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Ush Dhanak: How can I stop knee-jerk emotional reactions?

PM Transform 2018 Highlights: EQ expert Ush Dhanak from People Builders reveals the 5 behavioural self-control questions you should ask yourself before you react in a way you might regret later on. With thanks to Real Plus, realestate.com.au Agent Advantage and Rockend.


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So I want to talk about ‘behavioural self-control’ first as a topic. This is one that I personally struggle with all the time. Behavioural self-control is really taking a pause and a step before you make a decision about how you’re going to react.

As I said earlier, with hindsight we have that option of going, “Oh, I wish I hadn’t done that.” What I want to do to prevent that knee-jerk reaction happening with you guys is to share a couple of questions that you can pause and ask yourself. I want this video to be really, really high value for you guys where you can walk away and go, “Yep, I’m going to implement that strategy and it’s something I’m going to learn and do.”

If you’re in a situation where you know that you’re about to make a knee-jerk reaction, here are some of the questions that I want you guys to ask yourself. I’ve written them down so excuse me while I refer to my notes.

The first question is “What am I feeling?” and really name that emotion. Remember what I said to you earlier about the definition of EQ? It’s being aware of what that emotion is. To be aware of it, we need to be able to name what it is. The reason why this is so important is that we are so accustomed to naming emotions such as anger, sadness, happiness. But we’re almost out of tune with the other types of emotions that we’re feeling.

So when you’re feeling like you’re about to make that knee-jerk reaction or response, name that emotion that you are feeling at that moment in time. Is it frustration? Are you feeling stressed? Could it even be hunger? What it is that you are feeling at that moment of time that’s got you frustrated, that you know that you’re gonna make a knee-jerk reaction that you potentially will later regret?

Once you’ve named the emotion, actually document and write down “What are you thinking?” If someone’s annoyed you in a work context, what is it that you’re thinking at that moment in time? Are you thinking that you want to lay into them? Are you thinking you need to have some space? What is it that you’re actually thinking? The process of you trying to document what you’re thinking, it actually slows down your thoughts, your processes. It allows for space for clarity to come in. Take a couple of seconds and if you don’t have the ability to write it down – if you’re in that situation and you haven’t got anything to write it down on – pause, reflect and think about it in your head.

The third question I want you guys to ask is “What do I want to happen in this situation?” What that’s getting you to do is really reflect on the outcome that you want. Again, it’s pausing that knee-jerk reaction and then, later on, going, “Oh my God, I wish I hadn’t done that!” Whatever situation it is that you’re dealing with, get really clear on what is it that you want to happen. Once you got that, you’ve got that solution right in front of you.

The next question…this is a bit of an awkward one and it can sometimes make you feel uncomfortable. But the question is, “How am I getting in my own way?” The other way to reframe that question is, “How might you sabotage the outcome that you’ve just identified you want if you act on impulse?” In terms of you getting in your own way, it could be that you’re going to make a response without having thought about all the information you need. It might be that you genuinely are hungry or frustrated, you’re stressed and you’re not in the right frame of mind to give that advice that someone’s asked you for. So, really think about how you are going to sabotage the outcome that you want.

The last question that I want you guys to think about is, “What do you need to say right now that is going to get you the outcome that you want?” That could potentially be something as simple as, “Can you leave that with me, and I’ll come back to you?” or it could be as simple as, “Thank you for letting me know. I’m just going to take some time to reflect on that and I’ll get back to you.”

For me, I use those strategies all the time. When you’re first using these, it can seem a bit clunky and they actually say that, for you to learn a new skill, you need to do it 90 times before it starts getting comfortable. I promise you, when you do this initially, it’s going to feel a bit awkward. It’s going to feel a bit clunky and a bit weird because you’re going through the five steps of asking yourself those questions. 

But if you can stick at it, I promise you it will get easier. You’ll get to the point where you don’t even need to write down your answers and you’ll be able to do that within your mind, and have that clarity. You will prevent that knee-jerk reaction that you could potentially later regret that can also damage your relationships. 

Have a go, but it’s really, really important to exercise that behavioural self-control if you want to be in a position to manage and have good relationships in the business world.

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