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Resilience Skills : The effect of impulse control in the workplace


Consider the following two descriptions of management personalities as observed by their subordinates –

John is a senior manager responsible for eight department heads and ultimately over 120 staff. When asked, not one of them could remember a time when John was anything less than composed. Everyone felt able to approach him and when asked for advice about an operational problem or personnel issue, he would never give an immediate answer but always come back to discuss his recommended solution within a short time. Even though the business went through many high pressure moments, no-one could recollect John flying off the handle, and indeed, it was highlighted that if he had any criticisms they were never aired in public at the time of the event but in his office in a calm and composed manner at some point afterwards.

Gordon is a general manager responsible for running a venue with a deputy, six heads of department and almost 100 permanent and casual staff. It was hard to find a member of staff who spoke positively about him as he seemed to be regarded with little trust or respect. The more junior members said they feared him and tried not to cross his path. His heads of department found meetings with him challenging as he had problems controlling his anger, got frustrated very easily and his behaviour was unpredictable and explosive. Many described incidents when items off his desk were thrown across the office after a piece of news which particularly displeased him had been delivered. They described him as someone who would jump to conclusions before he had heard the whole situation and they dreaded opening their inboxes as he would rattle off emotionally charged emails and was always impatient for updates of ongoing situations.

Although the two characters described above are fictional, they display the characteristics of someone, firstly with high impulse control and secondly, with low impulse control. Many of us will have experience of working with and for such individuals and the two extremes illustrate how important impulse control is in the workplace.

Thankfully, you can learn to manage your impulses and here are a few tips you may like to consider:

  • Create awareness – think about your impulses and those which potentially cause problems, or ask someone close to you, and then think about situations which each impulse could affect
  • Plan of action – develop a problem solving action plan which you can use to manage them e.g. if you’re prone to sending emails immediately after a heated exchange, keep away from your inbox and go for a walk round the block, using one of the delayed action suggestions below, until your immediate emotional reaction has calmed down and you have given yourself some time to think clearly and logically
  • Delay action – if you can concentrate on your breathing, repeating a word or counting, you can overcome the impulse with distraction and time
  • Act mindfully – notice your impulses without attaching or acting on them
  • Ask someone you trust – a colleague, family member or friend – for regular feedback

Don’t expect your behaviour to change overnight, but do keep working on it, behavioural change will come with practice and you may like to keep in mind the words of Flower A. Newhouse –

“Lack of will power has caused more failure than lack of intelligence or ability”

This is one of a series of articles on aspects of resilience. You can access them all from this post Resilience Skills: An A-Z of definitions of the terms used.

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