By now, more people in the US — nay, the world — have watched the video of Will Smith punching Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars than the Best Picture winner has actually watched. It was Coda, by the way, if you’re curious. Before I get into “he should or shouldn’t have hit someone,” you may already know that I’ve been a huge fan of Will for years. My firm works with him and his agency, and for a long time I’ve been saying that he could be our next president. I still think this is possible – we are all human after all.
If you haven’t seen the video of the fateful night, let’s take a look at the basics. The apparent “trigger” for the blow was a joke Chris Rock made about Jada Pinkett Smith’s lack of hair. Jada is Will Smith’s wife, if you didn’t already know. She has a rare medical condition known as alopecia and Chris compared her haircut to GI Jane (shoutout to Demi Moore!). Will responded by walking onstage and slapping Chris Rock in front of the entire theater and global audience. After the hit, he also yelled at Chris Rock and dropped two “F-bombs.”
That night our team Slack channel exploded. There are many beliefs and values involved in this type of situation. There isn’t really a right or wrong answer.
However, there are things anyone can do when activated. It’s hard to make the right decision when you’re under stress, so I’m using a method I learned in a course with emotional intelligence expert Dr. JP Pawliw-Fry, bestselling author of the book Performance Under Pressure. You may have heard of this method. It’s called SOS, which stands for Stop, Oxygenate, and Seek Information.
When triggered, your first impulse is to act. Instead: stop. If someone sends you an email that sends you the wrong way or says something you think is rude in a meeting, don’t go with your first impulse.
When you are in a stressful situation, you undergo what is called amygdala highjack. The amygdala is the part of the brain that deals with our fight-or-flight survival state. Basically, for the next 18 minutes, while cortisol is coursing through your body, you can’t think rationally.
In my class with Pawliw-Fry, I learned that people make two choices in pressure situations. We avoid or make a mess of it. Making a mess is when Will Smith slaps Chris Rock on national television. Or it could be when you write an angry email back to your co-worker, or your co-worker yells at your boss during the company meeting.
So stop before you make a mess. Don’t send that angry email. Save it to your draft folder instead. Don’t yell back at your boss. Instead, tell people to drink water or go to the toilet. Leave the triggering situation for a moment – or 18 moments, if you have the time.
If Will Smith had practiced the SOS method, he could have walked to the lobby to clear his head.
The next thing to do in a triggering situation is to get some fresh air. Fresh air dilutes the stress hormone cortisol, which is currently coursing through your bloodstream and making it difficult to think clearly. Take a few deep breaths. Deep breathing is great for reducing the effects of stress and also helps you focus in the moment.
If Will Smith followed the method, he could have focused on his breathing in the lobby by taking a few deep, slow breaths.
Looking for information
Finally, in a triggering situation, you want to seek information. The information search usually happens after 18 minutes – when you’re calm and don’t feel like it’s a fight or flight situation. I’ve found that every time I give myself at least eighteen minutes or more away from a triggering situation, I end up not sending a damning email. I never seem to come back from a breath of fresh air and decide, yes, punching someone in the face is the best possible idea.
Once time has passed, we can use our whole brain to analyze a situation. What I learned from my course is that in stressful situations we often act on limited information. We immediately feel threatened and don’t stop to ask if someone really wanted to threaten or harass us.
Coming back to the Oscar night incident with our friend, Will. When he came back from his spare time in the lobby, he could have made a few notes on his phone to understand the context. Later, he could have contacted Chris Rock to ask if Chris had written the joke. After all, many of the jokes at the Oscars were written by other comedic writers. Or he could have asked Chris if he knew Jada had alopecia. Perhaps Chris had explained his side of the situation and the two could have become better friends. Or maybe there was even more to it than first appeared. Either way, Will could have avoided making a mess and handled the situation differently. He may have still hit Chris, but privately rather than publicly.
The fact is that we are all triggered. It takes practice to deal with difficult situations. We don’t perform at our best under stress. However, if you (or Will, if you’re reading this) take anything from this article about the SOS method, don’t forget to practice the first S. Stop. Wait 18 minutes before doing anything. You could avoid losing a job, customer, or friend — or having to apologize to the entire nation in the press. Just sayin’.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not Inc.com’s.
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