5 Steps to Increase Your Emotional Self-Control

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A year into a global pandemic has stretched leaders beyond anything they could have imagined, as they create new ways of leading effectively in a virtual work world.

Many of my clients who lead multiple teams, have recently shared that their level of anxiety was greater now than when the pandemic first began. The constant strain and stress of working remotely for so long has tested even most resilient leaders.

While they know how important it is to model high emotional intelligence during these challenging times, some are feeling more fatigued and short-tempered than ever, and fear they may “lose it” on a future zoom call!

Emotional Intelligence, also known as EQ, is one of the most important skill sets a leader can possess. Emotional Intelligence is defined as:

The capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions effectively in ourselves and in others. It describes the behaviors that sustain people in challenging roles, or as their careers become more demanding, and it captures the qualities that help people deal effectively with change.                        

Employees are also feeling the impacts of pandemic-induced stress, and naturally look to their leaders to learn how to handle it all.

It’s important that leaders demonstrate to their teams that they are able to control their emotions during this difficult time. Leaders who show they have high Emotional Self-Control are able to keep their disruptive emotions and impulses in check, which helps them lead effectively under stressful conditions.

It doesn’t mean that they’re robots who suppress every negative feeling.It means that they recognize when they’re having negative feelings (anger, disappointment, fear, frustration), but they don’t allow them to hijack their brains and cause them to say or do things they regret.

We’ve all experienced it at one time or another -- that automatic, impulsive emotional response to something or to someone that did or said something that triggered us. When you’re hijacked by your emotions, it’s difficult to stay calm, think clearly, make good decisions, or respond immediately in a positive way.

The impacts of reacting without thinking, or allowing your emotions to override a well thought out response can be devastating. If your team members perceive you as angry about something, it’s easy for them to “catch” your negative emotional vibe and start to mimic the same feelings – that impacts how effectively they do their jobs. The scientific term is “social contagion,” but it’s basically the spreading of emotion from one person to another.

Also, it they are the recipient of an outburst or some kind of harsh criticism from you because you’re overstressed and exhausted, the fallout can be serious. Your team members will never forget that kind of negative encounter with you. Such experiences can cause a person’s performance to nosedive and, in some cases, eventually leave their jobs.

How you show up as a leader matters, even more so in uncertain times when people are looking to you for guidance, encouragement, and stability.

Emotional Self-Control is a skill everyone can learn, and every leader needs to excel. Here are 5 steps you can take right now to strengthen your ability to have Emotional Self-Control:

1. Be Aware of How Well You Are Controlling Your Emotions. The first step is to be self-aware enough to know you’re concerned about keeping your emotions in check. Without self-awareness that you’re finding yourself leaning towards “losing it,” you won’t be able to recognize it. 

2. Pay Attention & Pause. Pay attention to what you’re feeling and pause. For example, imagine you get an email that really upset you. Instead of automatically responding in a negative way, take some deep breaths and calm yourself down. Get up and walk around. You cannot think clearly when your brain is in “flight or fight” mode. By breathing deeply for a few minutes, you’ll activate your parasympathetic nervous system and begin to calm down. This is a great mindfulness practice to use anytime you feel triggered. The more you intentionally pause before automatically responding, the easier it becomes.

3. Identify Your Triggers. Make a list of the things that cause you to have a negative response. Think about why they trigger you and determine a strategy for how you will handle them when they show up. For example, you may get triggered when team members frequently show up late to a zoom meeting. A good way to handle this would be to make sure you’ve managed expectations clearly about why it’s important that your meetings begin on time with everyone present.

4. Alleviate Stress Every Day. Lack of emotional control could be directly related to the enormous extra level of stress and anxiety you’re trying to manage right now. You may have zero bandwidth for even tiniest thing to go wrong, making it easy boil over and lose it. When we are calm and relaxed, we’re less likely to overreact negatively. Schedule time for stress reducing activities like exercise, meditation, yoga or nature walks to prevent the buildup of stress.  

5. Learn From Someone Who Demonstrates High Emotional Control. You probably know someone who demonstrates calm under pressure and never seems to overreact to anything. They’re not robots, but they are thoughtful in how they respond to things, especially difficult situations that may be very stressful for all involved.

Try using these 5 steps to increase your ability to control your emotions. The more you focus on doing this, the easier it becomes, and the less often you’ll experience a lack of emotional self-control. How you respond under pressure impacts the emotions of everyone you interact with, and that has a trickle-down effect on your team’s motivation, commitment and productivity.

I specialize in helping leaders excel by developing their emotional intelligence. If you want to learn more about how I do that, schedule a complimentary call with me by clicking here. Together, we can figure out if I can help you or at least recommend some good next steps for you to consider.

Best Regards,

Jennell

Jennell Evans, MA, CMMI
Leadership | Emotional Intelligence | Mindfulness
Advisor & Speaker
jevans@strategicinteractions.com

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