Could we close the country’s most critical skills gap by Taking 90?
22 August 2018
You are on the tube, you are painfully elbowed at the end of long hot day, by a stranger you’ve already stereotyped as uncaring/irresponsible.
Anger is triggered and you have three options
Blame someone, dish out a ‘punishment’ by shouting or howling furiously.
Become numb, store the resentment and perhaps release it later on a train guard, your partner, the cat, in a passive aggressive email to a co-worker, or on yourself.
Take 90 seconds. Once your ‘slow thinking brain’ has kicked in, deploy empathy (what can they see that I can’t?), do a track down (what need of mine has been breached? Why am I so triggered?) and then find a way forward
The option you choose depends on many variables; how resilient (or not tired) you feel, how connected you feel towards the person, how much you care about the issue, how skilled you are at navigating conflict (i.e. your emotional literacy) and often how much time you have.
Breaking free from ‘fight or flight’
As Daniel Kahneman’s book ‘Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow’ lays out, when life was a survival struggle our primitive ‘lizard’ brain’s fight (blame) or flight (numb/ignore) response was appropriate — life saving even. Now though this evolutionary overhang on dealing with anger or ‘threat’ it is often unhelpful and not to be trusted. The science however shows that it takes just 90 seconds for anger neurotransmitters to leave our body. Taking 90 seconds before responding gets us out of the reactive, primitive r zone and gives our slower thinking, rational, relational brain time to kick in.
As groups of people become increasingly diverse, enabling groundbreaking innovation and progress, our emotional literacy, which helps us to navigate differences of opinion or behavior without aggression, becomes as mission critical as our verbal and numeric literacy.
The powerful pause button
Yet we are struggling. As the world speeds up, the expectation on us to respond quickly mounts, tempting us more frequently to take action during that first chemically hijacked 90-second window. The increased pace of life can also lead to feeling overwhelmed, meaning we struggle to practice the Olympianlevels of discipline needed to routinely ride out those first intoxicating 90 seconds.
How can we ‘learn’ emotional literacy?
Firstly, we need great role modelling when it comes to negotiating difference without aggression — as Caitlin Moran says ‘you can’t be, what you can’t see’. A challenge given the current set up of the two power houses of public influence. The institutional, dominated by a judicial and political system which by its nature often role-models polarised arguments and right/wrong blaming; and the online, which presents real-time abusive responses on social media and the proliferation and thus normalisation of violent, confrontational, sensationalist content.
Secondly, we need to act to avoid burnout in our daily life; it drives us into the low-empathy primitive brain response. Again it’s very difficult, in a gamified digital world, to turn off the short term dopamine hits that over stimulate by switching your phone to black and white (boring), turning off notifications (I won’t feel loved), only checking your emails twice a day (I’m needed), saying no (people won’t like me) and so on.
Thirdly, we need to start using the phrase ‘I’m taking 90’ whenever anger is triggered and give permission for others to do so too. Now, here we can help. We are starting a movement to seed the phrase ‘taking 90′ into culture. Support us by teaching it to your children, role-modeling it in your workplaces, suggesting it to your friends — and see if it can do for violence and conflict what the phrase ‘designated driver’ did for drink driving.
90 seconds can feel like a long time – but if it becomes a social norm to take it and give it — the impact on collaboration, cohesion and harnessing different opinions for a greater good could be long lasting indeed.
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