10 Ways to Keep Cool and Composed

This post was originally recently
published in
SmartBlog on Leadership:

When a leader
blows up, loses their temper, or lets their emotions get the better of them
they can quickly develop a reputation as volatile, moody, defensive, or having
a lack of leadership presence.

Unfortunately,
all it takes is one public outburst. When coaching leaders who have received
negative 360 degree feedback about composure, I’ll ask them when the last time
they lost their cool was. In most cases, it’s on a rare occasion, maybe months
ago. However, people remember, and it becomes a tough reputation to overcome.

Maintaining
your composure can be hard! Emotions serve us well, especially in dangerous
situations. Chemicals are triggered that enable us to run away from or fight an
angry bear. Which serves us fine if we are in the woods confronted by an angry
bear. Not so good when confronted by an angry co-worker in a meeting.

So what can you
do to overcome the urge to throttle your co-worker that says something that
sets you off? Here are 10 techniques to try:

1. Channel your emotions deliberately. Learn to use your emotions as a tool,
and not let your emotions control you. Great leaders understand the power of
emotion. They use them to inspire, to demonstrate passion, and to be seen as
authentic. However, they never let their emotions take over their brains and
make them say stupid things that they later regret.

2. Identify your “triggers”. What people, behaviors, or situations
tend to set you off? Think back over the last 6 months. Chances are, you’ll
identify patterns. Give up on the expectation that the world or others need to
change to stop setting you off. Own your own triggers and take responsibility
for changing how you react.

3. Practice active listening. When you feel that trigger and adrenaline
rush, keep your mouth shut and listen. Ask clarifying questions and paraphrase
your understanding of the other person’s point of view. Active listening will
not only buy you time to regain your composure, it will help diffuse the
emotions of the person that’s attacking you.

4. Count to 10. Yes, it’s a cliché, but it works!

5. The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise: Credit goes to Mary for this one. Although
you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while
learning the exercise.
·        
Exhale completely through your mouth

·        
Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your
nose to a mental count of four.

·        
Hold your breath for a count of seven.

·        
Exhale completely through your mouth, to a count of eight.

·        
This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the
cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of
4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise
up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can
slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.

6. Exercise,
diet, and sleep.
A lack of any of these will lead to stress, which
leads to a greater likelihood of losing your cool.

7. Take a
“helicopter view”.
Imagine yourself rising above the situation and
looking down at what’s happening. Analyze the situation – try to put yourself
in the other person’s shoes and figure out where they are coming from. Then,
come back down and attempt to address the issue.

8. Learn to
accept feedback as a “gift”
. Learn the art of giving and receiving feedback.

9. Take it
“off-line”.
If it’s an issue that should be resolved between you and “the bear”,
suggest that the issue be discussed and resolved after the meeting. Doing so
allows both parties the chance to calm down and prepare to focus on problem
solving without emotion getting in the way. Sometimes, what seemed important
even goes away or becomes much less important.

10. Learn
alternative approaches to handling conflict.
Most people have a preferred
style of handing conflict. There are actually six: competing, collaborating,
compromising, avoiding, and accommodating. None are better than the others,
they all can be very effective. See
the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode
Instrument (TKITM)
for more on the six conflict styles, and take the
assessment to find out what your preferred style is.

Try out a few of these techniques until you find one that works for you,
and you’ll be seen as a leader that stays calm and can take the heat when it
gets hot in the kitchen.