How Emotional Self-Control Impacts Your Work

Keep your disruptive impulses in check, writes Emotional Intelligence expert Daniel Goleman. Second in a series.

Emotional Intelligence remains a key ingredient in the development of corporate leaders. In this series, best-selling author and Korn Ferry columnist Dan Goleman reveals the 12 key skills behind EI. It is excerpted from Emotional Self-Awareness: A Primer.

Emotional Self-Control is the ability to keep your disruptive emotions and impulses in check, to maintain your effectiveness under stressful or even hostile conditions. This doesn’t mean suppressing your emotions. We want to control our disturbing emotions, not the positive ones (which make life rich, and come into play with the Positive Outlook and Achievement Orientation Competencies). With Emotional Self-Control, you manage your disruptive impulses and destabilizing emotions, staying clear-headed and calm.

Consider this example: The head of marketing at a global food company always tried to find better ways to do things, but had no regard for the people he depended on for that very success. He'd pounce on anyone who wasn't up to his standards. If anyone disagreed with him, he’d fly into a yelling rage. His direct reports complained behind his back, saying he was a terrible boss.

What that marketing executive lacked was Emotional Self-Control.

Cognitive science tells us that the more upset you are, the less well you can focus on what's important, take it in deeply, or respond nimbly. Being “hijacked” by your emotions sabotages your ability to make good decisions or to react skillfully. Other research indicates that emotions spread from the leader of a group outward to the members of the group. Research done at the Yale School of Management shows that if the group leader is in an upbeat mood, people in the group catch that mood and the team does better, whatever it's doing. If the leader is in a really negative mood—abrasive, whatever it may be—the team members get into a negative mood and their performance plummets.

Australian researchers found that leaders who manage emotions well had better business outcomes. I think that's true globally. Does it matter if a boss blows up at an employee? You bet it does! Additional research shows that employees remember most vividly negative encounters they've had with a boss. They remember it much better than the positive encounters. But they also said that after that encounter, they felt demoralized and they didn't want to have anything more to do with that boss.

Emotional Self-Control doesn’t just matter for keeping the leader calm and less stressed, it impacts the emotions of everyone they interact with, and the productivity of the organization. Profits could be on the line.