GET REAL

Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

Even with self-awareness, self-regulation can be tough.

In his 10-page article What Makes a Leader (Best of HBR, 1998), Daniel Goleman, a well-known guru on Emotional Intelligence (EQ), defines one of the five components of EQ this way: “Self-regulation, which is like an ongoing inner conversation, is the component of emotional intelligence that frees us from being prisoners of our feelings.” (If you’ve not read it, Goleman’s article provides an awesome summary of EQ and its impact on our ability to lead effectively.)

I personally define self-regulation as our ability to recognize and manage our own emotional impulses when our hot buttons are pushed. We all have our hot buttons whether they’re pushed at work or elsewhere. The biological case for this hijacking of emotions during current events is based on our brain’s ability to store and retain emotional responses to significant past events. Interesting stuff.

The business case behind self-regulation is that emotions are louder than words and a charged emotional response will often drown out our opportunity to be heard.

You may be aware (another component of Goleman’s EQ model) that you tend to react—or overreact—emotionally to challenges. You may genuinely want to be more composed, because you realize that your own reactions and emotions are minimizing your impact. Yet when the right button is pushed your emotions may quickly take over and your ability to self-regulate is compromised.

Your ability to stop, think and respond may be worth considering if self-regulation tends to be a consistent challenge for you:

– Each of us experience a unique and familiar physical reaction when our emotional buttons are pushed. What does your reaction feel like? When it abruptly arrives in those first seconds, it may be subtle but it’s still quite recognizable if you make it your business to be aware of it. When you feel it coming on, that’s when you’ll want to stop and think.

– Prepare a statement (a response versus a reaction) that you can use during a conversation when you feel that first physical manifestation of your emotions arrive. For example: Mary, I’d like to give more thought to what I’m hearing you say and then get back to you to discuss further. Once you prepare a response, practice it in preparation for that next tough conversation.

This effort to self-regulate may offer you the time to offer a thoughtful and business-centered response, and ultimately have more of a positive impact on outcomes.

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