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Part 2: The case of Emotional Intelligence – "Self-Regulation"

What is it?

Once you are self-aware (see previous post on EI), you can successfully self-regulate. While self-awareness is about noticing, self-regulation is about doing.

Self- regulation is defined as the “control or supervision from within instead of by an external authority; the bringing of oneself or itself into a state of order, method, or uniformity”.

When you self-regulate, you deliver a response (a behavior) that is appropriate to the situation and aligned with your core values and beliefs. A self-regulated response feels right and it feels good; it reflects who you are and what you value! 

Also, a self-regulated helps you achieve your goals. You can clearly see “what you have to do” (behavior) to get “where you want to get” (goal). 

Remember, emotions are contagious! Self-regulating leaders will infuse a sense of control and confidence that will inspire their team.


A story

Jack has recently relocated to a new country and taken charge of the local operations. He and his team have put a lot of work in to define a business strategy and they have agreed on the key priorities for the years ahead. However, Jack notices that one of the directors seems to repeatedly be following his agenda. Jack is under a lot of pressure, going through so many changes, learning about the business and the local culture and so on….and now he also has to deal with the director’s behavior. What can he do? 

A leader with poor self-regulation will get overwhelmed by negative emotions. He will end up confronting the director and most probably lose his temper. He will raise his voice or use a harsh tone, will talk more than he listens, will dictate the priorities. He may end up putting the work relationship at risk. Later, he will feel disappointed and not in control; he will be even more worried about the business, the relationship with his director and his image as a leader ("what others will think or say about me"). 

Now think of how a "self-regulated Jack" would handle this situation. He would first spend some time going through his internal dialogue, "what am I thinking and feeling about this person and this situation" (self-awareness); he would reflect on what the other person’s motives could be, ask around to check if there is something he is not aware of (e.g. past habits, personal issues, different expactations, cultural differences,..); finally, he would rehearse in his mind the kind of conversation he wants to have with the director. This process will help him enter the meeting room feeling grounded and in control; he will stay calm, listen and be able to express his ideas with lucidity. Chances are that both Jack and his director will gain more clarity, understand each other better and agree to a better way of working together in the future.

Important - After this conversation, the director may not change his behavior; that's a possibility and it is not in Jack's control. In fact, we cannot change people, we can only create the conditions for them to change. In any case, Jack will know that he has done what was in his power to support the director; he will feel stronger in his leadership position and much more clear about the possible next steps.

In summary, leaders who self-regulate remain calm, aware of their internal state and consciuos. Their actions always align to their values as they feel grounded and safe. Most of the time =)


The Tool

The following tool works magic to improve self-regulation on the spot.

The S.T.O.P. technique was developed by therapists to help calm down and interrupt recurring negative thoughts. It is a very good practice to create space between yourself and the situation, to observe your inner territory and to prepare a balanced response:


Step back: Tell yourself to take a “virtual” step back to distance yourself from the situation. Visualize your body moving away from it.

Take a deep breath: Inhale for 4, exhale for 6, repeat a few times.

Observe: Look inward. What are you thinking right now? Observe that your thoughts are not facts, and that there might be something else you are not considering. What could that be? What are you feeling and how do you want to feel instead? Research has found that naming your emotions helps calm down and gain control. Which of your values may be at risk or not respected? Body-scan to check your body (e.g sweat, hearth rate, tensions) and try to rebalance by stretching, standing up, taking a walk around the room, mobilizing your neck, ….

Proceed: now you are ready to reorganize your thoughts and deliver a self-regulated response. This includes speaking with poise, listening and asking questions with curiosity.

You can use S.T.O.P anytime you need to feel more grounded and reconnected to yourself. For example, you can use S.T.O.P. as a morning routine to help set an intention for the day; before a presentation to gain calmness and clarity, and even when you are on a diet and trying to avoid bread! The more you practice, the easier and faster it will become. Practice to master!


Important: Using this tool does not mean that you become a “soft” leader. There are situations when you need to “raise” your voice, tell people what to do to steer the boat in the right direction, deliver honest feedback, demand vs. ask…. and that’s ok. However, if you act from a place of awareness and self-regulation, you will avoid emotions getting in the way. Your response will be clear, supported by data, rational and people will respect that.

Hint: the description of this tool is long, but it really takes just seconds for each step. The more you practice the faster and more natural it will get. A small object, a screensaver with the stop sign or a post it on your notebook can help you remember S.T.O.P. 


Do you think S.T.O.P. could be a helpful tool for you?

Practice is key so pls do not STOP trying! And let me know if I can help! 




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