- October 04, 2018
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Hands up all those who have experienced rage – being consumed by the red mist, being overwhelmed by a torrent of bubbling anger about to erupt into something greater than Vesuvius?? Think about a time where you have let rip, thrown the toys out of the proverbial pram and stamped your feet? Or are you a simmering anger sort who has perfected the passive aggressive down to an art? On the one hand, a glorious feeling of freedom from the shackles of ‘playing nicely’ and saying something that has been on your mind for ages. On the other, the consequences of this outburst or silent treatment – what have you done?? More often than not, they don’t end there – the post mortem and domino effect of said outburst or cold shoulder will continue ad infinitum. And you can’t take any of it back. People will remember the outburst not the words used, no matter how much sense (or not) you’re making. This occurs just as frequently in board rooms as amongst team members, family and friends.
Emotions are a wonderful and powerful thing. They are what makes us human. Even those who rarely show emotion are affected by them. It isn’t that they don’t have emotions, it just these emotions are not shown as freely or easily as by others. Make no mistake, emotions pretty much drive all our decisions, even logical ones (Dimasio 2016).
Here’s one of many definitions of emotions
“An emotion is a complex psychological state that involves three distinct components: a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioral or expressive response.” D Hockenbury & S Hockenbury
To me, that definition is spot on. Whatever happens in a meeting, during a conversation, an experience – good or bad, it is always subjective. Your take on what is happening. A physiological response will occur, your pulse will start racing, your blood will start to soar towards the skin, the hairs on your body start rising… Be it in excitement, joy, anger or any thing else. And finally, the part where you get to show the world your behavioural or expressive response. This is that pivotal moment where your response could determine the outcome of how a meeting goes, what decision is made and what the subsequent impact will be. It can also determine how you perceive similar situations and the same people, based on your response. With the weight of all that responsibility of this third, it is worth thinking about how one can use this to its greatest effect.
Here is something you may relate to…
Recently, I observed a board meeting where the members were discussing strategy, during a crucial phase for the business. One had reverted to type and started to panic. In this state, he proceeded to issue dictatorial orders focusing solely on logic but not necessarily sense. This prompted an equal and opposite reaction in another who reverted to rebelling, eye-rolling and finally a wild outburst. It was clear that tensions were running high. Everyone in the room was committed to the same vision and yet…..
Typically, I would coach clients one on one, but in this scenario, I was invited to observe the board in action. I was not surprised by these reactions – it was a very pressure-packed and stress-filled meeting. Yet, I wonder if the meeting could have gone better if the individuals involved were really aware of what was happening in their minds?
Some immediate practical questions for high stress tense situations
- What is really going on in this meeting? What is the real issue at hand?
- What is the objective here?
- Given there is common ground, where should the focus be and how can you get everyone realigned?
If you have to make a statement, ask yourself the following:
- Would you like to count to 10 or 20 or 50 before speaking?
- Why are you making this statement?
- What do you want the outcome to be?
- Is it important? Is that true?
- Is this the right forum?
- By speaking, will you be adding something constructive?
- Is there another way?
- Would you like to count to 10 or 20 or 50 again before speaking?
In the heat of the moment, it is very easy to react to the subjective experience and as a response to the physiological cues. ‘X is so controlling, I can feel my blood boil. I’ve had enough, I’m going to tell X what I really think’.
Away from the heated situation, it may be worth taking some time out to reflect on some of the below:
- What happens to your body physiologically when under pressure and anxious?
- Do you know what your triggers are?
- What happens to you when you are under stress?
- Do you react to situations (ie have emotional outbursts and/or act impulsively frequently) or do you purposefully act (ie consciously and actively choose to do or not do something?)
It is quite easy in an inflamed situation to blame others for your outburst or actions. When your rage consumes you with thoughts that involve inevitable jail sentences, ostracisation and dismissal, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by them. Remember though, that you own your actions. A thought is a thought and it does not need to be actioned, and hard as it may be to believe, it will pass. If you erupt, others will be focused on your explosion (the tantrum, the strop, the eye-rolling, the endless sighing- you get the drift) and not your words, no matter how true (or not) they are. Remember that if you are feeling your blood boiling over, just breathe and take a step back. There is no shame in saying that you need to think about this and to revert. Or sometimes, it is as simple as reaching out for a cereal bar or the family bag of M&Ms to help you when you’re feeling hangry…..
‘People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.’ Will Rogers
By better managing your emotions, you will yourself be calmer, have better relationships and achieve a lot more with a lot less effort. Visits to the doctor for high blood pressure will also be a lot less frequent too!!
Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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