The Lion in the Room

A lion walks into your living room. What do you do? Do you prepare to fight it? Do you flee the scene? Do you freeze in fright? What is your reaction? If a lion bounded into your living room, your emotions would be overwhelmed. You wouldn’t be able to think clearly. You would be forced to resort to fighting, fleeing, or freezing. These are the only choices your brain would give.

Now think about the conflict you have had with your business rival, associate, or family member. How did you react then? Did you want to fight? Did you stomp out or sullenly hide behind the computer for days? Or did you freeze – your mind going blank, having no idea what to do? These are the usual human responses when dealing with a volatile or dangerous situation. But none of these responses resolve the problem – and you need a resolution.

As a professional mediator, I witness people who are in severe conflict in the middle of a lawsuit and try to help them resolve their disputes. For example, a woman has a serious illness and six months before she dies, she re-writes her will. Her children disagree as to whether the new will is valid. Everyone is highly opinionated and emotional. The oldest brother is ready to punch his younger brother. One sister can’t even come into the room and look her brother in the eye. The youngest sister keeps repeating the same thing over and over because she has no idea what to do.

Even if you can’t relate to this specific circumstance, can you relate to the extreme emotions that are present? Have you experienced situations where your emotions overwhelm your ability to think clearly? Perhaps you discover that your business rival stole information about your new product line, beat you to marketing it, and is controlling the market . . . Or you find out that your business associate is stealing from you. . . . Or you find out that your brother is trying to turn your mother against you for something you didn’t even do. What should you do when this happens to you?

These situations are extreme. Your brain will initially go into fight, fright, flight, or freeze mode. Each person has a range of emotional responses, and the more emotional you are in a given situation, the more your ability to think clearly will be impaired.

Before entering into a potentially difficult conversation with your business rival, associate, or family member, be sure that you have calmed down so that your brain can focus on resolving the conflict, not just reacting emotionally. Time may help you to do this. You also may be able to “talk yourself down” when you realize that those emotions are hurting your response. And don’t be afraid to enlist a third party to help keep emotions under control and reduce confusion. Adequate preparation will enable you to say what you need to say in a way that successfully begins addressing the problem.

Emotions are important. However, out-of-control emotions overwhelm the brain, preventing it from thinking clearly. If you have an important situation that needs resolution, make sure your brain is fully engaged to help you through those critical conversations.