Donna Nunn recalled the last time she lost her temper at work.
She was a 30-year-old health consultant who had developed a fierce resentment toward a critical, condescending boss. One day, her anger reached a peak after he criticized her work--yet again--in a staff meeting, shaking his finger at her.
Since she is short (5 feet, 4 inches) and he is tall (6 feet, 2 inches), she climbed on a chair, grabbed his pointing finger and told him her exact thoughts, shaking her finger at him and poking him on the shoulder--imitating what he often did to her.
But instead of making her feel better, her unthinking, automatic reaction caused her "total disgrace" and inspired her to seek a way to control her emotions, Nunn told an audience of 50 women professionals Saturday at the Grand Hotel in Anaheim.
Nunn, 39, is now president of Business Growth Services, consultants in small business management and operations and based in in Seattle and Sonoma. Seminar participants said Nunn's workshop, "Handling Your Emotions on the Job," was one of the liveliest at the two-day Business Strategies for Professional Women conference, sponsored by Future Focus seminar developers.
A high-spirited motivational speaker with a "go-for-it" message, Nunn offered the women some "new-age" philosophy as well as what she called "street-smart" techniques for "getting out of your head" and focusing on the issues, rechanneling negative feelings and coping with lack of acknowledgment.
Conflict Is Necessary
Emotional control is not the same as avoiding conflict, Nunn said. Conflict, she said, is necessary for growth in the corporate world. "Those who pound their fists get listened to." Too often, however, women run away from conflict or forget to focus on the issues because of the intensity of their emotions, she said.
"How many times have you had one of your (emotional) buttons pushed and the room disappears? All that's there is this intense, overwhelming . . . rush . Your silk blouse is getting drenched and you're stuck to your chair, the room temperature has risen 20 degrees and nothing is working for you. . . ."
The goal, Nunn said, is not to avoid such emotion, but rather to become aware of one's own "emotional tool kit"--to know "how you get mad, jealous, greedy, vain, passive and totally able to be wiped out, where you are a red hot mama. . . ."
Most of all, she said, emotional expression should be conscious and not automatic. She advised women to not "leave any raw edges" when they become angry. "If you're going to have sorrow, cry a well full of purifying water. If you're going to have jealousy, get into it and be able to handle the emotion in a way that is not maudlin."
After the scene she made in the meeting, Nunn said she worked out a system of reshaping her most upsetting experiences. First, she said, she identified and named her "emotional buttons" or "hooks"--the situations that upset her and caused automatic behavior. The most significant for her, she said, were power struggles. And second, she mentally replayed the upsetting scene, imagining a new outcome.
Imagine Different Scenario
In her mind, she again saw her angry boss shaking his finger at her. In the replay, she disagreed calmly without climbing on a chair. She turned to face him and used eye contact. She had all her papers prepared. She saw him straighten up and listen.
She also heard herself say: "I think it's important that you understand the work that I have done on this project. I'd like to review the specific points that I feel are important." She said she also learned to add sentences that would be helpful to him, such as, "Is now a good time?" "I'm really upset and I'm going to tell you why" and "Would you say that in another way?" Nunn said she kept a card on her desk listing these sentences.
It's important to "re-see, re-hear and re-feel" the situation until it can be replayed without the original negative emotions and until a similar situation occurs in real life with a more positive outcome, she said.
In addition, women need to learn the principles of emotional management in business, she said. They include: "Keeping your cool. Knowing whose problem it is. Being responsible for your own emotional reactions without rationalization. Graciously allowing other people to have weaknesses or a bad day without having to get even."
She said these principles can be gleaned from male or female role models, psychotherapists or books such as "The Handbook to Higher Consciousness" by Ken Keyes, "Positive Addictions" by William Glasser and "Making Decisions" by Dr. Andrea Williams.
Practice Under Pressure
But to be effective, women need to practice the principles successfully under pressure, she said.
Nunn suggested women find an "emotional-support buddy," someone in the office who "has it at least as much together as you do. Do not pick an emotional-support buddy who is more of a basket case than you are."