Avoid Plebgate this Year

Read this and it may save your reputation, career and finances.

In this new year, I would ask you to spare a thought for Andrew Mitchell MP who, in 2012, was at the centre of Plebgate.

The forty-five second outburst against PC Toby Rowland at the entrance to Downing Street is reported to have damaged Mitchell’s career, reputation and probably his financial position. It also tarnished the reputation of the Metropolitan Police with five officers sacked and one sentenced to a year in jail for misconduct. That was quite a result for a momentary “rush of blood to the head”.

But, I say spare a thought for him because this wasn’t just a rush of blood to the head but a surge of prehistoric chemicals that hijacked his brain, leading to an immediate, uncontrolled response termed the “amygdala hijack”.

cavemanThe amygdala hijack happens in response to a threat. It could be a real threat, such as the near miss while out driving but it might also be a perceived threat, which in our modern world might be an attack on our self-esteem.

Once triggered, the amygdala, sends emergency signals to the hippocampus which in turn floods the brain with chemicals leading to an emotional response that overpowers our rational thinking within a millisecond, and then BANG you are ready to fight sabre tooth tigers.

The amygdala’s response is a fantastic, instantaneous survival mechanism but within our normal environment it can lead to irrational and destructive behaviour.

An attack provokes a strong emotional response, has sudden onset, can be triggered by very minor incidents. Those who have succumbed to an attack usually feel deeply embarrassed and ashamed, even if it is covered by bravado.

Anyone who has witnessed an amygdala hijack is shocked because the response is so disproportionate to the trigger which might be as trivial as a faulty printer, irritating toaster, noisy work colleague or rule bound police man. All round, it’s a bad thing unless you managed to capture it on your iPhone.

I have attached a link to a YouTube compilation of amygdala attacks – you will have to make your own minds up about which ones were staged. As you look through them, its worth noting the looks on the faces of those around the individual concerned and ask yourself how they felt about them afterwards.

So now you know what happens, here are the five points that could save your reputation, career and finances:

Who is susceptible to an amygdala hijack? All of us. Those with a volatile temperament will be more vulnerable.

When is it likely to occur? It could occur at any time but we are particularly vulnerable when we are highly motivated, emotional, tired, stressed or under the influence of alcohol. Inanimate objects and petty bureaucracy seem to be prominent triggers.

How can it be prevented? Firstly be aware that it can happen. Recognise when you are close to boiling point. The good news is that it only takes 6 seconds for the chemicals to dissipate so count to 10, breath deeply to help oxygenate the brain and try to think of something else. It may sound childish but is worth it to save your career, reputation and finances. If you are prone to outbursts do some work to develop your own self-control and emotional intelligence.

What can be done if it occurs? The temptation will be to storm off in a face saving exit. The right thing to do is to give yourself and those around you time to calm down, apologise and then set about making amends. Be aware that your outburst may set off similar responses in other people.

What do I do if I am near someone who has a hijack? Recognise it for what it is. Give the individual room to let it pass. Avoid engaging with the individual – telling them to calm down will only pour petrol on the fire, as will getting out the iPhone. Give them the time and opportunity to rehabilitate themselves afterwards – it’s just a temporary chemical imbalance. Above all, do not succumb to your own amygdala hijack.

It’s worth looking at the video of Meatloaf’s outburst to see the right and wrong way of dealing with an brain hijack.
So all the very best to you for 2015 and, please, do your utmost to avoid your own Plebgate this year.

To learn more about emotional intelligence contact Kay McMahon or Jeremy Marchant.

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