Taming Mr. Hyde

Carlo Atienza-Sui Generis

I WAS in the middle of my hiring manager’s interview when someone knocked, and a lanky woman awkwardly came in. Things were going well, and I was feeling hopeful that they would hire me. But then, my interviewer started aggressively berating the new arrival and ended her verbal barrage by summarily dismissing her. I was terrified. Especially when she turned back to me as if nothing happened. Needless to say, I did not accept the job offer. This happened some time ago.

When leaders use shouting and intimidation to subjugate their team members, it means they lack the influencing or motivating skills to rally their team. On the other hand, when leaders are timid and unsure of themselves, it prevents their team from making decisions or actively looking for ways to solve an issue. A necessary skill for leaders to manage their team effectively is self-regulation.

Self-regulation is just one dimension under emotional intelligence. This dimension looks at how you evaluate the consequences of your actions to prevent you from being compulsive or from acting out what you feel.

In the workplace, this has a lot to do with managing your anger and insecurities to keep a healthy working environment. If you lead people, your disposition will invariably affect your team in more ways than you would care to admit. How, then, can you regulate your emotions to minimize its effect on your team?

The safest thing to do when confronted with an emotionally loaded situation is to say nothing. Some people find it effective to count to 10 or do breathing exercises when they are overwhelmed with emotion. These are grounding exercises so that you can give yourself time to process what just happened and will give you a sense of control. I used to have a student who often hyperventilated, and the school nurse advised me that it was caused by anxiety. Blowing into a brown paper bag gave my student a visual image that he could breathe and triggered his brain to relax. In the same manner, before reacting ground yourself first.

Sometimes, you have to deal with a totally disagreeable person. The tendency when you deal with difficult people is to react immediately to what the other person is saying. But, if you must speak, clarify what the other person means because it might just be a case of miscommunication. People often react unnecessarily because they do not understand the whole context of what someone is saying. In the same manner, listen to understand so you do not react unnecessarily. And even if they meant to offend you, do not lose face and address the issue as professionally as you can.

But you also have to accept that you were offended, irritated, or whatever it was you felt at that time because it will help you become more attuned to how other’s reactions affected you. Acknowledging what you felt will help you label that emotion and help you deal with it in the future.

After identifying what you felt, talk yourself through why you did so. Talking to yourself in private has the benefit of grounding your emotions to a rational level, and helps you come up with solutions to manage how negative emotions affect you. Do not feel guilty for feeling the way you do. Often, what you felt were indicators of underlying issues that you need to focus on. If you do not address them now, they will pester and affect other areas of your life.

While it is good to reflect and understand your feelings, stop overthinking. Discover your triggers so you can have a game plan when it happens again. Often, an outburst is the result of something unexpected or someone else’s fault. To manage how you react under similar conditions, be mindful of what triggered your outburst so you can avoid it, or come up with coping strategies to get through it.

Be clear on your boundaries. People do not know you and one way they can know you is to say “no” when they cross your boundaries. Your team needs to understand what acceptable behavior is when you are with them. My senior manager before would go with us to have drinks or even take her lunch breaks with us, and we would joke around with her and swap personal stories. But when it came to work, we worked as professionally as we could.

When it is necessary to work with a difficult team member, reframe your mind to look at the situation from their point of view. People act out because either they are not equipped to do the task, they do not have the skills to work with others, or they just simply do not want to do it. Whatever the case, identify what is preventing them from doing the task so you can let them understand how the task would benefit them in the long run. If they have no reasonable basis for not doing the task, coach and motivate them. If there is no improvement, you might have to put them under a performance improvement plan.

After doing everything you can do to manage your emotions, focus your attention on more productive activities. You need to understand that you cannot control other people’s feelings, but you can control yours. Read, go for a walk, or talk to colleagues so you can put your mind off a disagreeable situation.

There will also be times when you will lose your cool and have an emotional outburst. If you do, apologize right away. Do not try to justify your outburst but rather, admit that you reacted poorly to the situation and apologize for having made them feel uncomfortable with the outburst. Forgive yourself and then move on. People will understand if the outburst is warranted but as much as possible, stop yourself from reacting strongly.

As a people manager, you set your team’s mood in terms of how they relate to you and to each other. When you do not regulate your emotions, your team will also be prone to react unnecessarily to every issue they encounter. But when you show them how it is done, they would be more deliberate in their actions, manage how they react to emergencies, and promote an environment where they are acknowledged, heard and valued.

Image credits: Annie Spratt on Unsplash


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