Skip to Content

Self-management for Emotional Intelligence

In this article, we investigate self-management (or self-regulation), which is the second of three key areas of personal skills that make up Emotional Intelligence. Self-management is concerned with how you control and manage yourself and your emotions, inner resources, and abilities. It also includes your ability to manage your impulses.

Self-management for Emotional Intelligence

What you’ll learn:

  • What emotional intelligence is
  • Why leaders require good emotional intelligence
  • Self-management skills for emotional intelligence

Content Summary

Signs of Stress
Stress reduction
The emotional States and Their Triggers
How would you react?
Emotional states and triggers exercise
Controlling emotional responses
Silence and violence patterns
A six-step process to regulate emotional responses
Modeling emotionally intelligent behavior


Stress has become a pervasive experience in the daily lives of people. It can lead to frustration, irritation, and anger, reduced self-confidence, and depression. A survey conducted in 2014, found that the three most common sources of stress are financial issues, family issues, and workplace issues.

Most people react to stress with a “fight or flight” response. A decision is made to defend the threat or to flee from it. Meanwhile, the stress also yields physical changes as heart rate increases, muscles tighten, breathing accelerates and you tend to perspire. The brain releases adrenaline and fuels the system by releasing glucose and fatty acids. It sharpens the senses and to conserve resources it starts to shut down the immune system. The result is invariably negative.

High-stress workplaces often experience high workforce turnover and extended sick leave and for those who made it to work, tardy performance, low morale, poor decision making, client complaints, etc.


Leaders are responsible for the health and safety of workplace teams. This includes doing what is reasonable to ensure that team members are not unduly affected by work-related stressors. Stressors include all the circumstances (mental and physical) that provoke stress. With this in mind, a good starting point would be to identify stressors in your workplace.

Common stressors in today’s workplaces:

  • Work overload: Working more hours (taking work home, checking emails after work hours, taking calls at the weekend) and generally working harder.
  • Deadlines: Challenging timelines to complete tasks or a lack of time management skills.
  • Lack of control over the working day: Little participation in decision-making, inability to use skills and initiative, low levels of task control such as when your work depends on the performance of others or unreliable machines and tools.
  • Feeling undervalued: A lack of appreciation for workers generates stress that can lead to a decrease in self-esteem and motivation.
  • Poor communication and abrasive relationships between the team or with the manager often lead to decreased performance and increased stress.
  • Lack of support from managers or employees.
  • Work-life balance: Conflict between the demands at work and family considerations/leisure activities.

Signs of Stress

Remember that nobody enjoys a team where their leader exhibits behavior that reflects his or her prevailing mood or is out of control, so leaders must also be able to recognize and react to signs of stress in themselves. Self-management is about applying what you know about your own emotions such that they generate positive interactions and motivation for yourself and your team. Determining your own emotional state and learning ways of coping with stress to improve your performance when the pressure is on will clearly help you and your team.

Stress reduction

Common-sense lifestyle steps that anyone can take to help reduce the effects of stress include:

  • Eat well (fresh, not greasy foods), drink plenty of freshwater
  • Get good sleep (stress makes it harder to sleep, but not sleeping makes it harder to focus on work in general)
  • Take active breaks (Research has shown that physically active breaks lead to enhanced mental concentration and decreased mental fatigue)
  • Minimize (or preferably eradicate) your intake of alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and sugar.

Investigate ways that you can manage stress in your workday:

  • Create a balanced schedule: Analyse your schedule, responsibilities, balance between work and family life
  • Don’t over-commit yourself: We usually underestimate how long things will take. Avoid scheduling things back-to-back or trying to fit too much into one day.
  • Plan regular breaks: Stepping away from work to briefly relax and recharge will help you be more, not less, productive. Take short breaks throughout the day. Take a walk if you can, to clear your mind. Try to always get away from your desk or workstation for lunch.
  • Break projects into small steps and prioritize tasks: Make a list of tasks you have to do and then tackle them in order of importance, doing the highest-priority items first. That said, if you have something particularly unpleasant that must be done, get it over with as early as possible. Focus on one manageable step at a time, rather than taking on everything at once.
  • Delegate responsibility: You don’t have to do it all yourself. If other people can take care of the task, why not let them? Doing so will help to foster development in colleagues and let you focus on those tasks that you can do best.
  • Connect with others at work: Developing friendships with co-workers can help buffer you from the negative effects of stress. Remember to listen to them and offer your support when they are in need.
  • Look for the humor in the situation: Appropriate humor is a great way to relieve stress in the workplace. When you or those around you start taking things too seriously, find an appropriate way to lighten the mood for everybody.
  • Don’t try to control the uncontrollable: Many aspects of work are beyond our control – particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems and what the organization offers to protect you from such behavior.

It’s in a manager’s best interest to keep stress levels in the workplace to a minimum and you need to be aware of how your management style might impact stress levels. Managers can act as positive role models, especially in times of high stress. If a respected manager can remain calm in stressful work situations, it is much easier for his or her team to also remain calm. It is vital that you apply positive management practices and that you continue to develop and apply your skills and share what you have learned with your team.

The emotional States and Their Triggers

Emotions are experiences that put us in a state of readiness. In reality, we experience emotions every minute but seldom do we realize that we have experienced them. When we get worried, for example, our heart rate and blood pressure increase to make our body prepared to fight or to flee. You can precisely define the physical experience you have when in particular emotional states. For example, when you are in a state of anger think about what you feel…

  • Do you have a sensation in the body? Can you identify where it is and visualize what shape or color it takes?
  • How long does it go on for?
  • What is your breathing like?

How would you react?

By taking the time to answer such questions, you will become increasingly aware of the emotional states you experience. You will be able to identify events that trigger certain responses, such as the behavior of other people, work situations, different life events, etc. And from there you can explore links between your beliefs, thoughts, and emotions. Remember that your reaction to just about every possible event will be reflective of your own beliefs and experiences, feelings, and views. That is why the emotional response to the same trigger can be so different for different people.

How would you react if I were to tell you that a vital part of this course that has already been set up is for you to talk to one hundred colleagues for an hour tomorrow morning and you need to describe what you have already learned in this course? If you believe that you are an inadequate public speaker, then perhaps you would experience some level of anxiety and fear. You will probably have already connected a series of negative thoughts about pretty much created a no-win situation for yourself. On the other hand, if you are a good speaker then your positive thoughts would lead to some level of immediate planning and excitement about making the presentation. What is important to recognize here is that: emotions are automatic responses to previous value judgments.

Since emotions are automatic responses to previous value judgments, it is possible that the response is not proper. If the original judgment was faulty, the emotion will be faulty as well. Similarly, if the original judgment no longer applies, neither does the emotion. Finally, it is possible to trigger an emotion out of the original context. You might properly dislike someone for his or her actions, but thereafter any other person with similarities may improperly trigger that same emotion from you. Have you experienced that?

Emotional states and triggers exercise

As you become aware of your beliefs and emotional triggers and start to monitor them, you will realize that you can ensure a more appropriate and desirable outcome simply by intervening in the space between the event and your response. To manage your emotions, you must first understand those emotions and their triggers and once you have done so, you will find it far easier to control your responses or choose alternative actions.


Please start by entering the most common emotion you experience in the workplace in this text box (for example Anxiety)…


Now outline the physical experience you notice when it occurs, perhaps by answering these questions:

What do I feel and where in my body do I feel it?

Is my breathing or thinking affected?


Now enter specific people, situations, events, etc. that tend to trigger this emotion…


And now try to describe how you normally respond to this trigger.

Thinking about the exercise just completed, try to identify any core beliefs that might have led you to these outcomes. Think about why the trigger leads to the emotion. Perhaps ask yourself: why? several times as you search for reasons. For example:

  • I don’t like being assessed.
  • Why? Because I might fail.
  • Why does that cause anxiety? I don’t like failing.
  • Why? Because failing might make me look incompetent.

If you completed this exercise diligently, you should have discovered something about yourself and perhaps you might have even started to outline in your mind how you can control this emotion next time it arises. Perhaps now would be a good time to complete the same process on paper for any other emotions that you might have identified!

Controlling emotional responses

Controlling your emotions doesn’t mean ignoring or repressing them. Controlling your emotions means managing them, learning to take time to process and then respond. When we are under stress, we are more prone to react to the situation without taking the time for reflection – and the outcome is often negative. We experience stronger emotional reactions when we:

  • are feeling tired or under stress: have invested significant effort into something
  • have been drinking alcohol: are involved in an activity that is closely related to our underlying motives and values

Silence and violence patterns

Corporate consultants Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler introduced the concept of Silence and Violence patterns about communication styles and how we behave under stress.

Silence patterns

Silence patterns are about purposefully withholding information. The three most common forms of silence are masking, avoiding, and withdrawing.

  • Masking is where a person understates or selectively shares or enhances true opinions. Sarcasm, sugar-coating, and couching are some of the more common forms of masking.
  • Avoiding is where a person evades sensitive subjects. They might, for example, talk around a subject without addressing the real issues.
  • Withdrawing is where a person pulls out of the conversation altogether. They might simply stop contributing to the conversation or they could also exit the room.

Violence patterns

Violence patterns describe verbal strategies that attempt to convince, control or compel the other party to your point of view. The three most common forms of violence patterns are controlling, labeling, and attacking.

  • Controlling is where a person coerces others to his or her way of thinking by either forcing views on others or by dominating the conversation. Methods often include actions such as cutting others off, bullying, overstating facts, speaking in absolutes, and changing subjects to control the conversation.
  • Labeling is used to dismiss the other party’s various inputs by putting a label on and/or grouping them under a general stereotype or category.
  • Attacking is when a person uses tactics such as belittling and threatening to make another person suffer, to win.


  • Might any of these patterns apply to you under conditions of stress?
  • Have you noticed the reactions of different people to your behavioral patterns?

A six-step process to regulate emotional responses

While our beliefs affect our emotional responses, how we respond to a situation will typically reflect our own personality type (or style). You can use the Myers-Briggs or Big Five personality traits tests to identify your own personality type. That said, self-management is the key component in emotional intelligence. Of course, it is not always easy to regulate your emotional responses, so let’s look at a six-step process that should help in most situations.

  • Step 1: Identify your emotion and name it (anger, fear, frustration, shyness, etc.)
  • Step 2: Listen to what you are saying to yourself – your self-talk (“Here we go again!”, “Get to the point, Bob!”)
  • Step 3: Identify your physical responses (shaking hands, red face, heart racing, etc.)
  • Step 4: Affirm your rights: Answer the question “Who has the right to control me?” with “Me!” always being your answer
  • Step 5: Replace non-productive self-talk and/or physical responses with “in-control” responses. (Example: Here comes John. I can keep this conversation productive by posing questions that will guide our exchange. First, I will take several deep breaths to relax and then I will look directly at John while keeping my facial muscles relaxed.)
  • Step 6: Strategically communicate


John reports directly to your boss. He always promises to send you the reports your boss needs but then ignores your e-mails when you remind him that his data is late.

Step 1: Identify your emotion and name it: Powerless, frustrated, and disrespected

Step 2: Listen to what you are saying to yourself: “What can I do? I can’t fire him. He is always so painful to deal with. I can’t stand working with him. I have to get this done or I look bad.”

Step 3: Identify your physical responses: Tight knot in your stomach, jitters, scattered thoughts, racing heart.

Step 4: Affirm your rights: Answer the question “Who has the right to control me?” with “Me!” always being your answer.

Step 5: Replace non-productive self-talk and/or physical responses with “in-control” responses:

Self-talk: We need a win-win here. John is also busy so I need to assertively negotiate some of his time to get what I need.

Physical responses: Take two or three deep breaths. Try putting your energy into walking to the end of the hallway. Try counting the steps you take to slow down your brain and give yourself back a sense of control.

Step 6: Strategically communicate: ‘I need to communicate face-to-face and listen to him and the barriers he faces in giving me what I need. I need to listen for feeling, content, and intent. I need to clearly and assertively state my need but in a way that also communicates that I plan to help him meet his needs both today and hereafter when the reports are required.’

Modeling emotionally intelligent behavior

Emotionally intelligent managers model healthy emotional behavior.

They can regulate their own and understand and appropriately react to others’ emotions.

They empathize and form positive and constructive relationships with their team and colleagues through warm and sincere expressions of positive emotion along with constructive and appropriate reactions to negative emotions.

They apply emotional information to decision-making and are comfortable communicating their vision and enthusiasm.

Emotionally intelligent managers also pay attention to emotion perception in the workplace. For example: “Stan, I notice that you seem anxious about this proposal. What can be done to address your anxieties?”

Leaders should be as genuine as possible when expressing emotion, and as honest as is possible in their communications relating to it. For example, imagine a leader in a company that is being threatened with a hostile takeover. It would be appropriate for leaders to acknowledge that they are fearful and that it is okay for employees to also be fearful.

The key skills of emotional intelligence can be learned by anyone, at any time. There is a difference, however, between learning about emotional intelligence and applying that knowledge to your life. Just because you know you should do something doesn’t mean you will – especially when you become overwhelmed by stress, which can hijack your best intentions.

Investigate specific actions that can help you to practice essential skills in everyday work life:

Control your stress at the moment

Being able to quickly calm yourself down and relieve stress helps you stay balanced, focused, and in control – no matter what challenges you face or how stressful a situation becomes. Recognize when you are stressed, identify your stress response and find the stress-busting technique that works best for you.

Be aware of your emotions

We know that an awareness of your emotions and how they influence your thoughts and actions is the key to understanding yourself and remaining calm and focused on intense situations. We can distort, deny or numb our feelings, but we can’t eliminate them. They’re still there, whether we’re aware of them or not. Unfortunately, without emotional awareness, we are unable to fully understand our own motivations and needs or to communicate effectively with others.

Learn non-verbal communication

Even when you’re silent, you’re still communicating nonverbally. Being a good communicator is not only about verbal skills and the ability to manage stress. Often, what you say is less important than how you say it and the nonverbal signals that you send. These include the gestures you make, the way you sit, how fast or how loud you talk, how close you stand, or how much eye contact you make. If you insist, “I’m fine,” while clenching your teeth and looking away, your body is clearly signaling the opposite. Your nonverbal messages can produce a sense of interest, trust, excitement, and desire for connection – or they can generate fear, confusion, distrust, and disinterest.

Use humor as an effective stress reliever

A good laugh reduces stress, elevates mood, and brings your nervous system back into balance. Playful communication broadens your emotional intelligence and helps you: to view your frustrations and disappointments from new perspectives. Laughter and play enable you to survive annoyances, hard times, and setbacks. Using gentle humor often helps you say things that might otherwise be difficult to express. Playful communication relieves fatigue and relaxes your body, which allows you to recharge and accomplish more; when you loosen up, you free yourself of rigid ways of thinking and being, allowing you to get creative and see things in new ways.

Tips when communicating

Focus on the other person. If you are planning what you’re going to say next, daydreaming or thinking about something else, you are almost certain to miss nonverbal cues and other subtleties in the conversation. Eye contact can communicate interest, maintain the flow of a conversation and help gauge the other person’s response. Pay attention to nonverbal cues you’re sending and receiving, such as facial expression, tone of voice, posture and gestures, touch, and the timing and pace of the conversation.

Resolve conflicts positively

Resolving conflict in healthy, constructive ways can strengthen trust between people. The ability to manage conflicts in a positive, trust-building way is supported by the other skills listed here. Once you know how to manage stress, stay emotionally present and aware, communicate non-verbally and use humor and play, you’ll be better equipped to handle emotionally charged situations and catch and defuse many issues before they escalate. Here are some tips for resolving conflict while building trust:

  • Stay in the present. Is there any residual feeling relating to this conflict?
  • Forgive. Do I feel hurt by this person’s behavior in the past? To resolve conflict, you need to give up the urge to punish or seek revenge.
  • Choose your battles. What is worth arguing about and what is not?
  • End conflicts that can’t be resolved. It takes two people to keep an argument going. You can choose to disengage from a conflict, even if you still disagree.