Avoid the Niagara Falls Reaction

How many times have you been in a situation where you’re in the midst of a discussion and suddenly after one comment you find yourself going over the top?

American politics and organizational life seem to be dominated by such trigger phrases. They occur in our personal lives as well. There’s always one phrase that elicits a reflexive reaction that makes you frustrated.

The challenge is not to overreact when you encounter these trigger phrases. Smart leaders make adjustments, but they don’t overreact. Often, discussions are destroyed by emotional reactions.

I was recently having a discussion with one of my neighbors. We were casually sitting by a creek on a fairly lackadaisical weekend and I, being the somewhat liby academic, made reference to the strength of socialized medicine.

Now I was only trying to make a point about collective responsibility, but the word ‘socialized’ elicited a reaction and a series of generalizations which took the discussion nowhere. After the generalizations we went straight to accusations.

I notice that if I say the names George Bush or Richard Nixon to one of my colleagues with a sociology degree–I’m  likely to incite an over-the-top reaction. One colleague of mine went as far as to say, George Bush was a lousy cheerleader at Yale…and so ended our conversation on Iraq.

In a discussion about Richard Nixon, my friend was only able to give the man credit for his trip to China and, begrudgingly, give him posthumous credit for the ultimate exercise in socialism; price fixing.

Globalization. Gun control. Free market. Guantanamo. Welfare. Free trade. Fracking. Nuclear waste. Single provider. Immigration. These expressions are all up there with Nixon and Bush and, in some sections, Obama isn’t far behind. Point in fact, there are trigger words that trigger overreactions that stifle discussion.

There are expressions that send us all over Niagara Falls in a barrel. If you don’t know what the Niagara Falls reaction is take a few minutes, grab your kids, and enjoy the video below.

The Niagara Falls reaction does not advance the debate; it stifles the debate. And though not as crude as Lou Costello’s cellmate, it is equally stifling and should be avoided by all. Have a nice weekend.