by Dawn Stanyon
True story: I was a senior in college (okay, it wasn’t last week, but this is relevant: stick with me). Finals week was rapidly approaching and, as an English Major, I had several papers to write before I could even start studying for exams. You know how stress piles on stress? I felt pressure because I was president of an organization (okay, it was a sorority – any idea how stressful it is to lead a group of young women when you’re a young woman too?) with events to run. And I had several other commitments requiring my attention. I was feeling fragile and on edge.
One of my peers knew how to push all my buttons (and, in retrospect, I suppose I pushed a button or two of hers) and during a smack-down disagreement, I threw an industrial-kitchen-sized spoon across our cavernous kitchen. Hard. At her head. Good news? I missed her head. Bad news? She was justifiably enraged at me, our house mother was not pleased, and I had to then navigate humbling apologies and wonky relationships on top of all the other stress. Please note the following: 1) This incident did come back to bite me in the bum related to getting a job and 2) I now adore this woman: Nancy, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry.
The moral of this story is poor emotional self-control is detrimental to success in and out of the workplace. Emotional self-control is the skill of effectively controlling the types of emotions that are especially strong. These skills can be measured by how frequently people:
- Control their temper;
- Remain productive when experiencing strong emotions such as anxiety, anger or excitement; and
- Remain calm and focused in stressful situations.
Obviously, in the scenario above, I struck out on all three measures. And that wasn’t the only occasion. Honestly, to this day I have triggers that fray the emotional control skills I have woven over the years since the spoon-flinging incident: feeling disrespected, being spoken to in an inappropriate tone, not feeling heard, believing I’m not valued. Your triggers might be the same, similar or totally different; however, we all have triggers.
I’ve written about emotional intelligence and the different skill-set areas: emotional self-awareness, emotional awareness of others, emotional expression, emotional reasoning, emotional self-management, emotional management of others. Emotional self-control is in the same family as emotional self-management. While emotional self-management is about proactively managing moods and emotions, emotional self-control is about how reactive you are to strong emotions and how effectively you deal with those situations. Individuals with high emotional self-control restrain their responses to strong emotions and are able to choose the optimal responses to them. Throwing a spoon is never an optimal response – unless you’re being attacked by a berserk chef.
If you want to enhance your emotional self-control, consider the following:
- Recognize that home stress, over-commitment, health and wellness issues are difficult to compartmentalize. Daniel Goleman, EI expert and author, writes, “To the body, there is no division between home and work; stress builds on stress, no matter the source.” Know when you need to take a mental health day and actually take that day off to address personal issues.
- Be aware of what makes you lose your cool. I listed my triggers above: what are yours? Write them down. Talk to people close to you about them. Generate some strategies for navigating situations that trigger your negative response.
- Exercise, create, talk or meditate. Dedicate a time each day (if possible) to doing an activity that gives you joy, peace, satisfaction or all three. When you can make time for activities that rejuvenate, you have more patience and capability in times of high stress.
I’d really like to hear your out-of-control-work-related-spoon-flinging-lack-of-emotional-self-control stories. In fact, it would make me feel terrific. You can comment to this post or feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com.