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A micro-managing boss, a subordinate who can’t be counted on, a peer who is totally self-centered … do any of these make you angry? If so, they may be pushing your “hot buttons.”

Hot buttons are behaviors in others that anger us and can cause us to react destructively. They are at the heart of many conflicts and can add emotional fuel to the fire.

The interesting thing is that people have very different hot buttons. Say that someone on a team acts abrasively. It may upset some teammates and not bother others at all.

Understanding your own hot buttons can help prevent you from being thrown off balance when you encounter someone who pushes them. You still may not like the other person’s behavior, but you won’t get caught off guard.

Hot buttons also give us a glimpse into our values. When another person’s actions upsets us, it is often because it violates our expectations about how people should behave. These expectations can arise from early life experiences. We learn to detect threats to our well being, and our brains constantly scan the environment for them.

When we encounter behaviors that push our buttons, our fight or flight system is engaged. Emotions build and they can lead to our use of destructive conflict responses. As we become more aware of our hot buttons, we can also learn to lessen their intensity. A first step is reflecting on why particular hot buttons are hot for you.

Another step involves considering alternative reasons why someone may behave in a particular way. An abrasive peer who puts others down may be an ego maniac. Alternatively, he might be very insecure and uses put-downs to cover up his own insecurity. The behavior itself may still not be pleasant, but how you view the situation may affect the intensity of your emotional response to it.

By regulating emotional responses, we are better able to make conscious choices to use constructive behaviors when engaging conflict. If you want to handle conflict better, a good start is learning more about your hot buttons.

The Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP) assessment instrument measures a set of nine different hot buttons typically encountered in the workplace. For more information about the CDP, please email cdp@eckerd.edu or call 888-359-9906.