Most of us are aware that becoming angry, fearful or frustrated gets in the way of clear thinking, so it pays to stay calm. But when we’re under pressure and our emotions are rising, then it’s really hard to achieve this. Psychologist Dr Kevin Ochsner suggests 5 ways we can learn to have greater control over our emotions:
1. Situation Selection — In other words, if you know that a situation is likely to upset you, or make you angry, then it’s ok to avoid it! For instance, if you know you want to avoid eating biscuits, then don’t buy them in the first place.
2. Situation Modification – If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, then explore what could be changed to make it easier on yourself. This may be as simple as booking a hotel for the night before a difficult meeting, or visiting a venue for a challenging presentation to familiarise yourself beforehand.
3. Changing your Focus – Where you can neither avoid nor adapt a situation, then managing your emotion by focusing on something calming, rather than worrying about the challenge that’s making you anxious, is a powerful strategy. Professional speakers do this through breathing and mindfulness routines before they go in front of their audience.
4. Reappraisal – The psychoanalyst Victor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, pointed out that this is the one thing you can never take away from people – the ability to change the meaning of what is happening to them, by thinking differently to take a new perspective. In NLP this is called reframing. Examples of reappraisal include finding a positive angle to focus on, or ‘becoming a fly on the wall’ to take a third party perspective – and so reduce your personal emotional response.
5. Response Modulation – In other words, consciously adapting your response. One form of this would be to hide your feelings – but this tends to work only in the short term and cause additional problems in the longer term.
The principle here is that we can take control of how we interpret events and the situations in which we find ourselves. Our responses to the same thing may also change depending on the context. An unscheduled delay at the beginning of a project is likely to cause less emotion than exactly the same occurrence the day before a planned launch or product release. Likewise, we tend to be more emotional if we’ve had insufficient sleep, than if we are well rested.
Leadership skills development programmes start with a focus on self awareness. Once we understand ourselves, we can begin to control our emotional responses and make this the cornerstone on which our people and project management strategies are built.