7 Tips to Help Improve Your Emotional Self-Control and Leadership

Do your emotions get the best of you? You may want to build up your emotional self-control to help improve your effectiveness as a leader.
May 30, 2016

Emotional self-control is our ability to keep disruptive emotions and impulses in check and maintain control over our actions. While this is important for everyone, it may be particularly crucial for a business owner or anyone in a leadership position. 

These seven strategies may help increase your emotional self-control when needed:

Apply Logic to Your Worries

Worry is the antithesis of emotional self-control. The impact of excessive worrying may be worse than the actual issue of concern. Of course, a little worrying is alright: It helps keep us vigilant about our business and may help prevent us from taking undue risks. But if we're habitual worriers, this can put a dent in our energy and optimism as we pursue our business agenda.

A well-known tool that can help to manage worrying is the ABCDE model developed by Dr. Martin Seligman, a professor of psychology at The University of Pennsylvania. Here's how it works:

A—Adversity: Identify and articulate the adversity.

B—Belief: Identify the automatic belief(s) you have when you experience the adversity. For example, you may think after an unsuccessful cold call: "I am never good at cold calling." It might put you in a bad mood and affect the rest of your day.

C—Consequences: How do you feel as a result of this belief?

D—Disputation: Dispute these automatic beliefs by examining the facts of the situation. Ask yourself: What concrete evidence do I have to support this belief? What are all the possible explanations for an unsuccessful cold call? Did I catch the client at an inopportune time? Was the client distracted with other issues? Does this particular client have a preference for email communication rather than phone calls? Analyze all the possible interpretations.

E—Energization: List the thoughts and feelings you now have as a result of analyzing and disputing the negative interpretation you attributed to the event. Did it change how you feel? Did it help you see the situation from a different perspective?

Emotional self-control is our ability to keep disruptive emotions and impulses in check and maintain control over our actions. While this is important for everyone, it's particularly crucial for a business owner or anyone in a leadership position. 

Using this model may help you enhance your emotional intelligence, making you more aware of the effect your thoughts have on your emotions. In turn, this may help you manage your emotions so that you can consciously and intentionally choose your behaviors.

Unhook From Drama

Good leaders care for their people but also know how to keep a healthy distance. If some people around you habitually get themselves up a creek, you may want to reconsider jumping in with them. Think about giving them your leadership guidance, but consider unhooking yourself from the dysfunctions of others. Being mired in others' drama may weaken your own self-control and may cause you to lose focus.

Make Technology Your Ally...

All of us have, at one time or other, sent an email in haste that we later regretted. If you're prone to this, you can help guard against it by setting a rule in Outlook to delay sending all emails by a number of minutes. If you're using Gmail, you can use Google's Undo Send feature, which can be set to give you a 30-second delay—just enough time to re-read what you wrote. This is one cool-down strategy that is easy to implement and may save you undue embarrassment.

...But Put That Cellphone Down

Emotional self-control is increasingly important with the omnipresence of our mobile devices. Research from The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which involved 3,500 drivers across a three-year period, shows that using a phone, texting or reading email while driving dramatically increased the probability of a car accident. The ping of a mobile device makes us act on our emotions, tempting us to check in or, even respond, while in traffic. For example, it could be fear of missing an important call from a potential client, or it could be the anticipation of finally getting a response we were waiting for.

There's a myriad of reasons for our emotional brain to prompt us to reach for the device even when our logical brain knows that it's not safe to do so. If this is an issue for you, you may want to establish a self-control contract, or a "Ulysses Contract," as Duke University professor Dan Ariely calls it. That is, if you know you're going to be tempted to do something, prevent it. In this case, stowing your hand-held device in your glove compartment and out of view might be a good strategy.

Exercise Control Over Your Communications

As a business owner or leader, you likely find yourself in stressful situations during the course of a day. It comes with the territory. But it's possible to raise your awareness of your communication patterns during charged situations. Do you unwittingly raise your voice? Do you make direct blaming remarks that don't allow people to save face? Do you deliver criticism and leave without helping the person see what they can do to improve? You may want to get to know your default behaviors. Noting how you communicate with your staff when you're under pressure may help you make adjustments. 

Buy Time

When dealing with issues that put your emotional self-control to the test, one of the best things you could do may be temporarily removing yourself from the situation. Consider taking a 20-minute time out to create some quiet time and space for yourself in a low-pressure environment. 

Emotions influence our judgment and choice. What's more, a recent study shows that emotions can carry over from one situation to the next unrelated situation. For example, incidental anger in heavy traffic can translate to anger when you get to the office. Moreover, as the study shows, this typically happens beneath the threshold of our awareness. It pays to be mindful of this. Consider postponing an important decision until you have regained a calmer perspective.

Know Your Impatience Triggers

An Achilles' heel of anyone in a leadership position may just be a lack of patience. It can lead us to make snap decisions or result in a dismissive attitude with people. Lack of patience may open up pitfalls and narrow our pathways. Patience, of course, doesn't mean accepting mediocrity. But when you confront people, you may want to approach them more calmly. You may want to bide your time and take the sting out of the confrontation in order to get the message across without collateral damage. 

Getting to know your pressure points may help you develop better patience. Consider making a list if you have to, and developing some strategies to prevent these triggers from causing you to lose your composure. For example, you may want to resolve to remain quiet when under stress. If your impatience stems from struggles related to time management, think about getting some tools to help you maintain your productivity and reduce the stress brought on by time pressures.

What strategies do you use to exercise emotional self-control?

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