One the most important lessons I've learned, after 30 years of building and working with startups, is that few things are as stressful and as likely to trigger more intense emotions than your work. You interact with your team, customers, and business partners more than you do most anyone else. Inevitably tempers flare and it gets the worst of you, if you let it.
I'd love to tell you that I've somehow found a way to rise above it. That would be a lie. But we can all develop the emotional intelligence needed to be aware of situations that make our blood boil, then use that awareness to manage our responses.
You may be thinking, "Wait, why should I mask my true feelings? Isn't it better to just be authentic and honest with people?" My answer is that you should be authentic and honest, but don't use honesty as a way to weaponize a conversation. That only leads to distancing the people you need to have on your side.
If you know someone is well-armed and waiting for you, what are you going to do? You'll either go into hiding or you'll arm yourself for battle. Neither is going to do much for your mental or physical well-being, much less the well-being of your company.
Negative emotions and outbursts create toxic environments, create fear of retribution, and undermine your ability to establish a safe space where people can be vulnerable and make mistakes. All of that only creates distance and discord, which is the last thing your business needs.
So, how do you manage your emotions? Here are three ways to get started.
1. Don't fight it.
Accept that you will get irritated, upset, and angry at someone at some point. Sometimes the level of irritation is so great you will actually sense a change in your brain chemistry. Don't fight it, it's real. The emotional epicenter of your brain, the amygdala, actually responds to perceived threats before your cerebral cortex, which handles the higher functions of cognition, has processed the threat. In other words, you are about to respond by reflex without knowing it, and likely immediately regret it. Instead, disengage and give your amygdala a time out to allow your rational brain to catch up with the perceived threat.
2. Know your triggers.
Emotional triggers are the equivalent of an endodontist hitting the nerve ending of a tooth. These triggers are unique to each of us, they are hardwired at an early age, and they are not likely to go away. Learn what your triggers are and be aware of how they shape your responses. Debrief yourself after an emotionally charged conversation and consider why you reacted the way you did. Give each trigger a one-word name so once you sense it you can identify it and focus on the trigger rather than the reaction. The goal is not to remove the triggers but be emotionally aware of them.
3. Don't hit send.
Given how much communication happens via email and text it's just as likely that an emotional outburst will happen that way as well. My advice here is dirt simple, if you feel even an inkling of anger or another emotional trigger do not hit send. I've seen more damage done due to emotionally toxic emails and texts than I could possibly count. And keep in mind, emails and texts are memorialized in perpetuity. By the way, I didn't say you can't write that email, just that you shouldn't send it.
Lastly, at the end of the day we are all human, we all emote, and, on occasion, we all regret having done it. When emotions do get the better of you, don't double-down and get upset with yourself because of it. Forgive yourself, look at why you did what you did, and do better next time.