Settle down: Learn to control your emotions

Nashville Business Journal

June 26, 2015

 

We all get emotional and wound up from time to time about one topic or another. But leaders, who are always “on stage” and therefore always setting an example, have to control these emotions in each and every situation. Why? Because when you lose it, you also risk losing the respect of your people. If an employee sees you blow up, the likelihood of maintaining constructive communication diminishes. It’s hard to count on honest, accurate feedback when your boss is volatile. 

If you feel emotion building and think there’s some possibility that you will express your anger in a detrimental way, use your “fuse” to trigger a two-step cool down: First, take a deep breath. Then excuse yourself. Go someplace (the break room, your car, a nearby park) or do something (squeeze a therapy ball, put on some music, write down your thoughts) that will help you start to gain control over your emotions. 

After struggling to curb my own temper when I was younger, I learned a trick that helped me to back off and simmer down. My cool-down exercise was always to walk outside in some fresh air for some fresh perspective. A stroll down the street or around the block seemed to give me just enough time to bring things back to earth. While all humans have emotions and we would never want to pretend that we’re super-human, strong leaders can use simple tools like these to ensure emotions don’t get the upper hand.  

In some cases leaders must deal with emotional outbursts from their own bosses, which presents another type of challenge. In this case my advice remains the same: Keep yourself cool, and don’t let your boss’s emotions feed your emotions. Stick to the facts and try to postpone a heated conversation to a later date. 

Another helpful practice is to ask the advice of a trusted friend or family member outside of your company. Friends often ask questions that you have not considered and they may help you think in different ways. With one particular emotional situation during my professional career, I turned to my wife for outside perspective. She asked a series of what at the time seemed like odd inquiries, but ultimately they led me to a unique and very effective approach to dealing with the difficult situation. 

No one is immune to experiencing emotion in the workplace. How often have you gotten an email that fires you up and you say to yourself, “I am going to straighten out that jerk!” Fine. Draft your firebrand response, read it over and then immediately put it in your draft file. Do not send it. Sleep on it. The next morning you will modify your response, mellow it or ideally not send it at all. Time has a way of taking the raw emotion out of communication, and the best remedy is usually a calm, well-planned face-to-face talk or telephone call a day or two later. 

No matter what your role, don’t let your emotions take control. Figure out some internal mechanisms that work best for you—and start using them to take charge of yourself. 

 

Joe Scarlett is the retired CEO of Tractor Supply Company andFounder of the Scarlett Leadership Institute

He can be reached at Joe@joescarlett.com

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