"Reason only controls individuals after emotion and impulse have lost their impetus."
--Dr. Carlton Simon, Criminologist
One sentence is all it took. It came down to a quick choice, and the one he chose probably wrecked his career. Here's the scene. I watched a flight attendant pulled from a flight after he nastily snapped at my request to cool down the sauna-like airplane. He said, "Oh okay. I'll just add that to the list of everything else I seem to be doing by myself!" Other passengers looked on as the mad flight attendant came back for more after one of the eaves-dropping passengers commented that the airline was known for its rudeness. The flight attendant tersely retorted, "I heard that and I don't appreciate it one damn bit!" One of the passengers left the airplane to get "authorities" to come take this angry flight attendant to time-out. The mad purser could have simply said, "I'll work on it." Four simple, cool-headed words and he would have flown to Denver with us (probably doing nasty things to our cookies).
The lack of impulse control is the No. 1 derailer for executives nationwide, according to the Center for Creative Excellence and other studies. It's an emotional intelligence attribute that keeps you in check when you feel like popping off or making a rash decision. It's the delay of gratification; anger is a form of gratification. It feels good to burst but rarely works when it's displayed so emotionally as with the mad purser.
Here are some tips to keep your tongue in check when you want to tell someone where to go or debase someone inappropriately in front of a group of people.
- Bite it. Your mama was right. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. It takes approximately six to 10 seconds from the moment a powerful negative emotion is felt to the time the adrenalin of it abates a bit. That's the time you wait before responding when you're really angry. The first thing out of your mouth immediately after you feel angry is usually the worst thing you could say. Bite your tongue. Put it in your cheek.
- Respond rather than react. After you've taken a few seconds to allow the stressor hormones to dissipate in your system, which then allows access to the reasoning part of your brain, you respond. You do so by taking the high road. The high road is the comment that doesn't get personal and speaks to the content of the interaction (my comment that it was hot on the airplane), not the emotions floating around in it (the overwrought purser feeling pressure and picked on and blowing his cool at the innocent sentence). This takes practice. The low road is that visceral immediate reaction that feels good but rarely works in the long run. It takes no practice. It's when we're at our jerkiest.
- 24-hour rule. If it's a real heated debate (unlike with the mad purser, where it was a one-time crazed blurt), ask if you can take some time and think about things before you respond. Agree that you'll come back to the conversation within 24 hours. That way, everyone is in a better frame of mind, more suited to reason. By the way, this 24-hour rule works if you have a problem with delaying gratification with purchasing things. Wait 24 hours before you buy something, and if you still want it, it'll probably be there to purchase.
Impulse control and all that goes with the lack of it--rash decisions, rage, anger, passive-aggressive behavior, "needing" something right now--all threaten to derail relationships and careers. Each of us has our flash point, but all of us can and should practice slowing down when we're feeling emotional, take some time and then respond. Whatever you do, if you feel like showing your anger, bite it.
Scott Halford, CSP is President of Complete Intelligence, LLC. He speaks worldwide and writes about emotional intelligence and brain-based success behaviors. He is the best-selling author of Be a Shortcut: The Secret Fast Track to Business Success.