Nothing good ever comes from blowing your top at work or anywhere. To be fair, I’ve seen when leaders lose it but admittedly get a point across, but the collateral damage (to their reputation and the culture) is substantive. And in the end, any semblance of something useful they accomplished with their tirade certainly could have been achieved in many other ways.
I realize this is a classic case of “easier said than done.” I work hard at displaying high EQ and yet I still have moments of eruption I’m not proud of.
So let’s turn to science for help.
Important research published in 2012 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology paved the way for a better way forward. The research found that keeping calm in the moment is about one primary thing.
Self-distancing, or what the researchers called the “fly on the wall” approach.
Up until this study, there were questions about whether or not people could realistically self-distance themselves immediately after being provoked and whether or not this detachment behavior would effectively reduce aggressiveness.
In the study, participants were consistently and increasingly rudely interrupted in performing a task that involved them speaking into a microphone to record answers. The participant’s interviewer/partner repeatedly feigned not being able to hear him/her, shouting as a final provocation, “Look, this is the third time I have to say this! Can’t you follow directions? Speak louder!”
I probably would have lost it. But high EQ, detached-perspective individuals didn’t.
The study findings concluded that, indeed: “People can self-distance in the heat of the moment, and doing so reduces aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, and aggressive behavior.”
So how can you practice cool detachment when things get hot?
1. Know that how you feel can’t be controlled but how you react can.
As the Mayo Clinic puts it in their number one recommendation for avoiding angry outbursts: think before you speak. It sounds obvious, I know, but it couldn’t be harder to act on.
Here’s a trick I use. When I feel rage coming on I have a trigger thought: “Question before quip.” Meaning, in the moment, I’ve trained myself to stop and ask a reflective question or two before I fire off a rage-filled quip or two. Questions like, “Am I about to overreact?”
2. Separate the person from the point.
Conflict often arises from tension in an underlying relationship, not from the point at hand. When you’re entering into an interaction with someone who you know pushes your buttons, remind yourself to treat the encounter based on the merits of the ideas/thoughts on the table, not based on what you’ve thought about this person in the past.
It’s easy to let how you feel about another’s personality seep into what they’re saying/doing, thus discoloring it in an unfair way. High EQ people separate church and state here.
3. The camera in the corner.
This is another trick I use. When I feel a rampage coming on, I picture a camera sitting in the corner of the room, recording my reaction and projecting it to the world. Will I be proud of how I’m about to react, or not? I’m literal about it too. I quickly pick a corner of the room, turn my head, and pop in the visual of a remote camera sitting there staring at me.
Science proves this a powerful technique. A 2012 study from Daniel Schacter of Harvard University’s Department of Psychology showed that the brain can’t distinguish between past memories and imagined future states. So imagining that camera sitting in the corner, recording your outburst and causing tremendous embarrassment, will register in your brain as if it was an actual past memory. You might even subconsciously wince a little bit.
So visualize that video camera.
4. Put perspectives on a pedestal.
We all get better because we don’t all think the same. Anger flashes often arise when someone is presenting a perspective different from our own. In the heat of the moment, it helps to remind yourself to commend, not condemn, the opposing point of view. If you tend to be opinionated and even a bit close-minded at times, this is the tip for you.
5. What’s making you boil deep down is only what’s on the surface for someone else.
This is a call for good ol’ fashioned empathy. If people are behaving in ways clearly deserving of your anger, the odds are what you’re seeing is just the surface of something going on more deeply behind the scenes with them.
Everybody has their thing. Maybe the person is going through health issues, a broken marriage, or something worse. Assuming there’s more than the surface level behavior you’re seeing helps you keep your reaction in perspective.
So keep your EQ high to keep your temperature low.