One of my participants asked the most brilliant question on a leadership training this week.  We were talking about the importance of managing your emotional intelligence as a leader, which is so critical considering it’s the leader that sets the tone of a team. To the extent that the leader of a team shows up as frustrated or anxious, it creates a multiplier effect that spills over onto everyone else, and the problem is that your team isn’t going to do their best work in an environment like that.

“I know it’s important to reflect.  Meditation and journaling are helpful.  Exercise is helpful.  Sleep is important I know.  But what do I do if say I’m in a meeting, and it’s tense.  And I find my emotions getting triggered.  Let’s say I get angry because the person I’m dealing with is inflexible and difficult.  What can I do to manage my emotions then?”

I love this question.  And it brings up a great point.  A lot of the stress management and emotional management techniques out there are aimed at what I call maintenance.  Establishing healthy practices that enhance our overall quality of emotional well-being.  And these are fantastic as they greatly reduce the overall probability that we will get triggered at an inopportune time. 

But we all have a bad day.  We all have a bad moment.  We’re human after all, and the human experience is full of emotions, some on the positive side, some on the painful and so called “negative” side.  That’s the inherent duality of life.  And no matter how subtle our reaction to something that triggers us, it still triggers us.  Maybe we don’t say what we would really like to say or what we’re thinking in the moment – I’m scared, You’re wasting my time, You’re an idiot, I’m an idiot, This is stupid, but it still affects us and the quality of the interaction we are engaged in.  We tense up, they tense up.  We tune out, they tune out.  Energetically something is going on, something is not being said, but tension hangs in the air, and you could cut it with a knife.

So back to the amazing question.  What do I do?  The following practice is one that could be helpful.  You can use aspects of it in the moment if you find yourself in a pinch, maybe you just utilize the pause step at that critical moment when you’re really triggered and you can also utilize it as a diagnostic tool to help build awareness.

How to manage emotions in a difficult situation – a 3 step process

Pause – Take a couple of deep breaths.  If you’re in a meeting no one has to know.  If it’s appropriate you might excuse yourself for a minute or two. 

Then ask yourself a question or two: 

  • What am I noticing right now in myself? 
  • In my body? 
  • How am I feeling?

Whatever the feeling is, it’s valid.  Just acknowledge it.  There’s no need to blame or shame yourself for feeling whatever is coming up.  You might tell yourself something along the lines of, “I’m frustrated right now and that’s okay.  Everyone gets frustrated from time to time.” 

When you start to practice this you’ll notice this step doesn’t take more than a minute or two.

Zoom out – This is the 30,000-foot up helicopter view.  Ask yourself a question focused on perspective taking such as: 

  • What assumptions or judgements am I making right now about myself, others or the context? 
  • What’s really true? 
  • What do I need to let go of?
  • How might I be contributing to the problem?

Maybe after a question such as this you may come to the conclusion that the person you’re dealing with isn’t as inflexible or difficult as you thought.  Maybe you realize that you’ve been a bit inflexible and difficult yourself in the past.  Maybe you realize that you’re taking too much responsibility for solving the problem, or that the issue doesn’t have to be solved as quickly as you initially assumed.  Assumptions and judgements are powerful.  And while they can often be helpful as they act as mental shortcuts, they can sometimes hinder us.

Be in choice – Now that you’ve got some much-needed perspective, you can choose your next action, rather than react in emotion.  Ask yourself:

  • What choices do I have? 
  • How does purpose guide me?  This is a particularly powerful question.  If I depersonalize the situation, if it’s not about me, not about them, but a higher purpose, I’m more inclined to show up in a considered way.  I’m more inclined to take the high road, because I’ve tapped into who I want to be as a leader.  I’ve tapped into what will best serve the team, the organization as a whole.
  • What do I see now that I didn’t see before?

We may choose to still take the person on or show up in a combative way.  But the difference is it’s a choice.  And who doesn’t like having a choice?

Shelley Pernot is a leadership coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their strengths and talents and step into their greatness.  Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!