Reducing Reactivity: Bill Belichick’s Playbook

I’m a big sports fan. Football season is underway, so I’m often watching games, following the latest drama within the NFL, and listening to press conferences. I was struck by a recent press conference Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, participated in because he modeled several tools instrumental in reducing reactivity. Belichick is known for monotone press conferences and a no-nonsense style of communication and coaching. This attached interview is a terrific example of how to maintain composure in the face of something that could create an emotionally reactive response. 

Many people experience emotionally triggering situations daily. Perhaps you are a parent of a teenager or a toddler. Your child may push your boundaries in asking or demanding what they want which can be very triggering emotionally. You may work in an environment replete with people or demands generating irritation. You may experience emotional provoking with a family member or partner. Emotional triggers are common and learning how to manage our reactions to these incidents is critical for our mental health. 

Let’s break down this interview to learn the tools that can help anyone in reducing emotional reactivity. This press junket came on the heels of Antonio Brown, a highly controversial wide receiver, joining the New England Patriots and dealing with allegations of a sexual assault. Belichick was to address reporters about the upcoming game against the New York Jets. The reporters wanted more information about the impending allegations. The conflict occurs in the difference of expectations. Belichick wants to talk football. The reporters want to discuss Brown’s behavior off the field.

Belichick follows three simple rules:

Set Clear Boundaries

At the beginning of this clip you can hear Belichick clearly state he is not going to discuss Brown’s off the field allegations. He acknowledged as a team they were looking into some situations and he sets the stage for what he will discuss, which is football. These are clear boundaries. When we head into situations that we know might be emotionally fraught, it is really important to be clear about our boundaries. It can often be helpful to even verbally name our boundaries. What is on and off the table for discussion? 

Be the Broken Record

During the press conference Belichick has to repeat the boundaries he had set. The reporters were like a dog going after a bone. They were trying several different ways to get him to talk about Brown’s behaviors. Oftentimes when we are faced with a determined challenger we need to remind them of our boundaries. We may feel like a broken record, yet it is important to restate with confidence our unwavering boundaries.  

Remove Yourself  

Belichick finally leaves the reporters and their questions. Every question had been about Brown, Belichick had tried to be clear about boundaries, had reminded them about the limits of the conversation, and the reporters did not adhere, so he left. Sometimes when a conversation is not respectful of the outlined boundaries, it can be important to exit the situation. When removing yourself from a situation or conversation, it is often a good idea to summarize why you are leaving and/or to offer a time to revisit the subject if the other participant can be respectful of the rules of engagement. 

While I am not a Patriots fan, I am a fan of clear, calm communication. I do not fool myself to think this is the way Belichick communicates all the time, but it is a great example of remaining steadfast. When we do not hold on to our own boundaries, we run the risk of engaging in emotionally destructive communication. 

Are you ready for some football??