You know that one abrasive and argumentative individual? The one who kills the messenger and handles bad news poorly?
They expose a critical weakness—their inability to handle emotions. And as they continue their pattern of unregulated emotions, their power will wane.
And how about you?
The first rule of leadership is to manage your own emotions.
If you get wiggy with bad news, people will stop telling you the bad news. When you scare colleagues and reports with your anger, they’ll feed you what you want to hear—a mythical alternate reality—to satisfy your aggressive nature.
Managing our emotions is one of the most difficult tasks we face. Yet many leaders disregard this crucial skill.
Oh, The Frustration.
There is no shortage to the frustration:
• They did what?!
• They said what?!
• It wasn’t done?!
Our frustration is kindled by our passion and fear. And if not kept in check, our frustration can transform into an indignant and situationally blind anger. Dumb anger.
Signs of Weakness.
Our furrowed brow, pressured loud speech, and aggressive posture. Our detachment, avoidance of eye contact, and flippant dismissal.
These are signs of weakness, not of strength. When we ignore the verbal and non-verbal displays of our emotion, they own us. They defeat us.
This is not to say that we take the punches. It does not mean that we roll over and accept mediocrity and poor execution. We don’t suck up to get what we want.
Rather, we control our own physiology—we manage our emotions. And as we do, the blood flows from our dumb fists back to our smart brain. Our narrowed vision expands to include the bigger picture. We begin to get both the good news and bad news. And we respond with calculated intelligence, rather than as reflex triggered emotional terrorists.
But how? How do we stop our emotional reflex?
The Emotional Reflex.
Jill Bolte Taylor wrote in her book My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientists Personal Journey about emotions as a physiologic reflex.
The emotional reflex: Anger elicited. Anger occurs. Anger dissipates.
A simple reflex—that lasts how long?
Only 90 seconds.
It only takes 90 seconds for the triggered chemicals of emotion to flush through our system. That is, unless we choose to feed it with a story and stoke its flames with angered self-talk.
Does the 90 second emotional reflex turn into a multi-hour funk? Does it lead into sleepless nights of seething negativity? Does it deeply disturb us to the point at which it tarnishes our perception of the world?
It depends. Do we feed the reflexive cycle with our negative internal dialogue reinforced by negative body language? Or do we let the reflex cycle run its 90-second course—and allow it to go away? ← Yes, that one.
So how do we manage our emotions?
How To Manage Your Emotions in 2 Steps:
We need to manage both our outer reaction, and our inner reaction in order to control the reflex.
The key to managing the cues that we display to the world is to develop and adopt an exceptional “Poker Face.”
1. Poker Face.
They don’t need to see you sweat.
A contorted face and a vacant stare are a sign of weakness. You announce to the room that you have been emotionally hooked, and therefore, can be played.
You need to adopt the facial expression of a champion poker player. Learn to look unfettered. Nonplussed. Normal. It’s as if this was just another random card in a poker game.
But this is hard. It takes practice (perhaps in a mirror). You will still feel the surge of emotion, the racing heart, but your expression will hide the discomfort. And, eventually, it will become second nature.
Maintain a neutral face, and perhaps a subtle smile. You can write a brief note. And let the emotional reflex pass – 90 seconds.
If a verbal response is required, simply repeat back as a matter-of-fact exactly what they said using their words.
“The project will not be completed on time.”
You may add a non-committed phrase such as “I understand.” or “I see.”
“I see.” [pause] “The project will not be completed on time.”
Avoid the reflexive instinct to pepper your response with your internal emotionally charged thoughts. There is no need to elaborate and divulge your feelings.
2. Stop the Story.
The second step involves controlling the negative self-dialogue that perpetuates our negative emotion.
The key to maintaining composure during emotional situations is to stop our mind’s negative internal chatter. This is a choice we have. We don’t need to think thoughts that bring us pain. There is no need to magnify our emotional reflex with negative stories. It doesn’t help us. It doesn’t clarify.
One of our key skills as a leader is our ability to step outside of our head to consider other options. It is far more productive to understand their story, than to brew our own fictional internal creations.
This is not some pathologic detachment from reality. Emotions are normal. We feel them. We acknowledge their force. And we move on.
And what better way to talk of moving on than to learn from Star Trek—that one movie without the light sabers. Spock, is able to place his hand on the face of a human, a space creature, or a whale—of course—and instantly understand the experience of the other being.
I don’t suggest that you grip the face of your colleague, however, the spirit of the technique is sound. Your ability to step back as a third-party, examine the circumstance objectively from others’ points of view, and to move toward informed decision—this is your leadership power. Your ability to ask powerful questions.
“How did this happen?”
“What new information or outside factors led to this outcome?”
“What would they do differently?”
“Did I provide enough leadership on this?”
This is a little more evolved (and more effective) than: “You goof! What were you thinking!?”
This is Pro.
These are professional level techniques. Are you up to it? Will you do the work?
Are you willing to practice, make mistakes, and then practice more? Are you willing to feel the discomfort of changing? Will you welcome it?
The first rule of leadership: manage your emotions.
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