Shut Up or Shout Out? The Physiological Reaction | Women in Tech Coaching Circle Series

Tara Rhodes

May 3, 2018

Someone in your workplace says something that throws you off guard. Could be an offhand remark. Could be a blatant use of language against you. Could be they didn’t even know it would offend you, it’s just that it brought up memories of other things. The result is you didn’t know what to say and you froze from shock or disbelief (a physiological reaction). Or possibly you dug your heels in and defended your position. Perhaps you even tried to diffuse the situation by figuring out how you could find some common ground, or by brushing it off. The thing is, now you’re beating yourself up because you thought you should have been stronger, louder, quieter, less emotional, fill in the blank. Or you thought of the best comeback…a week later, and you’re mad that you didn’t say that (or anything!) at the time.

This third workshop that we held entitled “Shut up or shout out?” was designed to fight just that. Our intention always stems from our hearts – we want to support our attendees by giving them tools that empower them to respond in a way that honours who they are. As we dove into the research that supported our content, we evolved our intention even more – we are extremely aware of the injustices that are happening in the workplace, and we are attempting to start a wave of change.

This group of ladies came with different ideas of outcomes. Some wanted to not let their emotions get the best of them in charged conversations. Others wanted to get in touch with why the things that bothered them did. Some wanted to get support from other women. But all the participants wanted to be able to take control when they are in a situation where they don’t feel in control.

Easy right?

First we asked everyone to think of a situation they were in where their reaction was not favourable, and asked them to identify the value that was being stepped on. As coaches, we always bring things back to your values. Chances are, if you are feeling an intense emotion, something about your values is not being honoured. Ask yourself, what was being disrespected? Some people mentioned integrity, others the importance of their culture, others, their value of knowledge and experience. We would recommend that if you have never done work to identify your values, start! Here is a really great article about our first talk on the Bro Culture, and some great tools to help you start the process of figuring them out.

Next, we asked everyone to identify the emotion that showed up because of the value(s) stepped on. Anger? Shock? Sadness? Frustration? Disappointment? These are all really good examples that can help you start to identify what we asked everyone to evaluate next – physiology. That is to say, what happens in your body when you felt this?

We have all heard the phrase “Fight or Flight”. Physiology is your body’s response to the event where your value was threatened. This is the primal instinct of what happens – your neo cortex where you can make all of your logical decisions shuts down and your “lizard brain” kicks in to keep you safe. We really wanted people to feel this one, as it’s the part most people want to skip through. It’s uncomfortable and potentially scary and emotional. The thing is, when you are able to slow down and evaluate it you can start to see the patterns and choose what you would like to do in the future.

Next, you actually choose what you want to feel and respond in the future. We asked everyone to make a conscious choice of what they wanted to do the next time they found themselves in a similar situation. Then, the most important thing, the thing that you can do to help support yourself when faced with this: create space to compose yourself and respond the way you want. This could look like a phrase, an action you can take, a calming motion, a question. For example, some people suggested using humour, like “Woah, do I need get HR involved here?” Others suggested taking a drink of water or going to get a drink of water. Someone suggested taking a breath. Others suggested just saying that you feeling uncomfortable and calling the elephant into the room. The point is, you need to develop something to create space to feel like you can do what you need to feel safe and heard.

Now if you’re reading this and you are already feeling overwhelmed about how to control what shows up when you are angry or upset or shocked in a meeting (or otherwise), please remember to be easy on yourself. We are trying to undo DECADES of behaviour. If you haven’t done this before, you are just becoming conscious of your default response. This will take work to change, and it will not happen overnight.

We really do want to support everyone, so if there is anything here that you need more clarification on, please do not hesitate to reach out. Our next Coaching Circle will be diving into Imposter Syndrome and how to combat feelings of inadequacy at work. We hope you’ll join us!

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