How to Avoid Freezing in Hot Moments


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We’ve all experienced a hot moment.

It happens when someone says something inappropriate, makes an off-color joke, or commits a micro-aggression. Whether you’re the target or a bystander, you freeze. Ten minutes later you’re thinking of all the things you wish you’d said.

Most people know about the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome. Freeze is a third and common reaction to uncomfortable situations.

How to avoid freezing in hot moments

  1. Reflect. Write down what (or who) makes you freeze. Do you have a boss who yells in meetings? Maybe it’s a coworker who constantly interrupts. Make a note of the last three to five situations where something caused you to freeze.
  2. Create a plan. What do you wish you had said? How do you want to show up next time? Let’s assume you want to stick up for yourself. You also want to remain composed and professional.
  3. Prepare. It’s easier to respond effectively if you don’t have to think on your feet. Find a few phrases that work for you. Practice out loud. Now your response is ready when you need it.

Sample Plan

I had a boss who was a yeller. When he yelled, I froze. Then I formed a plan – I would leave the room the next time he raised his voice. When I stood up to leave, he took a deep breath and collected himself. He did not yell. In that moment I regained my sense of power and confidence.

Sample Phrases 

All you need is a short, genuine response. Curiosity helps. For instance:

  • “I didn’t find that funny.”
  • “I’m surprised to hear you say that.”
  • “Can we pause for a second?”

Remember, you can’t control another person’s behavior but you’re 100% in charge of your own.

What suggestions do you have for dealing with hot moments?

About Mikaela

MIKAELA KINER is an experienced HR / People Operations professional, founder/CEO, and executive coach. In 2015, Mikaela founded Reverb, creating healthy, inclusive culture in startups and growing companies in the Pacific Northwest. Mikaela is married to Henry, a musician, artist, and teacher. Their two children, Simon and Sidonie, are good at challenging the status quo and are a constant source of learning and laughter.