If you’re anything like me, when someone says “You simply need to control your emotions” I think, well OK, that sounds logical, but how the ____ do I do that?
I’m sure you have experienced these or similar scenarios before:
When someone tells you “You’re wrong” and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up!
Or, you’ve arrived 5 minutes early for a meeting only to sit there waiting for 20 minutes for the other person to arrive! How disrespectful!
When you stare at the check-in person with horrified disbelief after they tell you that you have missed the check in by 2 minutes!
Can you relate? I’m sure you can, but if you can’t, how about witnessing other people when they totally lose it:
Like when your partner asks you to pick up some milk on the way home and you forgot to, and they scream at you!
Or you see a driver with their hand fully planted on the horn and at the same time making hand signals out the window when an old lady is driving slower than the speed limit!
There are so many things that culminate into causing you to react in a certain way: How your day has been up to now (whether stressful or calm) or how many things you have planned for the rest of your day. Things like what happened the night before, how well you slept, or if you had an argument with your partner.
The list is endless, but gives you an idea as to how many things come into play which will enable or disable your ability to control your emotions.
Look, if we didn’t have emotional responses we wouldn’t be human. The key to emotional mastery however, is to manage and control your emotions, so you can control your reactions.
Consider this equation:
The degree you are invested in something = the degree of emotional reaction.
Stimulus, plus the way you think about it = your reaction.
S + T = R
Let’s consider you have been preparing and researching information on how to improve the customer experience within your retail outlet. You have received 100’s of customer surveys, researched your competitors’ offerings, and interviewed customers directly. Finally you get to present your research to the owners only to have them coldly dismiss your ideas! Your investment has been significant, and to simply have your ideas dismissed after so much effort is a pretty tough cookie to swallow!
So can you control your emotions in this situation? Absolutely! I’m not saying it’s easy but hey, if you want to be successful in any area of life or business you need to develop the skill of emotional control.
Early in my career I distinctly remember reading;
If you don’t control your emotions they WILL control you
So how do we do this?
1. Identify where the emotion is in your body
Your body will feel and show the emotion. Have you ever tried being really happy with a body slumped over, glum face and eyes pointed to the ground. No, because it just wouldn’t work.
Let’s use this as an example – you have just heard that someone else got the job that you applied for and yet you were so confident that you would get it. No-one said anything to you but you heard through the grapevine that someone from outside the company got the job. Boom! The emotion hits you.
I want you to ask yourself – where is that emotion in your body – where are you feeling it? I feel things like this in my gut – it’s heavy and deep and hurts. Some of you will feel it in your head, others your chest.
2. Label the emotion
What is the emotion? Many of you might say well I feel angry but that’s quite a common surface emotion, so I encourage you to go a little deeper; what is the anger, is it disrespect, feeling devalued, being dismissed, or being rejected? People hate being rejected and it will bring up all sorts of responses. If you are stuck here, continue to ask yourself the question; “why am I feeling angry?” Even get someone to coach you on this, by asking the questions to get you to go a little deeper.
So now you know where it is in your body, and you have labeled it.
3. Take note of what is happening with your body.
What is ideal here is if you can get someone to tell you what you are doing with your body. How are you breathing – short quick breaths high in your chest or deep diaphragmatic breathing? What are you doing with your mouth; are you biting your lip or pursing your lips, or have an open mouth? How are your eyes; glazed, staring, wide open, squinting? Where is your head – up or down? What are your hands doing; are they clenched or open? How is your spine; are you standing straight or have you slumped?
4. Notice what are you telling yourself about the situation (Your Story)
It’s quite hard to distinguish between step 3 and 4 because they happen almost instantaneously.
Here’s an example – My neighbour lost it emotionally when I spoke to her about putting some green plants along the fence line at the rear of her house and the front of mine. This is an unusual setup and I was to find out later that she did have a say about what was or wasn’t put along this fence line. You know most people wouldn’t care less what goes behind their fence when they never look at it, but she did. To add a bit more context, apparently she had been burgled previously and did not want anyone watering, weeding or making noises at her rear fence. But at the time of this confrontation, I didn’t know that.
So here I was confronted with my very emotional and serious neighbour. I thought, oh my goodness I have just spent a significant amount of money on my dream home and the thought of looking at a plain cream fence horrified me.
At the same time, I was fully aware that I was in a heightened emotional state; my mind was racing trying to think of a way to convince this woman that her worries were not valid.
My eyebrows raised, my heart started beating faster, the blood started rushing through my body – you know like you do when you see a tiger running down the street ready to pounce on you……….. flight or fight state. Well, I was definitely in the fight state. (The emotion was in my chest, and it was panic)
I became aware of this, so I started taking deep breaths. The reason being; I know a brain doesn’t work particularly well without oxygen. I put my body into a calm but confident state; arms down, legs hip width apart, shoulders up and back, and I continued to breathe. (I changed my body to a clam state)
My emotion was disbelief, shock, and sadness but slowly, as I changed my thoughts, my emotions moved to empathy. I realised this woman was scared. As irrational as it was for me, it was very real to her. (I changed what I was telling myself, from saying that she was wrong, to trying to understand her). Did I want to understand her? NO… but I knew there was no hope for me if I didn’t calm down and change the way I was approaching the situation.
This is a PRIMARY KEY to effective conflict and negotiation techniques.
The only way I was able to do that was to step back from my own emotional state and listen and question to try to understand her point of view. As I did this my emotion turned to empathy.
In Summary the key steps in the process are:
1. Notice where the emotion is in your body
2. Label the emotion.
3. Notice and think about what you are doing with your body and change it so the emotion can’t sit right (like sadness to happiness, frustration to empathy etc).
4. Notice what you are saying to yourself and change it (from she’s wrong, to how can I understand her point of view, from I’m never going to achieve this, to how can I achieve this)
So did I end up with some nice plants along the fence line? In the end it was a bit of a compromise of native plants & artificial turf. It kept the noise at her back fence to a minimum and I got a bit of green.
Please do practice this. I can guarantee it will work, and my clients tell me regularly that it really does work. It just takes consistent effort, at least initially, to overcome a lifetime of unruly emotional responses. I guarantee it’s worth it in the end.