Latest From the Lab: Managing Workplace Threat


A recent article in the NeuroLeadership Journal discusses strategies to understand and mitigate social threat responses in the workplace.

Key Points:

  • Our brains are fine-tuned to detect social threats.
  • NLI recently published a journal article, “Managing Threat Response in the Workplace,” that provides an in-depth discussion of social threats in the workplace and how to mitigate them.
  • Social threats can be managed, depending on threat level, through emotion labeling, reappraisal, a shared language, or removing yourself from the situation.

We’ve all found ourselves in the midst of a situation at work that seemed to escalate out of control. Perhaps it was unexpected tension during a meeting or a subtle exchange of words over a minor disagreement. In these situations of heightened emotions ignited by the uncertainty of social interactions (did he just roll his eyes?), our reactions can be derailed by strong threat responses. This happens because our brains are finely tuned to detect potential threats, whether they’re physical or social. It’s a survival mechanism that has evolved over millions of years, helping us navigate the complexities of our environment. In the modern workplace, these threat responses can be triggered by social cues, perceived slights, or even the fear of being excluded from a group.

In our fast-paced and interconnected professional world, it’s crucial to understand that our brain operates with a single system for detecting threats, regardless of whether their origin is physical or social. We need strategies to identify, manage, and mitigate these threat responses so we can gain control over threatening situations and avoid undue stress or regrettable decisions. To that end, the NeuroLeadership Institute dug deeply into this topic in its latest journal article, “Managing Threat Response in the Workplace.” In this paper, we explain the neuroscience, physiology, and behavior of the threat response and provide tools to help mitigate and prevent detrimental threat responses in the workplace.

We give advice on how to determine the severity of your own threat response and engage in mitigation strategies at each level, including emotion labeling and reappraisal, or when it’s best to remove yourself from the situation. We also discuss the benefits of using a shared language to discuss and defuse socially threatening situations. A shared language can improve communication across teams, helping members identify threats they’re feeling now or that could arise in future situations. A shared language also helps focus the team on mitigation strategies while gaining a better understanding of their colleagues’ perspectives. Finally, we discuss the organizational benefits of scaling these strategies at your organization, including having a more psychologically safe culture and more effective collaboration.

The journey into the depths of our brain’s threat response system unveils the intricate ways we navigate social threats in the workplace. Insights from this article help us proactively implement strategies to manage and mitigate threat responses, fostering a workplace culture that thrives on collaboration, innovation, and psychological safety.

Author: NeuroLeadership Institute

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