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Managing your emotional responses in the boardroom

Wearing your heart on your sleeve in the boardroom? Once our emotional response has bolted it can be a challenge to rein it in.


“You’re being too emotional.”

That phrase is simply a red flag to a bull no matter our gender, and many of us are familiar with a gush of lame retort options then flooding our brain. We were obviously on the defensive at the start and now we’re in danger of doubling down.

Once our primal fight or flight response has bolted it’s a big challenge to rein it in, but the better leader in us will want to learn to try. Logic dictates that we’re at our best when we’re thinking strategically and have a grounded sense of clarity around what we value in the moment. Not when we’re flailing at our assailant.

Our emotional reactions are valid – and they will persist – but when we practice the skill of leveraging their dynamic energy for positive effect, that’s when magic happens. When we try our hand at being accountable for managing our own response, we’re suddenly empowered by personal choice and we’ve opened the door to our emotional intelligence.

Here are some tips for pulling the handbrake on your emotional knee-jerk reaction once it’s started.

On the next occasion where you feel triggered to react, make a conscious choice to create a gap between your initial emotion and your verbal response to it. Take a slow deep breath. In the next few seconds, ask yourself:

  1. What am I feeling?
  2. Where will it lead?
  3. What do I value as an ideal outcome here?
  4. Do I need to be on the defensive or is there an alternative approach?
  5. Can I shift into a more constructive emotion now, such as curiosity or empathy?
  6. What response do I now strategically choose?

You may be asking yourself if it’s really possible to think through all of this in a matter of seconds and shift your gears in time, but you’ll find that even just your increased focus on self-awareness will make a difference, and the rest will follow in time.

Following are a few rewards for your efforts.

Increased ‘Presence’ through Self-Awareness: With a sharpened ability to recognise our emotions as they arise, we’re empowered with the opportunity to manage them purposefully in alignment with our true objectives.

Self-Control: When we work to identify, acknowledge and accept our personal conflict triggers and are practiced at managing them quickly, we can bypass those spontaneous reactions that inflame, by creating a short gap in time. It’s in that space that we can contemplate and manage our response.

Effective Relationships: With this new emotional agility, we’re better able to curb our defensive tendencies, and avoid the disruptive finger pointing and blame.

Flexibility: Our world is transforming so quickly, it’s more important than ever to develop a mindset that is skilled at being open, accepting and adaptive to change at every turn.

Solution Focus: By managing emotions and remaining as objective as possible during conversations that have the potential to be volatile and unproductive, we can focus our attention on outcomes and end results. Knowing how to regulate our emotional responses in alignment with ‘best outcomes’ is an empowering place to start.

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