🚦 You can't solve problems while angry or fearful

🚦 You can't solve problems while angry or fearful

Have you ever said or done something you regret while angry?

Have you ever tried to reason with a person overcome by strong emotions?

Yup, so did I.

It’s a useful skill to be able to recognize emotional states in yourself and others and apply countermeasures before it’s too late.

It might also be valuable to share this model with your team so that you can notice situation when some preparation is needed before a high-quality discussion can happen.

An extremely simplified, but useful model is the traffic lights model: RED, AMBER and GREEN.


RED means strong emotions, usually with high-energy, caused by some kind of perceived threat.

Your teammate messed up a bunch of your hard work. Someone stole your new bike. You got blamed for something that obviously wasn’t your fault and you’re angry and maybe a little afraid.

The problem is that in our modern environment this perceived threat usually does not require an immediate reaction, and might not be real threat at all. Acting quickly in such a state, or trying to have a logical discussion with someone else in a RED state is usually a mistake.

When you’re in the RED zone — pause, take a deep breath and consider what it is that you’re actually trying to achieve here.

For example if you want to continue having a good relationship with someone it’s probably not useful to scream at them when they do something you don’t like. If you can try to defer the situation until you are both in a calmer state. Turning the tension into a joke might also help!


AMBER means you’re unsure about the situation you are in — most importantly the kind and quality of relationship you have with the people around you.

A teammate made a joke and you’re not sure if they’re laughing with you or at you. Your boss made a frowny face when looking at your most recent report and you’re starting to thinking they might secretly hate your guts.

AMBER could also be caused by physical discomfort — being hungry, cold or sleep-deprived. 

An AMBER state is usually lower energy compared to RED and might manifest as passivity or harshness without starting a full-blown fight. AMBER is still not conducive to creative problem solving. It’s a state of compromised performance.

When you or the other person is in AMBER the first order of priority is to satisfy basic needs of the body (eat, drink, rest) and ensure a physical and psychological sense of safety.

Sometimes repeating that despite the problem you’re facing you still value the other person and want to look for solutions together is enough to bring someone out of AMBER and into green.


GREEN is the state when there are no obstacles to creative problem solving, joyful socializing or having deep conversations. When you and your conversation partner are in a GREEN state you’re good to go.

Owl picture by Mark Timberlake via Unsplash