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Hey, Hot Head, Don't Say It!

By Sherri Petro (1231 words)
Posted in Communication Skills on January 19, 2014

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You know you want to.  In fact you're dying to pop off some expletives that would make Mom turn ten shades of red.  Whether you receive news about a coming reorganization, unrealistic client deadline or one of your peers being absent AGAIN, you've been triggered. Whatever you're thinking at this exact moment, don't say it.  And, please, please, please don't e-mail it or text it either. Easy up on that trigger finger, pard’ner.   


The news you received is out of your control.  Swearing up a storm may relieve your pressure, but it could make your peers mighty uncomfortable. Talk about ruining that personal brand you have been trying so hard to create!


This is about increasing your emotional intelligence.  Just how great of a teammate or promotable person are you if you lose your cool?  Why diminish your chances -- certainly not in a situation that is uncontrollable -- even though it may seem like perfectus momentus for a rant? (Can anyone else hear Kelly Clarkson belting out “A Moment Like This” right now?) 


How about taking another tact?  There are choices that won't get your butt in a sling with your coworkers, cause you to be labeled a misfit or possibly omitted from the promotable list.  What can you do instead?  Here are five steps for you to practice. 


5 Steps to Better Emotional Intelligence

1. Step back and recognize it is what it is.


You know that prayer, “God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference?”  My mother used to quote that to me relentlessly.  The idea is to accept the current reality.  What can make it hard to swallow is that we confuse acceptance for resignation.  Just because you see something realistically doesn't mean you are resigned to not taking appropriate action.


2. Ask “What is under my control?” 


Our current reality is an accelerating business pace, seemingly ever-present economic constraints and our own tumultuous lives.  One of these things is not like the other.  We may be able to influence the first two but we can only control ourselves.  Ask yourself “What can I control?” Your answer may only be the person reflected in your mirror each morning.  Return to step one -- it is what it is.  Can influence be enough? 


3. Stop telling stories and check for facts instead. 


A colleague of mine has decided her resolution for this year is not to believe everything she tells herself!  The news you are reacting to may feel very, very personal.  But be careful of the stories you're telling yourself like:

  • “This means I am not good enough.”  

  • “I worked my butt off. How dare they pull up the deadline?”

  • “My peer resembles the symbol for the Republican Party -- yet again.”

Ask the appropriate clarifying questions first before you jump to a conclusion that can be wrong because your emotions are in danger of taking you under.  Go into data-gathering mode instead.  

  • Say “Here's what I understand to be true...

  • Ask yourself “What don't I know yet?”

  • Ask others 

    • “What else do I need to get the full picture?”  

    • “What do you expect of me regarding this news?”  


4. Determine your options.


As polar-thinking individuals, (good or bad, black or white, happy or sad) we can forget our mindset can be a dimmer switch -- not an on/off switch.  We don’t have to exercise our temper and release energy in anger. We've got a choice.  


What are your options?  We can choose to be more objective, more philosophical or more innovative. We can choose a different vehicle.  We can choose to influence rather than try to control an uncontrollable situation.  We can take negative situations and see them as lessons for the future.  


5. Breathe, then share your thoughts.  


That’s right, breathe.  You’ve accepted reality, committed to changing what you can control and recognize your choices.  Now what?  You may still be tempted to “speak your mind” but consider instead, a simple option.  Breathe. 


In the heat of the moment, it can be hard to quickly assess a situation and speak something heartfelt and yet not damaging.  Do yourself a huge favor.  Take a deep breath and then breathe out that energy that feels angry, disappointed or frustrated.  In fact, breathe in so deeply you're tempted to start coughing out those negative thoughts!  


It's well known that when under stress, our breathing becomes shallow.  Intentionally don't allow that to happen.  If you are in the heat of the moment, say “Give me a second” or “Let me consider my options” or “Let me think about that.”  And then suck in a big ol’ breath and expel that negative energy with your exhale.  


NOW you are ready to speak. You have a better shot at saying or writing something that shows resilience and maturity.  




Our work world can be brutal with so much change happening.  Rather than popping off about something that upsets our apple cart, let's be more strategic about how we react. 


Make no mistake. These steps sound way too easy and we know logic can go out the door when we are surprised – and not in a good way.  Perhaps starting to exercise this muscle with little changes will help when we do experience big changes.  We can exercise this muscle and eventually have more appropriate behaviors in our repertoire. That way, in the long run, cooler heads can prevail. 



{#/pub/images/SherriPetroUpdated.jpg}Written by Sherri Petro, President of VPI Strategies & California Miramar University (CMU) Professor Sherri is a professor, accomplished strategist, organizational development professional and executive coach.  She consulted for 13 years in the for-profit, non-profit, and government sectors after a 16 year corporate career.  She teaches the Strategy Capstone as well as Leadership, Change Management and Business Ethics courses in CMU’s MBA program. Her current passion is educating organizations on how to increase organizational sustainability by leveraging the talents and skills of all in multi-generational workplaces. Sherri offers remedies to misunderstandings that result from different belief structures and lack of coherent communication by creating understanding and making connections at the belief level not only at the behavioral level.


Do you have a question for Sherri?  Please visit our Workplace Communication Skills Community, she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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Here are some related articles you may be interested in: 


Communicating Change In a World Traveling at Break-Neck Speed

The Weight of Your Words

Developing An Emotionally Intelligent Organization

Overcome Complacency in the Workplace

Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: How to Develop Yourself & Your Team



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Comments (2)

Jennifer Gunter posted on: January 21, 2014

Thank you for the rather insightful and reflective article. I find myself purposfully calming my mind as I read this article. As you stated, this all does seem very simple. In the heat of the moment, it is often difficult to see that reality.

Suzanne Bare posted on: January 21, 2014

Anger in the workplace is an important issue. The strategies listed here can make the difference between keeping your job or looking for a new source of income. Taking the time to stop and examine your thoughts can prevent a short-term challenge from turning into a big problem. Often, this type of emotional response at work means that you respond in a similar way to challenges at home.

Excellent communication skills can help you maintain outward composure, but still leave you feeling angry and upset inside. As an coach and an expert on anger, I know it is possible to *prevent* yourself from getting angry by working through the root of the issue. I teach you how to trace back your personal triggers for anger and heal them in my new book:


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