In the Heat of the Night: Staying Cool at the Office

The heat this summer has been oppressive! It has robbed me of any desire to be outside and has tapped my energy.  I’ve also noticed that it makes me more impatient. I guess being uncomfortable makes everything less bearable.

Other than sweating at the gym, not much good comes from being hot, especially hot under the collar.  At the office, we’re expected to keep our cool.  Outbursts of temper not only lead us to say and do things we’ll regret later, but they affect our reputation and our impact.

A number of years ago I was leading an organization where this point was brought home to me.  It was year end and I had just received our financial results by department.  My group had been outperforming on all key measures – costs, productivity, client satisfaction, etc.  I was looking forward to a strong finish for the year.  When I received the December financials, I was shocked to learn that suddenly my costs were far over budget for the year for reasons unknown to me.   It threw my budget from favorable to unfavorable, which put my department in a very different light.

Rather than quietly inquire what had happened I reacted. I stormed out of my office and into the office of one of my direct reports and said, “What in heaven’s name is going on in our financials?!” I wasn’t yelling, but apparently, I was loud enough to be heard by others and was moving quickly enough to indicate that I wasn’t happy about something.

Later one of my direct reports from our London office called me. I had a pretty open relationship with my team where we shared feedback regularly so he was comfortable telling me he had heard about my being upset.  He also let me know that my actions had been disrupting to the folks in the Houston office.  Even though I’d not involved any of the team directly, not only had they been affected by my reaction, it was newsworthy enough for them to tell their colleagues in London.

As leaders, eyes are always on us.  As professionals, we’re expected to conduct ourselves calmly, rationally and without bursts of negative emotion.  That’s not always possible, I realize, and it’s not necessarily fair to expect that we can be even tempered all the time.

It’s important that we understand the impact of our emotions.  We must intentionally ACT instead of REACT in difficult situations.

 Here are a few tips I use for myself and my clients to keep things on an even keel:

  1. Notice when things are heating up. An element of emotional intelligence is self-awareness.  Pay attention to what your body and mind are telling you.  Notice when you’re getting stressed, angry, frustrated, hungry, or tired.  All of these are kindling for an emotional fire.
  2. Interrupt the emotion. Do something to slow yourself down. Take a deep breath. Count to ten.  Walk around the room.  If you’re in a meeting and you feel unproductive emotions coming on, use your body to step back, lean back, look thoughtfully at the ceiling…anything that gives you a few seconds to choose your next move.
  3. Consider those around you. What are they expecting of you?  What impact do you want to have?  What might they be going through?  I was helping my nephew install a tractor part on recently.  (Yep…that’s me doing farm work.)  It was over 100 degrees and he was getting frustrated and angry because it wasn’t working.  I noticed a few things that had gotten him into this predicament.  I, too, was getting frustrated and was tempted to point out what should have been done differently.  But I paused before I spoke.  Pointing out mistakes would not have been helpful.  I kept my tongue, and we got it fixed without conflict.
  4. Proceed intentionally. After you’ve paused and considered the situation, you’ll be in a better position to decide how you want to proceed.  Be intentional with your words and actions.

All of this takes only a few seconds and can be applied in any situation.  It starts with self-awareness and ends with thoughtful intention.

Photo credit: Vladis Chern/Shutterstock

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Susan Hodge

Susan Hodge

Susan Hodge created Women Leading Together in order to provide one-on-one executive coaching, seminars, workshops, and coaching circles to help career women move forward to create fulfilling professional lives. Visit our website for upcoming programs, articles, and resources to advance your career.


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