Cultivate Emotional Discipline — It’s Your Secret Weapon at Work

Honor your feelings instead of letting them build up.

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By Eileen Hoenigman Meyer

A closing pitcher’s role is commonly recognized as the highest pressure positionin professional sports. It takes equal parts physical skill and emotional fortitude to get this job done.

Even the most talented and experienced closer can’t dictate whether he’s going to have a successful outing; maybe there will be wind, rain or other distractions. What he can always control, though, is his behavior on the mound.

The same is true for all professionals: when you control your emotions, you control your game.
Inward-facing EQ

Emotional intelligence encompasses more than navigating social interactions. It’s also about understanding our own emotions, and strategizing around that awareness. These inward dimensions of EQ, self-awareness and emotional discipline, can seed professional success.

Dr. Richard Orbé-Austin, Partner/Co-Founder of Dynamic Transitions, Psychological Consulting, LLP explains: “EQ is an overall understanding of how to engage with others . . . as well as awareness of their possible emotions. Therefore, yes, emotional awareness/emotional discipline are parts of EQ. For instance, if you tend to feel annoyed or angered by a colleague or your boss, it is important to label the feeling, to understand the triggers for this emotion, and how to manage it when engaging with this individual.”

Emotional intelligence means understanding people, including ourselves.
The stakes

It’s a miscalculation to assume that the intensity of our feelings is a strategic basis to shape our behaviors around. “I feel it, therefore I owe it to myself to express it” is not a savvy mode of operation, especially at work. Imagine how it would impact his game if our closer were to collapse into this mode of thinking.

It’s understandable to feel stressed, mad, frustrated, disappointed or worried at work. But rather than indulging these raw emotions, it’s a sounder strategy to work through the feelings and reframe them in a way that furthers your agenda.

Orbé-Austin explains: “To be emotionally disciplined means to recognize how to handle different emotions at certain times. For instance, if you are receiving critical feedback, while it may be upsetting, it is important to know that it may not serve you well to respond in an angry manner (e.g. become defensive or storm off, or to cry). Emotional discipline allows you to respond appropriately to the expectations of the setting and the audience, to make the impression you wish to make.”

Enacting emotional discipline is a practiced skill, and it can be especially helpful for leaders. Orbé-Austin points out, “As a leader, part of emotional discipline is to model suitable behavior. For instance, during a crisis, your team may not want you to appear overwhelmed or out of control. You might talk about the challenges and some of your concerns, but it may need to be in a measured way, which provides confidence and hope to your team.”
Is this really healthy?

This may seem like a lot of emotional processing, can it really healthy to reframe your feelings so that they have a more strategic outward face?

Orbé-Austin notes: “Having access to your emotions is a valuable tool to engage in a healthy way in the workplace. If you deny them, they may eventually bubble to the surface in an unhelpful way (e.g. angry

outbursts). However, it is vital that you know when, and with whom to share them.” He suggests that regular conversations about workplace challenges with trusted members of your inner circle including mentors and friends can help defuse this tension in real time, so the stress doesn’t mount.

The key here is to explore and understand your feelings, and to do this work at times that suit you. Having an emotional outburst doesn’t make anyone seem sincere or well-grounded.

Orbé-Austin points out: “Sometimes individuals say that they don’t want to be ‘fake,’ and therefore, must wear their emotions on their sleeves. My response is that you should recognize the possible consequences of this authenticity, and how it may affect your career prospects.”
The art of discipline

How do we become more emotionally disciplined? Step one is to work towards a deeper understanding of yourself. How do you feel about the work you do and the culture in which you do it? Are you happy? Are you fulfilled? Tag in a mentor, friend or a therapist who can assist as you explore this.

Orbé-Austin further advises: “Using techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, and breathing can help manage difficult emotions, when we are in situations that can trigger them. Also, being able to anticipate these emotions is a useful way to prepare for your response to them.”

Another helpful tip Orbé-Austin recommends is to be strategic about when you plan difficult conversations. Think through when is the best time for these discussions-before you head home for the day or the week. Whenever possible, aim to position difficult conversations at times when they’re more likely to land softer.
Find your peace

Considered the greatest closer of all times, Mariano Rivera explains how he cultivated calm and clarity during moments of tremendous professional pressure: “I am convinced that being fully committed to the moment, without any worries about the past or projections into the future, is the best attribute a closer can have.”

Perhaps Rivera’s emotional discipline is the best attribute any professional can have.   

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