EI: Self regulation

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 taking action.

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 that is aligned with your core values and beliefs. Also, a self-regulated response works in favor of goal achievement; you have clear “what you have to do” (behavior) to get “where you want to get” (goal). A self-regulated response feels right and it feels good; it reflects who you are and what you value!

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


The case

You have recently relocated to a new country and taken charge of the local operations. You have defined a strategy with your team and agreed on the key priorities for the years ahead. However, you notice that one of the directors seems to repeatedly be following his agenda. You feel under pressure because of the many changes and challenges you are dealing with at the same time. And now, you also have to deal with your director’s behavior. What do you do? 


Poor self-regulation

Negative thoughts and emotions will overwhelm a leader with poor self-regulation. He will end up confronting the director and maybe lose his temper. He will talk more than he listens and dictate his priorities. Chances are that he won’t solve the issue, but rather harm the work relationship and put his image at risk with the rest of the group.


Good self-regulation

A self-regulated leader would first spend some time going through his internal dialogue: “What am I thinking and feeling about this person and this situation” (self-awareness). Then, he would reflect on the other person’s motives, and maybe ask around to collect some feedback (e.g. past habits, personal issues, different expectations or cultural differences). Finally, we would plan to have a conversation with the director.

During the conversation, he will feel grounded, calmer, and able to listen and express his ideas with clarity. Chances are that they will understand each other better and possibly agree on a way of working together in the future. Should things not change, the executive will feel at peace with himself for having done what was in his power to support the director, and clear about the possible next steps. He will be in a stronger leadership position.

Leaders who can self-regulate,

act more consciously.


The Tool

The following tool can help you improve your self-regulation on the spot.

The S.T.O.P. technique was developed by therapists to help patients 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 from the situation. Visualize your body moving away from it.


Take a deep breath

Inhale for 4, exhale for 6 – repeat a few times.



Look inward to what you are thinking and feeling right now. Observe that your thoughts are not facts and that there might be something else you are not considering. What could that be? Body-scan to check your body (sweat? hearth rate? tensions? short breath?), and try to rebalance by stretching, standing up, taking a walk around the room or mobilizing your neck. Whatever you may need to release.



Now you are ready to reorganize your thoughts and deliver a self-regulated response.


You can use S.T.O.P anytime and anywhere: to manage conversations and conflicts, when you are asked to express an opinion on the spot, when you feel agitated and not in control, or as a morning routine to set an intention for the day.


Hint: even if the description of this tool may seem long, in reality each step takes just seconds. The more you practice, the easier and faster it will become. Practice to master!

A small object, a screensaver with the stop sign, a post it on your notebook may help you remember to S.T.O.P.


“The best fighter is never angry”
 Lao Tzu


Practice is key, so do not STOP trying!

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