We have all experienced a moment when your anger, annoyance or frustration has taken over and you’ve said something at a meeting that, on reflection, you wish you hadn’t. Has this happened to you? It’s definitely happened to me!
The reason these outbursts can happen to the best of us is simple psychology.
We all have a part of our brain that is responsible for our emotions—the limbic system—and another that is responsible for problem-solving, planning and consequential thinking—the frontal lobe. The amygdala is the part of the limbic system that makes you react instinctively to your emotions which is something humans have developed to avoid harm. Unfortunately, when we get angry, it is very easy for the amygdala to overpower the frontal lobe, leading us to have an outburst.
Clearly this reaction is not the best course of action, but in a moment of anger, annoyance or frustration, there is no reasoning! So how can we get past that initial instinct to react? Read on for a simple, yet effective strategy to banish that embarrassed, regretful feeling forever.
Consequential thinking is the antidote to mindless, reactionary behaviour that prevents people from reaching their leadership potential. It’s described as ‘evaluating the costs and benefits of your choices’ developed by Six Seconds, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving the emotional intelligence of people.
How to practice consequential thinking
This model involves pausing for a few seconds, evaluating your situation and choosing to respond in a way that is best for you. In doing this, we are letting the instinct to react subside and allowing ourselves time to think.
Consequential thinking is about connecting your everyday behaviours to who you really want to be as a person and leader and to make choices every day that take you in the right direction.
Let’s break down those three steps.
Allow your emotion to occur without taking any action. For how long? Six seconds! Emotions are molecules and this is how long it takes for them to run their course in your brain and body before they are reabsorbed.
Question why you are feeling this way. What is the best possible result of your actions in this situation? How can you tailor your response to get to that result?
3. Choose your response
Respond now that you have thought through the consequences of your behaviour for yourself and others.
How can consequential thinking help you become a better leader?
1. Know your values
Consequential thinking forces you to clarify your values. What matters to you in life? Is it kindness, equality, connection or critical thinking? It can be daunting to acknowledge what you really value in your life and career, especially if it feels out of reach. However, this desire is something that will continuously motivate you and lead you to smarter decision-making.
Often when something annoys us, it is signalling something that is important to us. When we pause, we can think about what that important thing is that our emotion is pointing to. When you realise your values, it becomes much easier to see the consequences of your actions clearly. There is an obvious link between your behaviour and where it will lead you. Think about your actions over the past day, week or month. Do they align with your values?
2. Better relationships
Consequential thinking helps you enhance your relationships. Your behaviour as a professional
is what determines how others perceive you—whether they want to work with you or not.
Imagine someone in your team makes a mistake. As a leader you have two choices: react immediately or pause and calmly deliver constructive feedback. Think about which choice is more likely to prevent that mistake from happening again. Which choice is more likely to build a trusting, positive relationship?
Having positive professional relationships is beneficial for everyone: you won’t gain a reputation for having a bad temper and others will trust you more as a leader or a peer.
3. Dealing with challenging emotions
Consequential thinking helps you in those moments of explosive emotions. We all experience challenging emotions in difficult times from feelings of insecurity, to constant time pressures, to frustration and disappointment. No one gets to where they want to be without hard days and setbacks. What’s important is how you deal with the emotions that come along with these challenges.
Challenging emotions are inevitable. Once you reach the top of your field you are not suddenly immune to them. Luckily, they are a great guide if you know how to listen to them and act accordingly. You can apply consequential thinking–pausing for six seconds, remembering your values–to deal with challenging emotions. Holding your driving force in mind is a great way to better understand why you feel certain things.
When you pause to think about what is driving you, your values, you can better understand the anger and complete the task more efficiently. Having a better awareness of this emotion is going to allow you to deal with it properly, rather than letting it simmer and potentially blowing up at someone else.
Consequential thinking is a key tool for your leadership toolbox. It challenges you to clarify what’s important to you, pause and act with consideration rather than being overtaken by challenging emotions and act with intention instead.
Warning – this strategy requires practice! Do you know where I find the better practice ground…with family. No one will know how to push your buttons better than your three-year-old son or your loving little sister! Yes, practicing this technique is not just limited to the workplace but can be used at home too.