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
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
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
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
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.