When the student is ready, the teacher appears.
- Chinese Proverb
I remember a story an older man shared with me about when he was a younger businessman. He was having an intense meeting with his older foreign partners during a difficult period in their business. In the heat of the meeting, he started to feel tears welling up in his eyes. His partner looked at him, stopped the meeting, and said, “George, I know this is difficult. This is difficult for all of us. But it’s unfair to us that you can’t handle your emotions. We are all looking for a way to fix this problem, now we have to stop to deal with your emotions. Please show more professionalism.” The man recounted to me his embarrassment at interrupting their work with his lack of emotional control. He resolved never to let his emotions, no matter how intense they may be to get in the way of the progress of the team. “As much as I didn’t want to hear it,” he said, “they were right. The team shouldn’t have had to carry the burden of my uncontrolled emotions when we were busy sharing the burden of our team’s responsibilities.”
That story etched itself into my mind. It made me make my own resolution, to control my emotions, to not let myself be overwhelmed with anger, with fear, with sadness, nor with excitement, but to apply the appropriate emotion and the appropriate amount of that emotion to the situation. Does this mean that crying at work is a bad thing? I didn’t say that. The question isn’t “Is it bad?” but rather, “Is it appropriate?”
It’s a story I find myself sharing over and over to people to illustrate the importance of appropriate emotional control in the workplace. In the Philippines, where we are already some of the most emotional people on the planet, it’s extra important to be self-aware of how we are prone to overreact to situations, blowing up the urgency or the importance of a feeling, only to realize that by doing so, we make situations worse with unintended consequences. I find that a clear mind, a calm attitude, and self-control are a powerful combination for dealing with issues and achieving great things. Overreacting, emotional outbursts, breaking down, and passive-aggressive behavior only moves us away from success.
All of that to say: Being an effective person means mastering our emotions, not the other way around. It means we rise above our circumstances and transcend our feelings so that the team can stay the course. I understand that my title nor the idea of “don’t cry at work” will be unpopular (I never said, “Don’t cry at work.” I’m simply explaining why I don’t.), but I want to stress that mastery over one’s emotions is an important part of succeeding at a high level. For me, in my position, I too struggle with not reacting, but I force myself anyway. Why? Because I want to keep the team focused on the mission, not my feelings. I want them to decide based on clear principles, and not be tainted by the fear of my possible overreaction. I want to be a calming presence in rough business seas. If I’m just as turbulent if I’m just as unpredictable, as emotional, and as reactionary, how can I lead with clarity? I won’t be able to.
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