Do you ever have regrets about how you reacted to a situation at work? In your personal life? If you do, it might be because you allowed your emotions to rule.
We typically don’t think of men as being “emotional,” yet the real problems arise when there is a lack of emotional self-awareness.
A client recently told me he regrets how he handled his reaction to a company reorganization and his new boss – emotional reactions that ultimately got him fired.
My client, a Vice President, over a successful business in a Fortune 100 company, had worked hard to grow the business from $350M to $600M. Then the division was reorganized and the General Manager fired him. The business he managed was moved into another part of the division with a newly promoted General Manager who had limited knowledge of my client or the business. The relationship between my client and the new General Manager went from bad to worse in a very short time.
At the time my client felt his reputation, experience, and track record of success were being challenged by the reorganization and the new GM. Because he felt his leadership challenged – he became argumentative and defensive, versus putting himself in his boss’s shoes to understand what he really needed from him.
Two years later, he feels he over-reacted. If he had to do it all over again, he says he would have taken the time to present her with more data and facts to support the decisions that would help the business. Instead of what he did, which was stonewalling her and expecting her to “trust” his expertise and experience based on his “say so.” There are many reasons for his behavior. Some of them very understandable; one being my client and the business were being treated poorly by the larger organization. But in the end, all that mattered was my client’s reaction to the situation – his inability to manage his emotions for the good of the organization and himself.
Successful leadership or success in any type of business (or personal) relationship requires us to be able to manage our emotions. This allows for greater capacity to think clearly, act strategically, solve problems creatively, and maintain strong relationships essential to running a business.
- Emotional Awareness. The ability to manage our emotions first comes with the ability to recognize that we are experiencing an emotion. We are taught that emotions do not have a place in business and both male and female leaders are expected not to show emotion. Unfortunately or fortunately, we all have emotions and emotional reactions to things that happen to and around us. Failure to acknowledge this, will lead to us acting on our emotions without awareness. While we aren’t always aware of the behaviors caused by our unacknowledged emotions, almost everyone else around us is aware that our behavior is a result of an emotional reaction. For example: In the case of my client above, his secretary and co-workers could see that his emotions were driving him and his behavior causing his situation to deteriorate – but my client while aware that he was angry – was not aware of just how angry he was and how it was affecting his behavior. Because of his lack of awareness, he did not have a choice to act any differently. Those around him, who cared about him, were tolerant, but others avoided him and ultimately his boss felt she could not deal with him. We have to be able to understand our emotions before we can examine what other choices we might have in the actions we take.
- Reflection and Choice. Had my client had the wherewithal to slow down and recognize his emotions (anger, hurt, feelings of betrayal, and even fear), he might have been able to make some different choices. Today, after reflecting, he knows he would have made different choices. But what could he have done before now? First he could have slowed down his reactions and paid attention to his feelings. Had he done this, he might have also noticed some other nuances to his feelings beyond just the anger of feeling disrespected. He might have noticed that he was feeling the following: fearful he might not be able to provide proper direction for his staff, fearful he might not be able deliver for his clients, fearful he might lose his job and not be able to provide for his family, or hurt that he was not respected by his boss. With all of these emotions beneath the surface, it is perfectly understandable why he became argumentative with his boss (and perhaps others around him). Ultimately after reflection and getting some more information – he discovered that he could provide for his family even if he was fired. He also learned that perhaps his fear about the business was well founded – as it ultimately went from a $350 business to a $600M business after he left. Had he been able to slow down and think more clearly – he might have been able to dig up the facts/data necessary to convince his boss and his peers. Had he slowed down to think about what his boss was going through, himself, he might have had more understanding for his situation and been more patient with him. His boss was most likely also fearful (i.e. that he wouldn’t be able to handle the higher role, to turn around the business, or manage my client perhaps). David Rock in The Brain at Work –describes the ability to “Reappraise” as a tool for emotional regulation. Reappraisal is the ability to change our interpretation of a situation and thus slow down the brain’s reactivity.
- Taking Action. Once we have slowed down our reaction to a situation, assessed our emotions, our brains are more capable of creative problem solving and constructive action. Take my client for example, today he knows that he didn’t handle himself appropriately and he has an idea of what he could have done differently. He would have provided his boss with more data about the business decisions he was making against his experience and advice. He has been able to come to this conclusion, however, because of the other things he did AFTER he was fired, that he could have employed prior to it getting to that point. To address his emotions and fears about being able to provide for his family and find another job, he met with his financial advisor and then started an investment club with some former colleagues and he is experiencing a lot less financial anxiety as a result and financial success as well. He began exercising, meditating, and even sought therapy for the first time ever. Often times, when our emotions get the better of us, it is because we have unresolved childhood issues that are now triggering us later in life – therapy, meditation, and exercise all help release emotions, helping us to think more clearly. And if he were still in the role today, after he has time to stop and reflect, I would advise him to try to get more information about his boss’s expectations and style and then determine if in fact, any of his behavior while he was new in his role had anything to do with him at all. Chances are, he had his own fears that had nothing to do with my client and yet because he was unable to stop and reflect on the situation and his emotions – he didn’t realize that his behavior was not directly at him personally. Had he realized this, he might also have realized that not only was he fearful for his job, but everyone involved in the reorganization was fearful and discomfortable with the ambiguity a restructuring causes. Had he been more in control of his emotions, he could have demonstrated real leadership for his staff, his clients, and his boss – all of whom were desperately in need of strong leadership.
In order to be a successful leader and have successful relationships at work (or in our personal lives), we have to be able to manage our emotions and that involves three aspects. Use this toolkit.
Raise Your Awareness: first be able to recognize what your emotions are and that they are “in play.”
Reflection and Choice: Once you recognize that you are having an emotional reaction, you need to take time to reflect on what you’re feeling – what’s behind the emotion and then what are the choices you have to deal with that emotion, such as yelling at someone, mediating, talking it out with a friend, or thinking about how to have a constructive conversation with another person.
Take Action: When you’ve had time to reflect on your emotions and choices – you can then powerfully take action in a constructive manner, which could include talking to yourself and letting things roll off your back or making a presentation or having a conversation with someone in a calm and constructive manner.
The opportunity is to manage your emotions — as opposed to denying them or letting them hijack your behavior. Emotional presence and mastery is powerful.
Photo credit: Flickr/Chris McVeigh