The runaway train

… once ignited, a knee-jerk reaction has the momentum of a runaway train.

Peter Bregman

How difficult it is to resist the urge to react. Whenever something activates one of our triggers, we begin to respond… and build momentum that makes it difficult to stop.

I’ve seen a lot of knee-jerk reactions recently, and I’ve reacted that way myself more often than I like to admit.

What are the warning signs/indicators?

Well, each of us will have our own triggers, but some common characteristics of (knee) jerk behaviour include:

  • Self-righteous indignation at the behaviour of another;
  • As a manager, interfering with work that someone else is entirely capable of doing;
  • Magnifying the impact of minor issues;
  • Jumping straight into problem-fixing mode, without a balanced assessment of the situation.

I’m sure you can add lots of other examples.

What can we do to avoid over-reactions?

  • Start by knowing your own triggers.
  • Then, watch for them occurring.
  • Always identify when you’re in problem-solving mode, and ask if that’s the best use of your skills and talents.
  • Think about how your reaction feels for those on the receiving end.
  • Embrace the power of pause.

Count how often you witness a runaway train this week, and be honest about how often you’re the engineer of that locomotive.


2 thoughts on “The runaway train

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