember, though, that none of us will likely do it unless we make this a standard part of a high-quality training program.

Think of the immense value that we can derive in not only our professional lives, but our personal lives as well, by developing the kind of thick skin where name-calling or other provoking behavior has no effect on us.  Get untriggerable!


2 thoughts on “How & Why to Be UnTriggerable in Conflict

  1. Robert, thank you for this post and referenced article. Useful points that are applicable even in day to day situations…like jumping the queue, road etiquette.

    I particularly like these lines
    “If you respond out of anger rather than necessity they win! If you respond out of necessity with intensity, you win!”

    Liked by 1 person

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