Know Your Red Flag Feelings…and Don’t React!

by | Sep 26, 2016

frustrated man

My computer crashed…again. I was right in the middle of writing a big proposal.  And just like that, I become the snippy, curt version of Shelley instead of the attentive, polite Shelley. I’ve been triggered.

This is not a defect of character – it’s something that happens to all of us because that’s the way we are designed.  Something or someone hits on our hot button, trips our trigger or in some other way creates reactivity in us. This is a common occurrence and one that can be detrimental to productivity and relationships. In order to manage our reactivity in a triggered situation, it helps to recognize the emotion and then take steps to manage it.

Today we’ll talk about how feelings serve as emotional red flags for your behavior.

You see, your nervous system is a sophisticated sensing network. Over time, your brain became hard-wired to know situations or events that run counter to what it believes is best for you.  Your body, via the nervous system, picks up the warning signs – that person who annoys you, the situation that punches your hot buttons, the comment that sets you off – and launches a red alert. Quick as a wink, your body hijacks your brain with an old story. Left unchecked, your brain will generate a knee-jerk reaction that is unlikely to benefit your career.  Effective leaders learn to recognize when their feelings are waving a red flag.

Leaders develop the skill to recognize those feelings that a hot-button issue creates.  The ability to notice the feeling BEFORE they react is a key leadership skill. It allows them to slow down the knee-jerk reaction and rebalance the nervous system so that the cognitive brain has time to catch up.  One executive recently told me that when a situation gets on her nerves and she’s tempted to react, she tells herself, “Wait until Tuesday.” If it’s still upsetting on Tuesday, she’ll take action but in many instances by the time Tuesday rolls around, she’s calmed down and has found a different, calmer, more productive approach.

Try this.  Think about a situation that really tripped your trigger. Imagine being back in that situation. Do you remember how it felt?  The feeling happens first. It’s your red flag.  The next time, use one of these techniques to help your nervous system calm down. Relax your face – the area around your eyes and jaw, breathe deeply, exhale fully or count to ten. These skills allow your body’s reaction to slow down enough that you can engage the logic part of your brain.

Pay attention to the red flags from your feelings. Notice them and consider the insights they bring, unravel their message and put them to work to create more effective leadership.



  1. Welcome to the Leadership Development Carnival: October 2016 | Leadership & Change Magazine - […] Row shares Know Your Red Flag Feelings, and Don’t React!. Shelley Row reminds us of those times when our “hot button”…

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Author Byline: Founder and CEO of Blue Fjord Leaders, Shelley Row P.E. CSP, was named by Inc. Magazine as one of the top 100 leadership speakers. Professional engineer and former senior executive, she was recognized as one of the best minds in advanced traffic management systems.

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