Change How you Manage your Emotions

In 2014, Korean Air vice president Heather Cho, daughter of the airline’s chairman, and a one-time member of the advisory board of Nanyang Business School, Singapore, became unhappy with the way a flight attendant served her nuts on the plane, (from the original packaging, in conformity with the airline’s procedures instead of on a fancy plate). Cho abused the cabin crew, summoned the cabin crew chief and assaulted him while he knelt down in front of her to beg for forgiveness. She then ordered the aircraft to taxi back to the airport’s gate and ordered the cabin crew chief to get off.

Also in 2014, Singapore-based socialite Nancy Gan, was upset that her teenage maid Dewi Sukowati served her a glass of water on a plastic tray instead of a silver one so she splashed the water on the maid’s face and hit her with the tray. The maid responded by smashing Gan’s head on the wall and killed her by drowning her in the pool.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is a telegenic, supposedly smart (and tattooed) prime minister of the new generation and a very well-liked person.

But in May this year, during a parliament debate, irritated by what he felt was a delay tactic by the opposition, Trudeau stormed across the floor, grabbed a legislator by the arm, and pushed him back into his seat. Along the way he used the F word to swear at a female MP while elbowing her in the chest.

Heather Cho, Nancy Gan, Dewi Sukowati and Justin Trudeau all succumbed to their emotions. All lost their cool. Gan lost her life.

Anger is obviously a psychological emotion, but it is also physiological in nature. Anger involves chemical reactions in your brain. When you get angry, your amygdala, the center for emotional processing, sends a distress signal to your hypothalamus, which sends epinephrine along your autonomic nervous system through the path of the sympathetic nervous system to the adrenal glands, which starts pumping epinephrine (adrenaline) throughout your body. The adrenaline prepares your body to meet a threat, increasing your heart rate and sharpening your senses.

This serves a physical and biological purpose, preparing you to fight or to take flight, but you have an anger problem when your threshold for what triggers this physiological response is too low, for example, if you fly into a murderous rage when someone nearby drags a chair across the floor nosily.

Maintaining a façade of cool is of critical importance.

We are civilized people, not savage animals.

I am reminded of Jorma Ollila, Nokia’s former chairman and CEO, who was known to have a short fuse and was well known for shouting at people at the top of his lungs.

Here in Asia, the moment you lose your cool, all respect for you goes out of the window. Your self-control determines how the world views your external image. With a public persona damaged, you are no longer effective. Some societies will regard you as persona non grata. In their eyes, you have ceased to exist and being cold-shouldered is worse than death, sometimes.

So how should you deal with anger?

First, recognize that you are entitled to be angry and anger is not unnatural. There is such a thing as righteous indignation, when you hear of the massacre at Orlando, when you see the image of the migrant boy washed up dead on a beach in Turkey, when you see cats being eviscerated and killed for fun, when you hear of hit-and-run drivers, when onlookers at an accident site are more interested in taking pictures with their cell phones rather than helping the victims, when public officials are paid millions yet do a second-rate job, or when you discover that the potential candidate you are about to hire is a résumé cheat, you must be one passionless, heartless, cold and insensitive zombie if you don’t feel any rage.

But the right to feel angry doesn’t come with the right to hurt yourself or others.

Therefore, learning how to manage your anger is an essential skill.

The moment you feel your blood boiling, quickly take stock of your emotions. Anger often masks other emotions. As a matter of fact, anger is often a secondary emotion to hurt, sadness, loneliness, grief, downheartedness, or fear. Anger rears its ugly head as almost a defense mechanism because it is easier for many people to deal with than the other emotions. Ask: Do I allow myself to feel a wide range of emotions? You may be suppressing emotions that you think you “shouldn’t” feel.

If you commonly substitute anger for other emotions that you find more difficult to deal with, learn to handle those emotions, or find a good book that will empower you with tips. Temperamentally-challenged people not only mess themselves up, they cause much consternation to others. Being with such people is like having to walk on egg shells.

What I saw on the UCAST screen in a SMRT taxi I was in the other day makes a lot of sense; it said “Stop for a moment, Think about your actions, Act in the safest way.” It was meant as a reminder to the taxi driver who’s on the road many hours a day, but applies to all of us as well.

Manage your emotions well, and you manage your “personal brand” well; you manage the organization you represent well and present a positive image to the outside word.

Simply put, it’s just not cool to lose your cool.