Tips & Tools : Composure


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Leadership matters.   How you behave when everything seems to be

testing you can make or break your organization.  It  is easy to be

clear headed when things are going well. But how unflappable are

you when the pressure is on?  Letting your emotions get the better

of you will derail your decision making and the ability  of the

people around you to perform at their best.


I would like to be able to say that its easy to manage your

emotions.  But it is not!  Research confirms that over time, our

responses to feelings become hard wired in and that every time we

react a certain way we are reinforcing those connections in our

brain.  That is the bad news.   The good news is that our brains

are "plastic" and through reflection and practice we can rewire the

connections and build new and better habits.  Old dogs can learn

new tricks!


You cannot always control what happens to you, but you can control

your response. It is not about ignoring how you feel, rather you

need to understand your emotions and use this understanding to

choose your response to a difficult situation.  Doing this work

will reduce the effect of stress on your health, improve your

decision making and support those around you in achieving optimum



Here are ten steps to take to manage your emotions in those highly

charged moments.


1. Identify and name your emotions.    Check in with yourself several times a day to notice how you are feeling. If you find yourself using general words like  fine, OK, or good to describe your emotions, push yourself to be more specific and recognize the subtleties of your emotions.  If you cannot find the right words, maybe you need to expand your emotional vocabulary. An internet search on "lists of emotions" will yield lists of emotions that you can use as a reference.  


2. Distinguish between emotions and thoughts.  Thoughts and emotions are inextricably linked.   Just like the great chicken and egg debate that scientists have had for years it is difficult to determine what comes first? But our thoughts do create an emotional experience. Your thoughts can create physical sensations as your body reacts to what you say as if it were real.  Build awareness of your "self-talk" and the physical sensations associated with different emotions.  This process of getting to know yourself at a different level will build your awareness and ability to manage your emotions.  


3. Know how to calm yourself down and delay your reaction.  It may be as simple as taking long slow breaths.  The old technique of counting to ten actually does work as a way of calming emotional reactions and giving time for perspective.    Even focusing on taking notes, or doodling a picture for yourself, can be a productive creative release. Remember, you have control of your reactions.  You cannot stop the wind but you can let it spill off your sails!  Before you react to a situation,  give yourself time to think and  compose yourself to avoid saying something that you are likely to regret.


4. Accept your emotions. Managing emotions is not about judging an emotion as either good or bad and then burying the bad ones. Feelings don't go away just because you ignore them. The escapist strategy of ignoring your feelings may give temporary relief but its likely that the feelings will return even stronger then before. A small frustration can lead to anger or slight concern to panic.  Accept your emotions as information about yourself.


5. Turn the spotlight inward to reflect and understand yourself.   Think about the situations or people that upset  you.  Do you see any patterns in your reactions?     Dig deeper to understand your reactions and  hot buttons.  What are your automatic patterns of thought?   What assumptions are you making as you draw conclusions from your observations?  Are you over-generalizing, mind reading, blaming or predicting the future.  Learn from your responses and the reactions they trigger in others, determining how you might respond differently.

6. Develop a habit of positive self talk. The running commentary in your head  is with you 24/7 and can have a powerful influence on your perceptions and attitude.  If your self talk is negative, it will create your own negative reality.  Think about the goals that you want to achieve and  then identify more productive thoughts that support these goals.  The next time you catch yourself in negative self talk, stop and see if you can re-frame your thinking using these more productive thoughts.


7. Exercise.  A great way to burn off frustration and stress is exercise.  Any physical activity is a healthy outlet for emotional energy and it will help your body be more resistant to stress. Begin slowly, but have a regular program of physical activity so that when the pressure is on, you are more resilient and able to keep your cool.


8. Express your emotions .....appropriately.  Emotions are the glue that holds relationships together.  In the workplace the emotional energy of the leader can help define the culture. But there is a big difference between  expressing yourself respectfully and "letting them have it".  Talk and acknowledge how you feel, but always be aware of the impact on others. Emotions can ruin a culture, or they can help create a workplace that is full of energy, abundance, optimism, innovation, and trust - leading to success.


9. Sometimes you just need to vent. Releasing our emotions can act as a safety valve - relieving tensions, just like steam out of a kettle.  If you really need to vent, find someone you trust outside the situation that will just listen to you.  Recognize that although ranting may feel good in the moment, it is a path to no where, unless you take the time to reflect and understand your emotions.  Also, ranting may just add fuel to the fire and make matters worse.  

10. Practice, practice , practice.  The more you practice the steps above the  more you will flex, build and manage your emotional muscle.

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