Thursday, July 20, 2017

Things Better Left Unsaid



One of the principle skills of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is self-control: managing impulses to say or do inappropriate things even when the urge is strong to do them. The stakes are high when we don't think before speaking or don't consider the negative consequences of being impulsive.

In fairness, we all struggle with maintaining self-control because we have biological impulses that work against us. For the purposes of survival, we are hard-wired to feel before we think. A small gland in our brain triggers this instinct and for a brief moment takes over our rational thinking, as Daniel Goleman calls it "an amygdala hijacking." We have all been the victim of it, reacting in the heat of the moment and feeling out of control to stop it. And in some cases, the outcome may be serious.

Low self-control presents itself in angry outbursts, compulsive talking, interrupting or talking over others, impulsiveness, poor judgment, loss of emotional control (crying), and utter inappropriateness.

We have a good biological reason to have low self-control but that is absolutely not an excuse for it. There is no getting away with, "It's not my fault, I was the victim of a hijacking.” Sorry. Most of the time, the critical time to use self-control is the first five seconds of the trigger. When you feel the blood rush to your face and your heart race with adrenaline, is when you need to stop and count to five. The impulse wave will pass and you get your rational mind back.

One profession that could benefit overall from increasing self-control is sales. Most salespeople tend to talk way too much. When I am working out in the field doing performance coaching via job shadowing with salespeople it is very common to see chronic chattiness in interactions with customers. In one case, the salesperson spoke for 46 minutes of a 50 minute meeting (and yes, I timed it) and barely let a customer get a word in. It was torture for me to witness it and I couldn't get the song out of my head, "you talk too much...you never shut up...” Consider your talking/listening ratio when interacting with others, particularly customers.  

If you could use some help in increasing your self-control or need to coach someone else, here are some tips:

1. Be mindful of any impulses to say what you are thinking; use long pauses and take opportunities to buy time while you collect your thoughts.

2. Call a time-out if you sense growing anger; use cooling off periods and remove yourself from the situation.

3. Identify triggers for your impulsiveness; pre-plan strategies for dealing with people or situations that you know will test you.

4. Use the "draft" folder in email; it is there for a reason. Before sending any emails written in the heat of the moment, sleep on it and reread them the next day before you press Send.

5. Manage your stress; lower Stress Tolerance makes you more vulnerable to losing control.


Exercising impulse control is not easy, but with some conscientious effort it can be dramatically improved. And just think how nice it will be to spend less time apologizing for saying something that you later regretted.  

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