How your emotions hijack your brain

Have you ever felt heated during a meeting or conversation, but not sure why? Maybe you can’t seem to think straight and make a simple decision? Or, perhaps you’ve said the wrong thing in the heat of a moment and are left with regret? Well, it could be down to emotions hijacking your brain and interfering with your brain. 

How can you overcome the overwhelm and tackle your susceptibility to sensitivity? We’ll explore emotional hijacking and how you can combat it with mindful listening.

What is emotional hijacking?

Emotional hijacking, also known as amygdala hijack, is an idea first put forward by psychologist Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence. Studies have shown that emotions can affect our ability to think clearly and react appropriately. This can have an impact on our working relationships. In fact, when we’re in stressful or high emotion situations, it affects the way our brain functions, leading to irrational thinking.

How does this affect our ability to listen?

Listening, rather than just hearing, requires our attention. Emotions can disrupt this attention. So, emotions can impact our ability to then listen effectively and think rationally.

Understanding how different emotions can impact our brain can help us to be more conscious of them in conversation. In his book How to be Heard, Julian Treasure explains how different emotions impact our ability to listen effectively and attentively.

  • Negative emotions can distract you and even cause you to filter what you hear so that it mirrors your mood.
  • On the other hand, positive emotions may cause us to listen carelessly and less analytically, without taking a step back to check that we agree with what’s being said.
  • If you’re too neutral and don’t care either way about what’s being said, this can cause you to put less energy into listening and so miss out on important information. 

Empathy is described in academic research as the ability to understand and experience another’s feelings whilst being able to distinguish them from your own. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s clear from seeing how emotions hijack our brains that we need to strike a balance to manage emotions during a conversation and not let them get in the way of listening.


The power of mindfulness and active listening

Mindfulness has been shown by studies to be an effective tool against emotional hijacking and to promote emotional regulation. 

Mindful listening techniques, like asking questions or paraphrasing what we’ve heard, can help us to subdue our emotional reaction and sharpen our focus when listening. Learning how to listen effectively means we can take steps to avoid the ‘wrong’ responses or inappropriate reactions.

Mindful listening at work

If you’re looking for a way of building better working relationships with your team and colleagues, mindful listening should be in your toolbox.

With this course, you’ll find that by practising mindfulness techniques, you’ll optimise your attention. Your focus during visual and listening tasks will improve. You’ll be able to retain more information. Your work productivity will improve.