Work brings us so many challenges the stress can be overwhelming and we can find it difficult to maintain emotional self-control. But how well you manage your emotions in the workplace can make — or break — your career. Following are four techniques I’ve found success with and recommend trying when your emotions are challenged at work.
The first C is CARTOON — use a funny line from a cartoon to control the unmanageable. The unmanageable occurred six years ago when a coworker began screaming at me. Although the point he made was good, his poor delivery was costing him credibility. The 40 other participants squirmed, until our senior vice president called a break. To control my emotions up to that point, I was repeating (silently, in my head) the Bugs Bunny mantra: “What a maroon.”
My boss was so offended by the behavior of his coworker that he followed me into the restroom! Fortunately, we were the only two in there. He barked, “How could you take that? You shoulda punched that guy in the nose!” A mentor from a past career had once given me the words necessary to COMPARTMENTALIZE (this is the second C). He had taught me tofigure out what a man fears and seek to assuage his fears, and you will be powerful. I told my boss that the person who had screamed at me had done it to avoid having the spotlight directed at him over a promise he’d previously made to the group. He hadn’t been able to deliver on that promise and, when he sensed that things weren’t going right, he attacked the first available target. I saw his fear and compartmentalized it, separating it from the human who bore it.
Although the coworker made me uncomfortable, it was important toCONNECT and this is the third technique. At the end of the break, I came up with one truth from what he had said and created a three-point plan to address it. The coworker looked momentarily stunned, so I walked across the room and held out my hand, giving his proffered paw a firm shake. It worked! It eased the tension and it gave me a chance to proceed to the final step. By forcing myself to look for a truth, I began to think logically, thus disengaging my emotions. This helped me gain emotional self-control and helped defuse my coworker’s emotions by making the CONNECTION.
The final technique for maintaining emotional self-control is to CREATE. Each time you handle something well, create a prediction or create an outcome you want to see happen. I used to do this on paper, and today I do it in my task list on my computer. I predict a future event, such as, “I was able to successfully communicate what we needed to do. Now we’ll be able to get this project done early.” In the case involving my coworker, my prediction was “That guy will be demoted no later than March 31 next year.” I also make an annual appointment to reward myself with a latte while I read my predictions.
I was wrong about that person, by the way. He was promoted. A year later, I made a decision that caused heat for his department, so he and I traveled together to address it with the customer. As we walked out, the former adversary shook my hand and said, “I admire the way you handled that. In fact, I admire the way you handle many things.”
With all credit to Bugs Bunny, that man is still “a maroon,” but I controlled my emotions by the use of a cartoon one-liner, a compartment for fear, a human connection via a handshake, and by creating a future prediction.
Using the 4Cs has given me the confidence to know that my emotions won’t overwhelm me. When faced with a challenging situation, I cartoon a mental image, compartmentalize the other person’s fear, connect with the human beneath the fear, and create a better future for my own career.