Do you find yourself getting frustrated with coworkers, feeling defensive in conversations, unable to resolve conflict at work, being angry when receiving feedback, or nervous when delivering feedback? If so, these are all signs that your emotions may be running the show. Emotions like frustration, defensiveness, anger, or nervousness can derail an interaction or, at the very least, create a subpar result.
Most of my clients who are coached on emotional management tell me that their intense emotions cause the other party to also express intense emotions. So, in a sense the negativity escalates, and the conversation becomes nonproductive. What is worse is that my clients try to keep a poker face regarding their emotions and others see right through that, noticing the inauthenticity.
So, what is the answer? Should you just stuff down your feelings and beret yourself for having them? No, not at all.
Emotional management, a highly coveted leadership skill, is about noticing your emotions and choosing where and how to express them. The ability to regulate yourself and stay in control has nothing to do with stuffing your feelings down. There are plenty of ways to express those intense emotions but first let us talk about being aware of them in the first place.
The next time you are in a conversation try to notice what is happening in your body, and in your mind. Is your heart rate increasing? Are you breathing shallow, from your chest or throat? What stories are you telling yourself in your mind? Maybe you have convinced yourself that the other person hates you, or that the team dislikes your management style. Maybe you have already predicted a negative outcome to the interaction.
These are all signs that your emotions are starting to take over and that you are decentering. Noticing these things is the first step, it is the awareness that is necessary so that you can take the next step of choosing how to handle that intensity. So, for the next week or so simply pay attention to yourself. Develop an understanding of how you react, what are your triggers, and in what situations does it happen.
The next step is to get recentered, grounded, and make some choices. While it is true that certain things like intense exercise or yoga can help you get grounded rather quickly, those things are not practical for my clients who need to ground themselves immediately during C-suite meetings. Here are some suggestions that will help you immediately:
- 427 breathing – Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of two, breathe out for a count of seven.
- Use your feet and hands – Keep your feet planted firmly on the floor, stand up if possible. Put your hands on the desk or table and be aware of what that feels like.
- Relational Awareness – Practice being aware of two things at the same time for example your left thumb and the conversation you are having at that same moment.
- Notice your periphery: While looking at the other person or group, notice what is in your periphery, notice your surroundings.
The body goes through a complex physiological reaction when emotions take over and, when that happens, we lose the ability to stay in the present moment. The four suggestions above are ways to short circuit that response and keep yourself grounded, at least until you can leave that C-suite meeting and get to the gym. The best part is that no one can tell what you are doing!
Once you are grounded you are more at choice in how you respond.
Your brain can then access options like to discuss, in a rational way, how you are feeling; to ask questions for clarification; to discuss it later; or not at all. Or you may decide to use the Nonviolent Communication method of interacting. Remember, managing emotions is not about stuffing down your feelings it is about choosing when and how to express them.
The ability to manage your emotions is a key leadership skill that will help you build relationships, solve problems, display executive presence, and diffuse conflict. It is well worth your time to practice noticing your reactions and triggers, and then regulate yourself so that you can respond rationally.