Consulting and Professional Services Radio

Controlling Your Emotions

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Consulting and Professional Services Radio

Jeff Porter / Lew Sauder

Description: Ideas, Information and Inspiration for Consultants and Service Professionals

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Controlling Your Emotions

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consultant to lose control of their emotions and the steps they can take to control them.

  1. Why is it important for a consultant to manage their emotions?
    1. When someone lets their emotions take over, it tends to cloud their judgment.  There’s that old saying “Speak when you’re angry and you’ll make the greatest speech you’ll ever regret.”
    2. I think that really describes it well.  Sometimes we just get so angry we have to blow that steam off to avoid internally exploding.
    3. But in a professional setting, that’s a bad thing.
    4. Consultants can be put into very trying situations.  Let’s say they are executing a project for a client and things start to go bad.
    5. Whether it’s the consulting firm’s fault or not, the consultant often tends to get blamed.  Consultants make excellent scapegoats.
    6. Just the political nature of some organizations opens itself up to the blame game.  And why blame someone from your own company when you can blame an outsider consultant.
    7. Of course, there are times when consultants are at fault. And those times they need to face up ttants are at fault. lf up to the blame game.  And why blame someone from your own company o it and take responsibility.
    8. In either situation, the consultant may face the wrath of the client and need to deal with their own charged up emotions.
    9. And getting angry and showing your emotions can be very unprofessional.  If a client unfairly blames a consultant for something that went wrong, getting into a shouting match with them is not the correct way to deal with it.
    10. It will severely limit the consultant’s credibility.  Some people seem to think that losing their temper will gain them credibility.  Like the louder you yell, the more people will look up to you.  I’ve heard the saying “Raising your voice is the next best thing to being right.”
    11. And as silly as that sounds, I’m amazed by the number of people who subscribe to that theory.
    12. A consultant needs to have a thick skin.  When clients and even internal peers and bosses at your own firm bear the pressure down on you, you need to be able to take it without blowing up at them.
    13. You also need to be flexible.  You need to be willing to be wrong.  When others get in your face and say you’re wrong or contradict you in any way, you need to accept that.  If you think it’s unfair, a consultant needs to remain calm and ask “Why do you think that?”
    14. If you push back calmly and reduce the tension, you can maintain control of the conversation without allowing it to spiral out of control.
    15. Also, if you manage people on your team, you need to influence them to be willing to be wrong.  Teach them flexibility and open-mindedness and the willingness to be wrong as long as they get to right answer.
  2. How does a consultant go about controlling their emotions?
    1. I’ve known some very emotional people in my career.  Some people claim that it’s just how they are.  We’re all emotional.  If someone close to us is in a tragic accident, we’re obviously going to get upset.
    2. But in a business setting, we need to put things into perspective.  I’ve seen people cry or get very upset when people embarrass us.  At the moment it happens, it’s very upsetting.  But stepping back and putting it in perspective, you usually see that it’s not as big as it seems.
    3. I remember early in my career, I had a client manager who loved to embarrass people in public.  I was in a meeting where someone was talking.  While that person was talking, the person next to me asked to borrow a pen.  I got one out of my bag and handed it to him.
    4. In the process, I missed what the other person said.  I stopped them and said “I missed what you just said, can you repeat that?”
    5. The manager went off on me in front of all of the meeting participants.  She said that if I couldn’t pay attention during meetings that I shouldn’t even bother attending.
    6. She had seen the guy next to me distract me.  I didn’t have much I could say.  I sat there seething for the rest of the meeting and when I went back to our team room, I’m embarrassed to say that I threw my notepad and pen against the wall.
    7. No client saw me, but they could have if they had been walking by or walked in at that time.
    8. But my co-workers saw me.  And even though they saw what happened and were on my side, I set a really poor example.
    9. One thing I don’t want to do here.  I don’t want to confuse emotions with passion. Emotions usually source from a lack of focus on what needs to be done.
    10. Maybe by passing blame or just displaced frustration with something totally unrelated.
    11. Passion shows a laser beam focus on what needs to be done.  We need to balance passion with a tolerance for mistakes to avoid letting emotions getting involved.
    12. There is a lot said about emotional intelligence.  This is a term that’s been around for many years, but was made popular most recently by Daniel Goleman in the mid-1990s.
    13. Emotional intelligence is really being able to handle your emotions and use them positively rather than negatively, without any control.  Essentially keeping them in check to still achieve your goals.
    14. It’s also a matter of perceiving others’ emotions and reacting accordingly.
  3. This all sounds good, but in the heat of battle, if the client is letting their emotions get the best of them, how do you handle such a situation?
    1. I’ve definitely seen clients like that.  I remember one client who would fly off the handle at any given situation.
    2. He was so erratic and irrational, that we never knew what he would get upset about – just that something would make him upset.
    3. I spoke earlier about how it affects your credibility.  He definitely had no credibility.  But he had been put in a management situation and we had to learn how to deal with him.
    4. I usually tried to figure out how to get them to cool down.  Now you can deal with people like that calmly, but that can actually make it worse.
    5. I know sometimes when I get angry at home, the calmer my wife stays, the angrier I get.
    6. But sometimes just slowing down your own speaking and trying to calm them down can work.
    7. I’ve also tried to get them to think rationally.  I’ll ask questions trying to walk them through the logic that caused them to make them mad in the first place.
    8. You need to be careful not to just prove them wrong, but to give them an out.  Admit fault, maybe for not communicating to them or something that will give them a win.  But get them to see that it’s not as bad as it seems.
    9. This can work depending on how rational you can get them to think.
    10. I’ve also seen that a change of scenery can help.  If we’re in a meeting and things get tense, I’ll try to take the client off line to another room to discuss things.
    11. I’ll try to avoid going to their office.  Being on their home court tends to give them a false sense of power which will cause them to be more aggressive.
    12. The important thing is not to fuel their fire by escalating the emotions or by trying to prove them wrong.
    13. It may be better just to fall on your sword and apologize even if you don’t think you’re in the wrong.  They’ll eventually know that you’re not at fault and will appreciate you taking the fall and allowing them not to lose face.
  4. What do you do when other consultants are losing it?
    1. Much like with the client, you have to take it offline.  The difference is that you do it as soon as possible.  If you’re in a client meeting, you may have to stop the meeting and request that you discuss it at a later time.
    2. Whatever the situation, you pull the person aside and try to calm them down.  You want to let them know that you’re on their side and you support them.
    3. But you have to let them know that getting emotional and losing their temper is not acceptable.
    4. If it’s a one-time situation, it may not be such a big deal.  You still have to let them know that they have to figure out a better way to deal with it.
    5. If the same person repeats that behavior, it may show a trend.  Then you need to deal with it a bit differently.  It could be anything from a consultant that just clashes with a particular client to someone who has real anger management issues.
    6. If it happens once, you need to let them know that it’s been noted and that they need to watch for it before they get too hot under the collar.  On subsequent times, you should document it and let a superior know so that they can help the person deal with it.
  5. Are there times when you should use your emotions?
    1. Earlier in my career I didn’t think so.  I thought that controlling your emotions was the right way to deal with things. But you can’t just be a robot.
    2. I mentioned emotional intelligence earlier.  The philosophy behind that and a number of other books I’ve read about it say that you should use your emotions positively.
    3. We all have different moods on different days.  It’s important to be aware of them.  If you’re in a good mood, use it to your advantage.  If you’re in a bad mood, try to change it and if you can’t do that, at least be aware of it so that you don’t let it take over your day.
    4. It’s also important to be aware of the moods of others.  Some people you work with, whether they’re clients or fellow consultants, may have drastically different moods from one day to another.  Being in tune with that and adjusting your behavior to others can make a big difference in your relationship.
    5. If you get to know someone and know what days to be more sensitive than others or know how to deal with them depending on the mood they’re in, you can develop a better rapport with them and help them be more productive in the process.
    6. So controlling your emotions doesn’t mean suppressing them.  You want to channel your emotions in a positive way and be sensitive to the emotions of others.
    7. Ignoring your emotions will just cause bigger problems down the road.
    8. I always think of the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “For every minute that you’re angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness.
  6. Is there a way to select team members in the recruiting process that have emotional intelligence?
    1. It can be difficult.  Sometimes you have to go with your gut.  But there are ways to do an assessment.
    2. We talked in a previous podcast about the case interview and the different questions that consulting firms ask candidates.  These can be complicated questions as well as questions about their past experiences and how they dealt with things.
    3. These types of questions give firms the chance to see how an interviewer handles their emotions in the stressful interview scenario.
    4. You know that they’re nervous and if they control their nervous emotions in the interview, you can get a good assessment of how they’ll act in a stressful situation with a client.
    5. Firms can also get an idea through reference checks.  Now I’ve heard people discount references because nobody is going to give you the name of anyone that would give you a bad reference.
    6. But there are questions you can ask references that can give you some idea of how someone handles their emotions.
    7. If you ask them specific questions about it.  A reference is hopefully not going to lie.  In most cases they’ll try to put things in the most positive light.  So if they gloss over how the person handles their emotions rather than coming out and saying how well this person handled their emotions when they worked with them, you can usually read between the lines.
  7. Do you think handling one’s emotions can be taught?
    1. To some degree.  A lot of it is maturity.  You want to hire mature and stable people.  But some people are just conditioned to be reactive.
    2. People are products of their environment.  If they grew up with parents or had previous bosses that were volatile and lost their tempers at the drop of a hat, then they’re more likely to act like that too.
    3. If you have someone like that, sometimes you can recondition them to be less reactive.  It does take some mentoring.
    4. If you work with someone like that, you can work one on one and teach them some tactics like taking a deep breath and thinking through the ramifications of their actions.
    5. You can also teach them just to remove themselves from a situation to give them some cooling off time.  That’s not always possible, but it at least teaches them some awareness of their situation.
    6. Some people can be reconditioned and some are just set in their ways.  I’ve heard people say “That’s just how I am and no one is going to change me.”
    7. The problem is that people who don’t change probably won’t get fired for being emotional. They just don’t get big opportunities and chances to move up quickly in their careers.
    8. They end up in a stagnant career wondering why others continue to pass them up.
  8. Any final thoughts on controlling your emotions?
    1. I’ve seen consultants set their careers back by not being able to handle and control their emotions.
    2. It’s something every professional should learn to do, but I think the thing that makes it difficult for consultants is that they’ll see clients to it – often against them – but the consultant needs to remain calm.
    3. It’s easier said than done, but the most successful consultants I’ve seen are those that can maintain calm in very stressful situations and can talk other emotional people off the ledge.

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