Fight or flight

Somewhere way back when, I know I wrote about the propensity some people have to do the exact opposite of the action that will actually help them. When they feel threatened, they get all prickly and uncooperative when they should really use the opportunity to prove their worth.

I see this a lot in business. When people think their job is in jeopardy, for example, they hunker down and guard their territory with bared teeth. They get nasty and uncooperative instead of going above and beyond to show that they’re flexible, progressive, and important. Looking from the outside in, it all seems so clear.

But I’m only human.

I recently found myself in the throes of destroying a relationship that is precious to me. When faced with changing circumstances, I assumed a fight-or-flight posture and landed heavily on the “fight” part. Rather than adapting to those circumstances, I lashed out and almost erased any chance of a continued partnership. If I couldn’t have it my way, I was going to make everyone miserable.

I know better. I really do.

The main problem with my approach is that it almost caused me to lose a friend. Even though I had no control over the circumstances that drove my reaction, I did have control over my choice to adapt–and initially chose not to. I behaved in such an ugly way that I got dangerously close to not being able to maintain any kind of relationship at all, let alone being able to redefine our friendship. I gave my friend reasons to avoid me rather than reasons to want to be around me.

Besides that, I’m part of the everyone I mentioned. I was making myself miserable, too.

Thankfully, I gradually saw the light. I put aside my hurt and frustration and realized there was another part to the fight-or-flight proposition: unite.

In threatening circumstances, you get to choose your response. You can:

  1. Fight. Hold your ground and defend your territory. Just make sure you really have something to defend. If the rules have changed and your territory doesn’t exist (job, relationship, etc.), then fighting really only hurts you.
  2. Flight. Get out while the getting is good. Sometimes it makes sense to move on, but don’t do it simply because you’re scared. You may miss a huge learning opportunity–and a chance to grow.
  3. Unite. Change sometimes feels threatening, to some people more than others. There are times, however, when even though the New Way may look big and scary, the very best thing to do is to join the team and dive in head first. Look your challenge in the face and make friends with it.

Only you can make that choice. You have to evaluate your circumstances and decide the best way to proceed. Just be sure you’re actually doing that, that you’re ACTING, not REACTING. And don’t forget to consider option #3.

P.S. Never, ever underestimate the raw power of feelings. They will cloud these decisions, so be ready for them. And when you’re not the person choosing fight, flight, or unite, use that knowledge to be understanding.

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