'You take my self, you take my self control'

Emotional self-regulation – part 2 of the Emotional Intelligence series. What on earth is this woman on about now? It all sounds way too much to take on board. Last week, we talked about self-awareness and the importance of knowing oneself. Now, we have to regulate ourselves too? Isn’t there too much regulation out there already, let alone having to police myself???  

Well, here it is. It’s all well and good embarking on the journey of self-awareness and getting to know oneself better through time. Most of the things you learn about yourself, I imagine you like. It’s good to know those things about yourself, when you are in flow, when you’re not. For those who have worked with me, you’ll know I focus a lot on strengths, as well as what derails you. And yet, just because you know yourself well, it does not mean that you manage yourself well. It’s like you’re a well-honed vehicle. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses. Do you bring an Aston Martin to plough a field? This may seem like a stupid analogy but you’ll be surprised how often people don’t self regulate and therefore make themselves redundant. By not self-managing, it will inevitably cause upset in oneself and anyone else in your vicinity.


So what might it look like if we don’t self-regulate?


Case Study 1

Client A has a very promising career and is on track for yet another promotion. The quality of his work is outstanding and the organization wants to keep him. He has already been highlighted as ‘One to Watch’ on the talent management scheme. The problem is that the organization is a little stuck. Although A’s work is superior, as is his enthusiasm; his general attitude towards others, especially towards those who disagree with his ideas, are treated with disdain and contempt. It doesn’t take much for A to lose his temper if things do not progress as he expects. Neither does A take kindly to individuals from other departments pushing for different outcomes or slightly differing perspectives on joint projects.


A is insistent that the aggression is noted but he ‘owns it’. To him, it means getting things done for the sake of the project and the business. ‘If people are too slow or stupid then I don’t want them on my team’. So he’s self aware(ish). However, it is clear that knowing such information isn’t helping him at all. There is little to no effort to self-regulate the aggression. In fact, the converse. A thinks it is a good thing to let rip and tell people they’re idiots and not worthy contributors.


The result being that A has not only lost the respect of his co-workers and peers, he has been viewed by seniors as having project but not leadership potential. Even then, the assumptions A makes are that the project only has one method of process (A’s) and that he is the only person qualified to measure the factors and variables relevant to each project. He doesn’t think he has to explain his thought process to others and if he does deign to listen to others, he is also judge and jury.


Not only has A not considered that there are other perspectives which may or may not improve the quality of the project, he has also lost the goodwill factor and loyalty that may allow people to be supporters of his, if he were to become a leader. He knows he is aggressive and that he does not listen to or play well with others. He doesn’t care. The fact is, this aggression and egoistical way of working has emphatically delayed, possibly permanently, his journey into the executive level. Additionally, some projects have not been as successful as initially thought – due to fast and efficient delivery but not necessarily sustainable solutions.


Case Study 2

Client B is a self-professed considered, well-mannered and thoughtful lady. She has had much success in her career and is doing well professionally. However, her relationships at work are strained and those have resulted in her having a lot of conflict at work.


Interesting, for a supposed considered, well-mannered and thoughtful lady. On the surface, this seems to be the case. However, when one scratches the surface as we review the conversations she has with others, they are filled with muttered comments, eye-rolling, patronizing insults and barbs. In B’s eyes though, if they are said politely, then that is OK. She is being helpful to them after all, by giving them feedback to help them along. However, if the tables are turned and feedback is given to her, she holds on to the rage and resentment like me clutching those PB&J doughnuts. She won’t let go (and neither will I!).


For her, she is being thoughtful by giving others feedback. Whether or not it is warranted. Additionally, when playing back the conversations, the tone is condescending and directive, as opposed to coaching and supportive. In that sense, I ask, how do the words ‘thoughtful’ and ‘considered’ fit in here? What is ‘well-mannered’ about giving feedback when not requested nor required? How self-aware is she and what might the outcome look like if she were to manage her emotions better?


So what does self-regulation look like?


Mindful and Transparent

These are people who are present, aware of their emotions, what is happening at the time and are focused on themselves, others, their work and their circumstances, mindfully. Those with emotional self-control can manage their inner turmoil well, even in high-stress situations – be they internal or external factors. They are leaders who don’t succumb to their inner impulses or chaotic emotions. They self-manage and channel that energy into something constructive. They act, not react.


Resilient and Optimistic

People who recover from setbacks, take lessons from whatever happened and they move forward. They do not carry baggage from earlier disappointments. They don’t hold grudges. They tend to be thoughtfully optimistic and err towards constructive vs negative behaviours.



Individuals who look at people, situations and challenges with an open and curious mind. They are not unhealthily wedded to ideas or rigid processes for the sake of it. They adapt to change and are comfortable with ambiguity.



They tend to take charge of their own destiny and know they have a sense of control over their fate. They keep moving forward and find ways to make things happen.


Responsible Accountability

They accept responsibility for what they can control and will not do so for what they cannot, ie they have a healthy relationship with accountability.



Looking at the two case studies, you will see that neither A or B tick any of the boxes above for self-management. Perhaps a little initiative, and even then its not over oneself and one’s emotions but a case of deflection. Both cases were really interesting ones. With a little bit of coaching, they started to learn to self-manage their emotions, first from being mindful and aware of them in the first instance.


Emotional self-regulation is one of the hardest to manage, especially if brimming and overflowing with emotions and impulses. With some practice, lots of mindfulness and a will to adopt new habits, this should become a lot easier!


Good luck!




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: info@renoc.co.uk



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