Ever engage in a conversation at work or home where you sense the tension rise and all of a sudden, you are triggered, on the defensive, and ready to go at it?

You're not alone. These knee-jerk reactions are a normal part of life, especially when you are under the enormous pressures of leading a company, but that's not to say they don't hinder your conversations or effectiveness as a leader.

What if this inability to control our emotions is holding us back in our careers or in our relationships?

Think of some of the world's greatest leaders, and you'll find at least one big thing in common: they are good communicators. You can't expect to go far in the business world if you don't excel as a communicator. To become a master of communication, you've got to first recognize your strengths and weaknesses.

Ron Palmeri, an early stage product and markets guy who helped launch Grand Central (which was acquired by Google; now Google Voice) and OpenDNS (which was acquired by Cisco for $635 Million), did this after coming to terms with numerous communication failures with his team.

The serial entrepreneur shared with me on the Unmessable show that he found the key to effective communication when he set out on a path to better understand his own personality and skills. He used this knowledge to train himself to tame the gut reactions that were, at times, preventing him from being a truly effective communicator with others, which was ultimately impacting his ability to lead powerfully.

Mastering your reactions will help you achieve greater levels of success as you advance through different roles in your career. It helped Palmeri, and he's suggested some key steps you can take to avoid getting triggered in tense conversations and boost your effectiveness as a leader.

Learn to recognize that automatic triggered response.

The only way to neutralize your feelings is to first recognize them. Being aware of your automatic response is a huge gain, but it's also important to understanding the different aspects of your personality, and that of those around you.

Understanding how you interact with different personality types will help you determine how to navigate effective communication. Pathwise, a leadership course that mixes neuroscience, PhD-level psychology, and leadership philosophy, was particularly useful for Palmeri.

To begin, you must understand that your reactions are yours and yours alone. You can't change anyone else's behavior, but you can certainly change your own. Uncovering your biases will help you recognize when a trigger may elicit a negative reaction from you. 

Choose what path to take.

Before going any further, the minute you realize you're being triggered and having a reaction, stop. Breathe. Ask yourself, will this default reaction serve me right now and yield the best outcome?

Thinking before you speak is just common sense, but it's not always easy to stop a gut reaction. By training yourself to stop and calmly breathe before you react, you give yourself that small moment to think about how you will act, and whether that response will benefit you in the long run.

Create distance between the trigger and your emotions.

Sometimes you just need some space. Once you feel triggered and are hit with the realization that your automatic reaction is starting to kick in, there's nothing wrong with asking for a moment to gather your thoughts.

While it was once interpreted as weak to withdraw yourself from a conversation that isn't serving you well, it can be a sign of great maturity when you're able to walk away from the things that bring a cloud of negativity your way.

And in this case, your approach is everything. Something along the lines of "Something about this conversation is triggering me. Can I come back and chat in a bit?" should suffice, and it's a great way to diffuse an unpleasant situation before it even starts. There's nothing wrong with setting your own boundaries, and doing so may just lead to more effective communication for all parties involved.

Communicate authentically about what happened for you.

There is a lot of opportunity for growth from being aware of your triggers, and learning to communicate them plainly can help clear the air. Honesty really is the best policy in situations like these.

By being honest, you'll give the other party an opportunity to see where you're coming from, why you feel the way you do, and how they can be more effective in their communication with you. It's not about asking someone to tailor their approach to you, it's about offering them the opportunity to learn from your interaction, so they can improve their own communication skills.

Published on: May 30, 2019
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