April 10, 2012

Control, You Must Learn Control

“Control, you must learn control” – Master Yoda 1980; I remember those words still ringing in my ears when, in one moment, my emotions nearly cost me my career. To this day I thank my manager at the time for saving it (and me). I owe her so much as she was able to calm a customer down enough so that what I had said to that customer, in an emotionally charged moment, did not cost me my job. That was the defining moment when I realised I had to increase the amount of control on my emotions.

Working with managers, leaders and HR professionals there is one theme that comes up again and again for others, like it was for me, emotional control. This may be about individuals acting out in an inappropriate way in an important situation or shutting down as they are unable to cope.

It is likely that wherever you are at the moment, in whatever industry, the pressure is on to:

??? do more with less
??? turn things around quickly and with higher quality
??? keep yourself ahead in a constantly changing world.

How we respond and cope with these pressures can have a direct impact on your ability to perform in the long term and to simply survive in the short.

Thinking about the Star Wars character for a moment, what Master Yoda says is profound, however what is missing is the ‘HOW’; how exactly do you learn control (when you haven’t got the force on your side?). When so many things are going on, the pressure is mounting and something happens that tips you over the edge and makes you want to shout or scream. How do you learn control?

I will now do my humble best to pick up where Master Yoda left me hanging and borrow from the world of science and personal experience to share the ‘HOW’.

Think about and analyse what causes you to become emotional and what are your ‘hot’ triggers?

Taking some time to think about and notice when and what is/was happening just before the emotional episode took place. This can help you manage your responses more effectively and spot any patterns that may develop.

It may be helpful to ask others (managers/peers/friends) to help you with this as they may see things before you become aware.

Knowing that you are being emotional is good, being aware of the emotion that you are experiencing is even better. There is research done by Dr Paul Ekman that tells us there are seven universal emotions and each has its own unique trigger and expression.

Knowing the emotion and the trigger means you are building the knowledge you need to increase the control that you desire.

One of the final pieces of the puzzle that is your emotional picture is the duration of the experience you are having. When you are in the midst of an emotional episode there is a very real challenge about your ability to acknowledge and take in new data and information.

This reminded me of a section of Paul Ekman’s book (Emotions Revealed) where he talks about a part of the emotional timeline known as the ‘refractory period’. This is where you are only able to pay attention to and take in information that reinforces the emotion you are experiencing. Think about a near miss car accident, for the 30-90 seconds after it has happened you will automatically filter out non-essential information such as:

??? The stereo (or any other type of music)
??? Your passengers

This is because you are experiencing the emotion FEAR all of your senses are focused on spotting other existing or potential threats of harm. Only when you think that the danger has subsided will new information filter in. This natural ability, in this circumstance is potentially lifesaving, in others, it may be life or career threatening.

Now if we change the context to a work one and change the emotion to ANGER; What if that emotion was towards a colleague, a member of your team or a client or customer? Remember, when you are emotional (this time ANGRY) you will only filter in data that reinforces this emotion and that is potentially dangerous.

I hope that by sharing these steps you can begin to take the control you are looking for and better understand the power of your emotions both inside and outside of the workplace. I also want to say thank you once again to Cath, you will never know how much I owe you.

Phil Willcox is an experienced and successful coach, facilitator and consultant and is also the Paul Ekman Programme manager for DPG. You can follow Phil on Twitter @Philwillcox

If you are interested in understanding the power of emotions, DPG plc are partnering with Paul Ekman International to become the first UK training consultancy to provide opportunities to access the outcomes of his science and research in the form of two amazing development programmes. You can find more information by emailing [email protected] or by clicking on the two programmes below:

Evaluating Truthfulness and Credibility (ETaC)

Emotional Skills and Competencies (ESaC)