Managing Emotions Makes for Better Decisions

I worked for a moving company in New York City during my early twenties. For the first week on the job, I rode with Charlie Micucci (ma-sue-chee) who was supposed to show me the ropes. Charlie was a short, lovable, and passionate Italian man of about 60. He taught me how to move desks, filing cabinets, even safes with a furniture dolly and some leverage. But along with his enthusiasm, Charlie would sometimes let his emotions get the better of him.

One afternoon, we were in our truck in the financial district ready to head back to the office. Charlie pushed in the clutch and attempted to put the truck into first gear. But it wouldn’t go. He rattled the gearshift and tried again. He tried a third time and a fourth time. He looked at me with exasperation, and then with a “Son-of-a-b****!!” he jammed the stick forward with all of his might.

The good news? He got the truck into first gear. The bad news? The stick broke off at the floor. After we stopped laughing, we realized our dilemma. There we were, in the narrow streets of lower New York, with a truck that would only go about five miles per hour. Having no choice, Charlie proceeded to drive the truck about fifty blocks uptown to the Hertz garage on 23rd Street. Elapsed time? About 90 minutes, while we negotiated traffic lights, pedestrians, and four billion honking taxi cabs.

How many times have we all let our emotions get the better of us? Probably more than we care to admit. We don’t mean to. It’s just that our state of mind, like Charlie’s makes us do crazy things. Of course, our mind doesn’t make us do anything. That’s the difference between good decision makers and the best. The best decision makers have learned how to keep their emotions in check, especially when the unexpected happens — someone cuts you off – the computer freezes – or you can’t get the truck into first gear.

So how do you keep these emotions in check when you feel them welling up? As I’ve observed thousands of effective decision makers, here’s what I’ve learned they do:

First, they acknowledge that “stuff” happens. This keeps things in perspective. We’re all clumsy at times. We all get lost at times. We all say the wrong thing. We all get delayed and the people around us have these same things occur. Rarely is it all that critical. So why not look at it in the big picture. A positive outlook on life does wonders for making the best decisions.

Second, they discipline themselves to recognize and manage the signs of stress. When the unexpected happens, it’s easy to slip into worry and frustration. But rather than acting on these emotions, they stop to evaluate. Acknowledge the adrenaline and stress hormones flooding your body. Something as simple as taking a deep breath or changing your posture can instantly change your state of mind. This will allow for a more rational response, or maybe no response at all.

They learn from what happened, but don’t own it. The other day, someone yelled at me in the library for not using my “library voice.” I was shocked and apologized. But he wouldn’t let it go. I said “excuse me” and walked away. As I recovered, I remember thinking, “That’s his issue. Don’t own it.” Refusing to take responsibility for others’ emotions allows you to remain calm and think rationally when the unexpected happens.

All off this is easier said than done, of course. But developing these habits of mind will allow you to turn the corner on managing these emotions. The long-term reward is consistently better decisions and outcomes. How about giving it a try?

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