What Happens When Our Emotions Get the Best of Us

Leaders warn against the danger of letting emotions get the best of us when discussions become heated or frustrating. 

Check out a recent exchange between White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and April Ryan of American Urban Radio, in which Gibbs essentially compared Ryan to a petulant child.

So what can we learn from this example?

 First of all, before we laugh or snicker at this on air exchange, we must remember that it can happen to anyone…at any time.  No one is immune from this trap. 

 Here are three quick tips to help you avoid the emotional slip trap:

 1.  Know your Vulnerabilities
A physiological event occurs within us when our emotions become involved in a difficult conversation with someone – blood pressure rises, our face become red, we become hot, our voice raises, etc.  Mentally track when this starts to happen so you can create a logical (and intentional) response.

 2.  Find your Exit Strategy
When you know your buttons are being pushed, have your escape strategy ready.  Retreat, tabling the conversation, and acknowledging the tenseness of the situation are three active responses to consider.

 3.  Make it Right
Let’s face it, everyone can think of a time when responding emotionally got the best of us.  When it does, there is a need to make it right.  Apologize.  Be specific.  “I’m sorry.  I let my emotions get the best of me and you did not deserve my comment.”  These are hard words to say but the sentiment is critical to maintain the relationship.

 Personally, I’m thankful my interactions with others are not followed by the media and viewable on the public stage.  But then again, the people I interact with can play that tape (of our conversation) in their minds any time.  I want to focus on influencing that playback in a positive way.

 What about you?

First not Next

 The countdown has begun.  Families are eating turkey leftovers, Black Friday has come and gone and Christmas is less than 30 days away.  For businesses, this time of year often creates a variety of items to accomplish in the few short weeks left on the calendar.

I wonder what is on your “to do” list?  I encourage (and challenge) you to not fall victim to the emotional traps of the season.

Regardless of the time of year, the principles of effective leadership remain the same.  Our time should be planned and spent based on our priorities.  Yet, so often, particularly at this time of the year, we are pulled toward those activities that are easiest to check off our list or perhaps to the person screaming the loudest.

If we don’t slow the world down long enough to create a well thought out list of priorities for the next 30 days, it is not just unlikely but certain you will not accomplish what you hope to by year’s end.

So how do you get a handle on those “first items” – the real priorities on your list versus simply what may fall next in line of a long list of to do’s?  Here are five quick action steps.  And let’s face it; each of us could use these little reminders from time to time.

1.  Create a Priority list versus a To Do list.
We can become overwhelmed quickly with a standard to do or task list.  And while there may be many tasks to accomplish, begin with the end in mind.  What results must accomplished in the next 30 days?  Those items must capture the majority of your time – or that of your team.  Secondly, what items must reach specific milestones in the next 30 days?  These tasks create your next level of priority.  And finally, identify those tasks that are not crucial for the next 30 days.  Shift them to a list reserved for those opportunities when you don’t have enough time to dedicate to an item on the priority list.

2.  Learn the discipline of internal questioning.
This discipline goes beyond positive self talk. It is the practice of questioning your participation in a task at any point of your involvement.  Practice asking yourself these questions throughout the day:

  • “Is this what I want or need to be doing right now? “  When the answer is no, have the courage to stop whatever you are doing and move back to your priority list.
  • Learn the difference between “Where can I help?” and “Where am I really needed?” The temptation to pitch in and help out often comes from the emotional side of our brain.  We want to help others; however, when time is limited, putting the best suited talent to each task will allow all involved to accomplish what is needed.

3.  Reduce the time spent in unproductive meetings so you can focus on your priorities.
What are the brutal facts of your weekly meeting commitments?  How much of your week is spent in meetings?  Or more importantly, how much of your week is spent in productive meetings?  Unfortunately, too often in business culture today, we meet together out of habit – often to the detriment of accomplishing anything.  As you review your upcoming meeting schedule this week, employ these tactics:

  • Before accepting a meeting, clarify the purpose of the meeting, ask for an agenda, start and end times.   For some meeting organizers, you may have to remind them that your time, along with everyone involved treasures this special commodity of time.  Even a brief 15 minute meeting snatches at least another 15 to 20 minutes of productivity by the time you stop your current activities to attend, engage in any conversations afterward, then regain concentration to return to your work.
  • If you do decide to attend a meeting, practice the discipline of clarifying ownership and closure of discussed items.  Ensure the time spent was not time wasted.

4.  Learn the power of “no” to the wrong requests of our time. 
We are taught the importance of being a helpful team player and we should be.  However, before saying yes to that co-worker who “needs” you; think about the answers to these two questions:  How much of my week is controlled by someone else’s priorities?  How much of my week is controlled by someone else’s emergencies

There will certainly be occasions require us to lend our time, talents and resources for the good of the greater team.  However, for individual efforts, are there ways that you can help a fellow team mate and in turn, he or she can help you?  A giving spirit can work to your detriment if you are always giving your time to someone else.

 And what about the people who require last minute help to combat office emergencies?  When those happen periodically?  Then absolutely!  That’s what a team if for.  However, for the habitual poor planners and performers, we become enablers when we are always available to help out and save their day.  And the consequence?  We lose time toward our efforts.

5.  Develop smart daily habits – regardless of your schedule.
a.  Spend the last five minutes of every day making out a ‘must’ list for the next day’s tasks then prioritize the list.
b.  In the morning, begin with item #1.  Don’t be concerned if you only finish two or three, or even if you only finish one item.  You’ll be working on the important ones. 
c.  Schedule your email review.  Don’t be a “slave” to each new message. 
d.  Before you leave the office, review the day’s task list and celebrate what you have accomplished.  

2010 will arrive regardless of what we accomplish.  Here’s hoping you take advantage of these last few weeks and finish 2009 with the first things accomplished – not simply those on your list next in line.

Are you a Lone Ranger Leader?

Remember the scene?  The situation looks hopeless.  A villain has taken advantage of an innocent bystander in some way.  Then the Lone Ranger arrives just in time to save the day.  Good prevails over evil.  Departing on his white horse Silver, the Ranger would famously say “Hi-yo, Silver, away!” as his horse galloped toward the setting sun to the tune of the William Tell Overture.

It’s interesting that for most people, when asked about the Lone Ranger, his dependable sidekick Tonto almost always comes to mind.  Rarely would an episode feature the Ranger fighting injustice without the aid of his trusting confidant and friend.

It made me think – does that same kinship exist in our leadership?  Is there such a thing as Lone Ranger leadership?

The quick and most obvious answer is certainly not.  But upon deeper thought, I wonder how often our leadership suffers because of a lack of including others in our crusade?  Do we sometimes miss the mark and take on a lone ranger mentality by not truly involving others in the vision and mission of our future?

The role of a leader can be a lonely one at times.  We are privy to information no one else can know.  A team member may be critical of our approach yet may not have all the facts we do in a particular situation.  Or, the cultural mindset in our workplace may make us one of “them” – management – regardless of our intent and efforts.

So, with those obstacles looming in our workplace, it’s important to identify possible remedies that can help us prevent the lone ranger syndrome from creeping in.

Here are 3 strategies that help me and hopefully will do the same for you:

1.  Communicate intentionally
The practice of communicating of and about our vision and goals does not happen by accident.  In fact when it does, often the wrong messages or none at all filter to our audience.  Find ways to periodically share the vision and goals of your area – why do we do what we do?  This intentional messaging links your business activities to vision.

One would think this is a natural skill but how often do we get caught up in the day to day trappings of the business and slowly begin to do things out of habit?  Engaging others is a continual process and it starts with us.  The challenge?  How often do I explain the what and why of our actions?

2.  Communicate passionately
While intentional messaging keeps the vision visible, how we communicate is equally important.  It is true that every person has a unique personality and with that DNA comes how we communicate.  Some are analytical, some philosophical and others with heart.  Regardless of your natural “language”, it is critical to connect with the members of your team in some way.

When we speak to someone in “their language”, they connect to your mission in a way that makes sense to them.  The danger?  We often speak to others in the language we like best.  So, how often do we miss the opportunity to fully engage someone simply because the messaging didn’t “connect”?

3.  Communicate often
Everyone suffers from short-term memory to some extent.  When it comes to any business mission, it is important to communicate frequently about the purpose and activities of the business.  Talking frequently about progress serves multiple purposes – one of which is energizing those on your team.  It’s that little reminder to your team that activities are leading to a goal.   It creates teambuilding in its purest sense.

Secondly, the frequency in which we share stories and progress helps a team stay on course.  The potential to become distracted with ancillary tasks that do not link back to our mission is decreased the more we stay focused on communicating the progress toward our goals.

The reality is there are times when your role as a leader must involve only you, you must be lone ranger.  But let me encourage to find ways – when appropriate – to involve others in your vision and goals.

These principles may not be difficult in concept but unless they are an active part of our leadership, we can become a lone ranger of sorts and sadly, miss the opportunity of engaging others in our endeavors.

Can we talk?

Former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with the statement, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; and small minds discuss people.”

Interesting thought, isn’t it?   As I think about this statement, I am challenged personally by its implications.  On a given day, what is the focus of my conversations? 

As a leader, we must live in all three categories:  ideas, events and people.  But real question is how do we approach each of them?

Let’s begin with People.  It is no secret that people are our most important resource.  Nothing is accomplished without the synergy, expertise and experience the individual members of our team bring to the table.  For the people in my circle of influence, am I intentionally talking with them for their benefit?  Am I actively searching for ways to highlight their strengths and shore up the skill gaps?  And most importantly, are they a part of those conversations?

Or do I fall into the trap of the small mind?  How often are my conversations simply about others – you know, the “G” word, gossip.  In the workplace, we disguise the conversation as talking about “their development”.  And for those in the ministry/service arena, we call it a “prayer request.”  I think that’s point Mrs. Roosevelt was making in her statement so many years ago.

Events.  They are the activities of our business and may take many forms – projects, meetings, and actual events.  They are the functions of our business.  So, what are the traps of focusing on events?

Do we have a clear purpose for the events we pursue?  Do we plan with intentionality or do we fall into the routine of “we’ve always done it this way”.   Yes, events are critical to the success of our business – but only those events that are tied to reaching our strategic goals.

Mrs. Roosevelt told us great minds discuss ideas.  And as a leader, there is great truth in her statement.

How much time do we spend creating our future?  It starts with a thought and as we discuss our thoughts, they become ideas that can transform our business.

Leaders dream and devote energy to the “what if”.   And when the possible future starts to take shape, we invest in the people and plan the events that can take us there.  Without the ideas, our events have little meaning.  And worse yet, we don’t have a vision to share with our team.

Ms. Roosevelt challenges me as a leader.  She invites me to stop and think about my conversations.  Is she inviting you to do the same?

No One Can Repossess Your Future

While driving down the interstate recently, I passed a billboard that read, “Recession 101:  No one can repossess your future.”  I couldn’t help but smile with optimism as I drove by.  In the midst of our economic downturn, I’ve heard several say they refuse to live in a recession.  Mind over matter, some might say.  This billboard echoed that sentiment.

Upon greater reflection I realized an important leadership truth regardless of any economic climate.  In any situation, the investment we make in our development is something no one can take away.  So the real question is…am I investing in my future?

More often than not, the life of a leader rarely has time for personal development.  Time is spent in meetings, taking care of employee issues, doing the actual job and simply keeping your head above water – to only repeat the schedule next week.

So if the workweek doesn’t naturally allow time for you to learn, assess, grow or simply reflect, then we must make the time. 

Here are a few tips to help you make deposits into your professional development account:

1.  Keep good company.
Just as parents warn their children to be mindful of keeping good company, so it is in the workplace.  Make it a point to identify someone in your circle of influence who you can learn from.  Is there someone you admire for his/her accomplishments?  Spend time with them.  Who are the subject matter experts in your field?  Get to know them.  A monthly lunch or coffee meeting is an ideal way to incorporate informal mentoring into your calendar.

2.  Use technology to your advantage.
Consider subscribing to online groups in your field that send periodic updates to your inbox.  Latest headlines in your industry become available at your fingertips.  Information is pushed to you versus the time spent looking for the latest trend or legislation impacting your industry.  Webinars are fast becoming a standard education medium.  Online affiliations will increase your opportunity to participate in brief webinars on topics of interest.   Many webinars are minimal cost and you can participate from the comfort of your office.

3.  Touch base frequently.
It is vital to keep your development on the radar.  The many demands of your role often push any personal development to the back burner.  While the intent may be present, the reality of life will continually delay the plans you may have for yourself.  The recommendation is this:  add a monthly appointment to your calendar that forces you to reflect on the previous 30 days.  Identify the intentional learning events, progress made to your goals, and plans for the future.  The hour spent in reflection helps maintain the priority of your development.

In a time when every dollar spent is under scrutiny, the investment in your professional development may not be financially feasible.  But it is still an important element of your future.  These strategies are not difficult but they must be intentional. 

Start making deposits in your development.  You are worth it.