Have you ever encountered one of life’s emotional button pushers?
Picture this scene. You have a meeting with the upwardly mobile and ambitious manager of the finance department. They regard you as internal competition in the promotion stakes. You and your team really need their green light for project X and you are not looking forward to the meeting. You have prepped thoroughly, and all your figures are spot on, but you never seem to do well at these meetings. Within ten minutes of the meeting starting, they have wound you up tighter than a drum. You are stressed and about to blow your top and they are more relaxed and smiling than when it started.
How about this? Despite your best efforts, there is that one relative who has you arguing loudly and getting emotionally upset within minutes of getting to any family event. Every upcoming family event is potentially miserable, yet they always seem upbeat and happy about the whole situation.
I could go on with the in-store ranting and raving, road rage, relationship communication disasters, bullying (often masked as light-hearted and/or harmless banter), emotional blackmail, and whatever else you might have. Be aware that you have just had your button(s) pushed by one of life’s emotional button pushers.
What is an emotional button?
I cover emotional triggers and how emotionally intelligent people can deal with them in my EI Tip 1 post. These are generally external events or interpersonal situations which trigger you to react in automatic and habitual ways. The emotional trigger is in fact an emotional button. Generally, pressing a button causes something to happen. The emotional triggers or buttons are not necessarily intentionally initiated by other people – they often just happen.
There are however a great many deliberate, intentional, and expert emotional button pushers out there. Be aware that they have you in their sights as someone whose buttons can be pushed to get whatever reaction they want to get and seemingly whenever they want to get it.
This tip explores the phenomenon of emotional button pushers, how to identify them and how to become immune to their machinations. We will examine the emotional button pusher concept through the lens of emotional intelligence.
BTW – if you prefer an audio version of this, I have included one just for you at the end of this article.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
The simplest definition for Emotional Intelligence (EI) is how well you recognise, understand, and manage your own emotions whilst recognising, understanding, and working with the emotions of others.
Well, your emotions help shape and direct your thoughts and actions. The enhanced recognition, understanding, and management gained by improving your EI gives you more ability to effectively manage yourself and your life. Gaining more emotional intelligence allows you to gain deeper knowledge of who you are and what drives you. Enhanced EI enables you to communicate more effectively with others and build stronger relationships. The potential benefits are legion. Quite simply, more EI equals a more confident and in control you.
What do emotional button pushers do?
Emotional button pushers are very skilled and highly emotionally intelligent people. Emotional intelligence as a concept is in fact neutral. Read my post, “Emotional intelligence is neutral” for more on EI neutrality. For some reason the emotional button pusher has chosen to use their emotional intelligence skills and abilities for amusement, cruelty, personal gain, or some other outcome, at the expense of the target. If your buttons are being pushed, then you are the target.
Skilled emotional button pushers are adept at noticing reactions in others. Some experiment constantly to find weaknesses which they can exploit immediately or at some later date. They can be very patient and often relentless. These people can range from simply annoying all the way through to positively toxic and dangerous.
Identify and disable your buttons yourself
The best way forward in my experience is to take full and total control of your own buttons or emotional triggers before anyone else can take advantage of them and, by extension, you.
First identify the trigger then replace the unwanted response with a wanted one when it gets triggered. Learn to recognise as many of your emotional triggers as you can and become skilled at spotting the early warning signs. When you notice (or someone else does) run your new more beneficial sequence. You will be replacing one habit with another. This takes time and effort but is well worth it.
You will remove the button. No button means the emotional button pushers have no means of launching an attack upon you. You are fully in control. You are therefore more emotionally intelligent.
Go ahead and read my EI Tip 1 post on handling emotional triggers for a more in-depth analysis.
Guilty until proven innocent
I am not trying to create paranoia here, but it does pay you to be always on your guard for the emotional button pushers in your life.
When you meet any stranger, I recommend erring toward a “guilty until proven innocent” stance. Turn your full attention to their language patterns and your response to those patterns.
If someone, either accidentally or on purpose, pushes an emotional button in some way, then turn the surprise into a learning experience. Every day is a day in school.
Do not instantly get mad or angry with yourself or the other person. Once the event has passed, reflect on what triggered you and begin working on isolating and disabling that button so it will not have such an effect next time around.
Start to analyse the interactions between you and the known “emotional button pushers” in your life. Assume they will not change even if you asked or begged them. Take full ownership and make the changes you need to gain full control.
The out and out psychopath
There is one personality type which has taken the manipulation of others to a very unpleasant extreme. You would do well to be aware of these potentially very dangerous emotional button pushers. These people are psychopaths or sociopaths. Hopefully you will never encounter one, but the general advice is to stay well out of their way.
Rather than make this a hugely long article, I have put together a short but detailed pdf guide on the topic of “The Workplace Psychopath” which you can sign-up for and download for free.
I can also highly recommend reading Jon Ronson’s excellent book “The Psychopath Test”.
That is all for this one
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In the meantime, you might also like to check out these related articles:
Emotional Intelligence is Vital
Emotional intelligence is neutral
Monitor your emotions EI Tip 3
PS Do you want to maximise your emotional self-control? Here is a link to my very useful and also totally FREE Rapid Emotional State Management Technique audio file which you can download, listen to, and then learn to manage your emotional states with confidence. You’ll also join my monthly newsletter community. In the unlikely event that you don’t like it, an unsubscribe option is available.
PPS Here is the audio version of this article if you would prefer to listen.