THE BLOG
06/30/2014 12:35 pm ET Updated Aug 30, 2014

Who Pushes Your Buttons?

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We all have sensitivities to the behaviors of others and it can be helpful to look below the surface of that dynamic. Our automatic response is generally to blame and judge the other person and then to attempt to get them to change their behavior. Why? Because we perceive their behavior to be the source of our irritation or upset. We want to decrease or eliminate our distress and the obvious solution seems to be to get them to stop doing what irritates us.

But wait -- while this might be an effective short-term solution, it doesn't deal with the fact that we have the hot button in the first place. Usually these sensitivities point to something much deeper in our psyche that has little to do with the situation at hand.

Here's an example. I tend to get extremely irritated by the "customer service" and/or technical support telephone experience. I find myself talking back at the mechanical voice that tells me how important my call is to the company and I get increasingly irritated by the call routing process of "press 1 for this and 2 for that." There never seems to be an option for what I am calling about and I just want to talk to a human being who cares about my concern and can help me. By the time I finally reach someone, I'm often so upset that I feel the need to tell them so before getting down to business which simply starts us off on the wrong foot. Granted, in my perfect world, customer service and technical support would be efficient and effective in responding to the customer's needs in a timely fashion. But, in reality they seldom are. So, of what use is it for me to get upset? Why don't I just take a deep breath when I need to call for help, accept the reality that it will take more time than I would like, and be grateful that someone will eventually help me? Can you even begin to imagine how hard I am on myself when I am inefficient or ineffective? Inside of me, there is this mini-kingdom of inner torment that generates great billowing clouds of negativity when I encounter inefficiency and ineffectiveness in myself and others. When someone honks on that button, guess what? It's not their fault! It's simply a reminder to me that I need to get to work desensitizing myself in that particular area.

So, what are your buttons? Ask yourself: Are you a completely mellow-mannered person or do you have hot spots that spew anger when provoked? Does it happen when you are impatient? When someone cuts you off driving? When someone repeatedly interrupts or talks over you? When someone is unkind, inconsiderate, mean, petty, or small-minded? What sets you off?

Next time someone pushes your button, look inward instead of outward for the key to restoring your inner peace. Even if you can't stop yourself from reacting in the moment, take the time after the fact to explore your inner territory. What assumptions are you making about how people or the world should be?

When I explored my issues with customer service experiences, I discovered that I really did believe that customer service systems and representatives should always be efficient and effective. So, the problem I experienced was not that they lacked these characteristics, but that I was unwilling to accept this reality. We live in a very imperfect world where human behavior is concerned. When we rage against the imperfections, we add more negativity to the mix. I am not suggesting that we simply play victim to the injustices and imperfections we experience with each other. Rather, we need to first and foremost be responsible and accountable for our own contribution -- to our own reactions. If we are not inclined to raise public awareness about the issue at hand by proposing solutions and seeking momentum to bring about change, then our job is to tend our own garden. For my little drama this means reminding myself that the experience is likely to be more time-consuming than I would like and choosing to be as efficient and courteous as I can be to improve my chances of having a better experience. I also, put the phone on speaker and play computer solitaire while I wait -- that helps a lot.

So, next time someone pushes your button, consider trying the following techniques to restore your inner peace:

  • Count to 10 before you react.
  • If you must react, make sure your response is productive and does not add fuel to the fire.
  • Choose to focus inwardly on your own consciousness rather than outwardly on the other person and their behavior.
  • Ask yourself what beliefs or assumptions you hold that are in conflict with your experience and seek a more reality-based perspective.
  • Remind yourself that you are an active participant/contributor to the quality of experience you are having.
  • Seek to master skills in dealing with those parts of your experience that aren't to your liking in a way that serves the highest good of all concerned.

What have you done that has worked effectively when someone has pushed your button? Please share your ideas below for the benefit of us all.

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