Controlling the way your brain responds to emotions isn’t as complicated as it sounds. A psychologist explains the steps that will change your behavior.
As a leader, you can’t let emotions like stress, fear, or anger control your behavior. Although it takes time to perfect, there are ways to control your negative emotions and guide your responses.
Dr. Casey Mulqueen, a psychologist and the director of research and product development at leadership training company Tracom Group, says executives can leverage psychology to be better leaders and get more out of their employees. Mulqueen, who has done consulting work for companies ranging from Victoria’s Secret to Lockheed Martin, trains executives to harness what he calls “Behavioral Emotional Intelligence.” The concept is based on Emotional Intelligence (EQ), the ability to recognize, understand, and control your own and others’ emotions.
Behavioral Emotional Intelligence (BEQ) goes one step further–it is the ability to recognize and understand the emotions you and others are feeling and behave appropriately. To illiustrate the difference, if a manager sees that an employee is depressed, his emotional intelligence is only valuable if he does something to help.
The human brain automatically reacts to physical or psychological threats by releasing hormones. It’s a fight-or-flight response that’s a remnant of our evolution from primates, Mulqueen says. When the hormones are released, it’s hard to control your actions. But Mulqueen says that you can “effectively fight your own evolution” and “rewire your brain” to act appropriately by “recognizing your automatic responses, labeling them, and figuring what you have control over in the situation.” Once you’ve mastered these techniques, you can lead by example to foster BEQ among your employees.
Check out Mulqueen’s tips on how to recognize your emotions and control your behavior below.
Engage your prefrontal cortex.
Mulqueen says that the amygdala, the part of your brain that releases stress hormones, activates whenever our grey matter registers a physical or psychological threat. This can happen if a colleague puts down your idea during a company meeting, if someone yells at you, or if you’re doing a presentation and are afraid of public speaking. To battle this automatic response you need to engage your prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for logical reasoning and problem solving, while you’re in the situation and before you respond. He suggests you slow down, think about what just happened, dissect why, and rehearse a response. “These two parts of the brain are directly linked and what you do is train your prefrontal cortex to clamp down and control the amygdala so you don’t have a stress response,” Mulqueen says.
Write down what you’re grateful for
Every employee wants a grateful leader. But since the human brain suffers from what psychologists call “the negativity bias,” where we are more attuned to threat than opportunity, you may have to work at firing up your feelings of gratitude. “This sounds a little funny and soft, but it is grounded in research: One of the best ways to increase your personal optimism and happiness is to keep a gratitude journal,” Mulqueen says. “Every day you write down three things that went well during the day and what you’re grateful for. Believe it or not, research shows it’s one of the best ways to increase optimism and happiness.” So every time an employee does a great job, for example, send them an email expressing your gratitude for their hard work.
Mulqueen says giving back to your employees is another important behavior that helps to change your mood and attitude. “One way to give to other people is to be a mentor to them. You have become a leader for a reason–you have skills, education, and experience you’ve developed over time. You can give some of this to an employee who just graduated college, who doesn’t have any of that and is just flying on their own,” he says. “Spend time every week, or every couple of weeks, giving yourself to that person. Answer questions, talk about your experiences. Your time is a profound gift to someone else. The act of giving also helps you improve your optimism and outlook.”