How to Handle Stress Situations Better Than Will Smith



By now more people in the US–nay, the world–have watched the video where Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars, than actually viewed the Best Picture winner. It was Coda, by the way, if you’re curious. Before I get into “should he or shouldn’t he have slapped someone,” you may already know 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 said he could be our next President. I still think this is possible–we’re all human, after all.  

If you haven’t seen the video of the ill-fated night, let’s review the basics. The apparent “trigger” for the slap was a joke Chris Rock made about Jada Pinkett Smith’s lack of hair. Jada is Will Smith’s wife, if you didn’t know. She has a rare medical condition known as alopecia and Chris compared her hair style to G.I. Jane (shoutout to Demi Moore!). Will responded by walking on stage and slapping Chris Rock in front of the entire theater and global audience. After the slap, he also shouted at Chris Rock and dropped two “F bombs.”  

That night, our team Slack channel blew up. There are a lot of views and values involved in this type of situation. There really is not a right or wrong answer.

However, there are things everyone can do when triggered. It’s hard to make the right decision when you’re under stress, so I use a method I learned from taking a class with emotional intelligence expert, Dr. JP Pawliw-Fry, the bestselling author of the book Performance Under Pressure. You may have heard of this method. It’s called S.O.S, which stands for Stop, Oxygenate, and Seek Information.

Stop

When you are triggered, your first impulse is to act. Instead: stop. If someone sends you an email that rubs you the wrong way or says something you feel is rude in a meeting–don’t go with your first impulse. 

When you’re in a stressful situation, you undergo what is called an amygdala highjack. The amygdala is the part of the brain that is concerned with our survival state of fight or flight. Basically, for the next 18 minutes, while cortisol is flowing through your body, you won’t be able to think rationally. 

In my class with Pawliw-Fry, I learned people make two choices in pressure situations. We either avoid or make a mess. Making a mess is when Will Smith slaps Chris Rock on national television. Or it could be when you write back an angry email to your coworker, or your colleague yells at your boss at the company meeting. 

So before you make a mess, stop. Don’t send that angry email. Save it in your draft folder instead. Don’t yell back at your boss. Instead, tell people you need to get a drink of water or use the restroom. 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 out into the lobby to clear his head.

Oxygenate

The next thing you need to do in a triggering situation is to get some fresh air. Fresh air dilutes the stress hormone cortisol, which is currently flowing through your bloodstream and making it difficult to think straight. Take a few deep breaths. Deep breaths are great for reducing the effects of stress and also helps center you in the moment.

If Will Smith was following the method, he could have concentrated on his breathing in the lobby, taking a few deep, slow breaths.

Seek Information

Finally, in a triggering situation, you want to seek information. Seeking information usually happens after 18 minutes–when you’re calm and not feeling like it’s a fight or flight situation. I’ve found any time I’ve given myself at least eighteen minutes or more away from a triggering situation, I don’t end up sending a scathing email. I never seem to come back from getting some fresh air and decide, yes, slapping someone in the face is the best possible idea.

Once time has passed, we’re able to use our entire brain to analyze a situation. What I learned from my course is in stressful situations, we often act on limited information. We immediately feel threatened and don’t stop to ask if someone really intended to threaten or aggravate us.

Coming back to the Oscar night incident with our pal, Will. Once he came back from his time out in the lobby, he could have made a few notes on his phone to understand the context. Later, he could have reached out to Chris Rock to ask if Chris wrote the joke. After all, many jokes at the Oscars are scripted by other comedy writers. Or, he could have asked Chris if he was aware Jada had alopecia. Maybe Chris would have explained his side of the situation and the two could have become better friends. Or maybe there was even more going on than met the eye. Either way, Will could have avoided making a mess, and handled the situation differently. He may still have slapped Chris, but privately instead of publicly.

The fact is, we all get triggered. It takes practice to handle tough 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 on the SOS method, remember to practice the first S. Stop. Wait 18 minutes before you do anything. You might stop yourself from losing a job, client, or friend–or having to apologize in the press to the entire nation. Just sayin’.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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