Lead Artfully

Leading in emotional situations

June 4, 2021
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Leading in emotional situations

We have all been there.  Someone has triggered an emotional response from you that you almost immediately regret.  That means you are human.  But leading well in emotionally charged situations takes effort.  Understanding what will likely trigger such a reactive from you, and then giving yourself space to choose how to respond takes thought and practice.  Depending on how we are leading in emotional situations effects our leadership credibility.  Poor, angry, or blunt responses can trigger mistrust, fear, or even loathing of you, from those on the receiving end.


Identifying your triggers

How would your team describe you in moments of stress or if things get dicey?  What about when things are going well?  Their experience and perception of you can give you invaluable insights into triggers you need to be aware of.  Self-regulating your emotions is a critical part of emotional maturity.   Have you ever, in a moment of success, said something that you instantly regretted?  A callous or seemingly arrogant statement that instantly diminishes your credibility?  Or likewise, in a moment of stress when your team is trying to solve a problem, blurting out a harsh command or counter-productive reminder of urgency that only serves to add to their stress-levels?  I sure have.  With a bit more self-control in those moments, I know I could have used those opportunities to better role model my own values.

As leader it is important to role model your core values through consistent, calm, and thoughtful behaviours.  To use the boat analogy so commonly applied in leadership, your team relies on you to know the direction you are all heading.   Therefore, a steady hand on the tiller (or till!) is one of your primary roles.

So, first be proactive.  Identify the common themes that are likely to trigger an emotional reaction or response from you.  Ask your team, partner, or family.  Reflect on past actions you have taken that later you either had to apologise for, regret, or wish you could reframe better.

Want to learn more about how to identify your drivers?  Check out our article on critical thinking.


Choosing how to react

You are sailing through your day and the afore-mentioned boat hits a rogue wave.  Also known as your trigger.  Your anger, ego, or nerves churn.  It is easy to forget that you actually have a choice in how to react.  But you do have a choice.  In the moment between the wave hitting and you reacting, there is that moment.   In it, you have the power to choose your response.  Take a breath to stop, think, and evaluate the emotion.  This is the key to self-control for leading in emotional situations.  If you need more time to think of a response that better aligns to your values, take it.  Stay calm, at least outwardly if you can.  Disengage from the conversation by doing whatever activity allows you to take more than a moment.  Take a walk or excuse yourself and go into another room.   If you need to, write down your initial response and re-read it to yourself.  Even send it to yourself and check whether it is reflective of your values and how you want to lead by example.


Other people’s emotions

We often face people that highly emotional and seek to illicit a response from you immediately.  But not every conversation warrants an immediate response.  Do not to get sucked in.  Sometimes a calm response acknowledging the situation is enough.  If an emotional reaction it is out of character for them, it is also good to ask simply and calmly, “are you okay?”, and just be a good listener.  If the situation warrants a response or decision from you, and you need more time, tell them that you will think about it and let them know soon.  But give yourself the space you need.


Leading in emotional situations:

  1. Proactively learn to identify what triggers you emotionally, leading to counter-productive responses.
  2. Think about your core values, and the types of behaviours you want to role model.
  3. Develop strategies that gives you the space to respond in emotional situations, that support your values enabling you to lead by example.
  4. Do not let the emotional triggers of others suck you in. Be purposeful in choosing how and when you will respond.