Many rise to the top of their careers without the emotional intelligence needed to effective lead themselves or others. Learning to control our emotional responses helps shape us into who we want to be.
At Sunday’s Oscars, we saw what happens when a person loses control of their emotions and the significant damange that can ensue. Will Smith walked onstage and physically slapped Chris Rock after he made a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair…just prior to Smith winning his first Oscar. Smith’s inappropriate response robbed many of the attention they deserved and may seriously damage his career, reputation and life.
As leaders rise, it’s critical to learn to control your responses with emotional intelligence, so you can manage your energy more effectively, create the outcomes you desire and lead others. Unfortunately, many leaders have never been taught how.
Self-Sabotaging Behavior from Lack of Awareness
Like many, I was shocked at Smith’s violence. Whether he will suffer external consequences remains to be seen; However, he punished himself by sabotaging a night that could have been so joyous and will now be remembered more for his violent altercation than his Oscar.
This incident underscores how many people get to the top of their careers without the emotional intelligence they need to be effective leaders for themselves, let alone role models for others. Many studies point to emotional intelligence, rooted in self awareness, as the key factor that separates the greatest leaders from the rest. Yet, according to Harvard Business Review research, “Although 95% of people think they’re self-aware, only about 10-15% actually are.”
We will face many triggers in our walk through life, and how we face each one matters. Our actions accumulate like investments and shape us into who we want to be. With intention and practice, you can cross each bridge with more happiness, control your responses and flourish across your lives…but it’s an INSIDE JOB.
Power of Apologies
As humans, we all make mistakes…and when we do, we can apologize. Apologies show others we have empathy for how we’ve impacted them. While our emotions are never wrong, our actions certainly can be (like slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars). If we don’t know how to manage emotions appropriately, we harm others and ourselves.
Personally, I was saddened that Will Smith did not apologize during his Oscar acceptance speech to Chris Rock, only to the academy.
Owning up to our mistakes is crucial, for we need to become aware of our impact on others. When Smith’s apology to Rock finally came out a couple days later, I breathed a sigh of relief. Smith said: “I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions are not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness….I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us…I am a work in progress.”
The Higher you Rise, the Bigger you can Fall
We are all a work in progress. And the higher we climb, the bigger our drop when we fall. Therefore, it’s critical to build our mental fitness in low stakes, everyday situations. This ensures we have the strength to choose more wisely and control emotional responses when the stakes are higher, whether at the Oscars, the boardroom or the basketball court.
You may say to yourself, “I would never do anything as crazy as Will Smith.” But in our own ways, every day, we respond to triggers which may negatively impact ourselves and others.
How do you respond when…
- Someone pokes fun at your expense?
- Your manager or colleague points out an error on your team you didn’t catch?
- Someone tells you something you said or did that made them uncomfortable, and this was never your intention?
- You’re under extreme pressure and all eyes are on you to perform? .
- Your team members are underperforming and you want them to succeed?
As we rise in our field, whether to C-level, Championships or the Oscars, more is expected of us.
Professional, elite athletes are taught how to handle extreme pressure, but most elite professionals don’t learn the valuable skills we need to manage their emotions, until something goes wrong.
When I was a Chief Marketing Officer, I was called into an unexpected meeting with the Chief Human Resources Officer because she’d received an anonymous complaint from a member on my team. They said I’d touched their arm during a conversation and they felt I was using my authority to coerce them. My CHRO knew my intentions were to connect with warmth, so it pained her to give me the feedback. But I needed to know it, accept it and learn to channel my emotions to connect in a different way – with more stillness. Even when our intentions are good, we are judged based on impact.
We need to operate by the Platinum Rule, not the Golden Rule.
The golden rule is to “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you”. The platinum rule is to “Do unto others as they’d want done unto them”.
The platinum rule trumps the golden rule every time, so empathy is critical. It’s hard enough to understand our own complicated emotions sometimes, let alone understand someone else’s feelings. Psychologist Robert Plutchik created the Plutchik Model Wheel of Emotions which helps bring clarity to emotions, given there are many forms and combinations which can be difficult to interpret and feel overwhelming to manage.
Even more challenging, research shows that empathy DECREASES with POWER. So the platinum rule can get harder to adhere to from a mountaintop. Fortunately, empathy can increase with practice.
Neuroscience has recently uncovered a miraculous finding that our brains are not fully baked in early adulthood; we can change and rewire at any stage. This means we can improve whatever we want to cultivate by what we think, do and pay attention to.
If we want greater empathy for ourselves and others, we can.
If we want to better manage our anger, so we don’t explode, we can.
If we want stillness to temper our spark, so we better connect with others, we can.
Choosing our Response, Managing our Energy
Holocaust Survivor, Viktor E. Frankl, a neurologist, psychiatrist and bestselling author of Man’s Search for Meaning, wisely said:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Will Smith could use some emotional intelligence training to really grasp this concept. Professional athletes know this and receive extensive training on how to calm and align their body and minds. We see the sacred pause time and time again at the Free Throw line, especially this month of March madness. They stop, take a breath to focus and choose their trajectory, before they shoot.
In Smith’s apology, he said, “I know to do what we do, you gotta be able to take abuse and have people talk about you. In this business, you gotta have people disrespecting you. And you gotta smile and pretend that’s ok.”
No, Will, there’s another way. Anger is a valid emotion, as all emotions are. If we smile and pretend it’s ok, when it’s not, we explode as you did. Or if we hold it in, then the anger hides below the surface and breaks down the cells in our body. This is toxic.
Instead, we can use anger productively to fuel positive change. However, it’s a powerful emotion, so we need strength to manage.
Channeling Anger Productivity
Martin Luther King Jr. drove meaningful progress in the civil rights movement using peaceful protests. Ruth Bader Ginsburg successfully fought against gender discrimination by changing the law. They didn’t smile and pretend it’s ok. They chose their actions wisely, and others followed them. That’s great leadership.
Effective business leaders can channel anger from an industry downturn or a bad quarter into the fire needed to rally the internal troops. Or they can let a toxic employee know their actions are not acceptable with firm words and actions. Smith could have channeled his strong fighting energy around his wife’s alopecia into raising funds or awareness. Or simply had a private conversation with Rock.
A Personal Example:
As a mindful emotional intelligence teacher and coach, I’m a work in progress who practices. While I still fall down, I can more often choose my energy and my response, which allows me to have less negative emotions in my life and be happier.
Several years ago. I was staying in a hotel and had a negative experience when the staff broke into my room to allegedly fix my sink (which wasn’t broken), leaving it in a state of disrepair and my door open the rest of the day. When I found the door ajar, I thought I’d been robbed until I saw the messy sink. Then, I went from fear to relief, shock to anger. After calming myself down, I called the manager to find out what happened, fully expecting an apology. However, the manager complained about his staff, played “victim” and showed no empathy for me.
I realized I had a choice. Door #1: I could accept what happened and move on, since nothing had been taken except my time and energy. Or Door #2: I could choose anger and let him compensate me for this debacle and realize he needed to manage more effectively.
I chose door #2. I told the manager that their actions were unacceptable and what I expected to compensate me for the negative experience. He begrudgingly did it without me needing to yell or explode to convey my anger. Sometimes anger is called for, but we can deploy it with control and move on!
Controlling your Energy and Response – Four Steps
We can see the detrimental effects of explosive anger, whether in ourselves or others. Will Smith’s actions at the Oscars are visible to all and may severely impact his career, his life and his health.
When you face triggers and want to respond with more choice to manage your energy well, try these Four Steps (mnemonic S.T.O.P.) to strengthen your ‘reponse-ability’:
If you only remember one step, remember to stop. When we’re upset, our field of vision narrows, because we are biologically primed to react to the threats to survival with our fight, flight or freeze response. But we can simply STOP and take a ‘sacred pause’. In almost every instance, this already makes a big difference. Since we’re not thinking clearly, the precious pause gives time for our thinking function to return online.
2. Take a Breath.
When we focus on the breath, we reinforce the “sacred pause”. We align the body and mind, so we can think and act more choicefully, as our best selves. [Again, remember the pro basketball player at free throw line!].
3. Observe your Emotions:
Notice… What are you feeling? Anger, Frustration? What’s the story you’re telling yourself? Notice the physiological sensations with the emotion. What does it feel like in your body? Where do you feel it? In the face, neck, shoulders, chest, back? Notice changes in tension and temperature. Become aware of your moment-to moment sensations and explore with curiosity and kindness.
Consider what it could be like to zoom out with perspective, so you shift from “I am angry” to “I am experiencing anger in my body”.
Reflect…where is the emotion coming from? Is there a history behind it? Is there a self-perceived inadequacy involved? Without judging it to be right or wrong, bring in perspective.
If this experience involves another person, put yourself inside the other person looking out at you and think: everybody wants to be happy, safe, and respected and this person thinks their actions will do that in some way. Does this change your feelings?
4. Proceed with Choice:
Now that you’ve cooled down, observed and reflected, ask yourself: what do you want to do? Maybe you feel like slapping someone, but you realize it’s inappropriate, so you choose a more appropriate action, like using your words in a respectful tone! Ask yourself: how would the person you want to be handle the situation? Be that person.
Think about how you might respond to this situation that would generate a positive outcome. You do not actually have to do it – but what would the kindest, most positive response look like? If angry, maybe you realize you could apologize or let your anger go, as the other person never meant ill will. When you reframe the situation, you can see what’s needed which may be no action at all.
Keep showing up and practicing and you’ll see progress! Please share your comments at any stage. If you need support, let’s chat. Contact me at email@example.com or set up a complimentary discovery session at https://go.oncehub.com/Complimentary60minuteDiscoverySession.
Stephanie Klein is a keynote speaker, author, executive coach and certified teacher of the Search Inside Yourself (SIY), mindful based emotional intelligence program. She is passionate about igniting leaders’ untapped potential to propel beyond functional to optimal in a complex, changing world. In 2020, Stephanie founded Mindfire Mastery to support overstressed professionals navigating change – helping them “fire up minds” to build mental strength and resilience, so they can shift from burnout to balance, igniting greater productivity, relationships and wellbeing. She is the author of “Waking Up on the Right Side of Wrong”, to be published in 2022, about how challenging, disruptive experiences can transform our life trajectories in positive ways. To stay connected and learn more about how she can support you, contact Stephanie@mindfiremastery.com.