Recently, the singer Adele was accepting an award in London after her amazing success at the Grammys. During her speech she became irritated at the “suits,” as she called them, and displayed a vulgar gesture. Adele has been soaring at the award shows, essentially cleaning up on awards. Her explanation for what happened.., “Sorry if I offended anyone, but the suits offended me.” Will her fans turn away from her because she flipped someone off? That is doubtful. It seems she may have been hi-jacked by her emotions due to being offended that the “suits” were trying to cut her acceptance speech short. This type of display is a classic lack of impulse control. Society seems to have gotten used to and perhaps accepts this type of behavior from entertainers or sports figures. We have seen it displayed on the tennis court, football field and the stage.
What if this was the workplace most of us participate in? How well are these types of outbursts tolerated? Flipping off your boss and getting caught? Not tolerated. Having a meltdown during a meeting? It depends on a number of variables. There is no doubt many of us have over-reacted at work at one time or another, or we may have witnessed someone over-reacting in a way that we all cringe outwardly or inwardly. Most of us know that the time and place for these types of outbursts are limited if non-existent. The result could very well be termination or some sort of probation. Regardless, the offender is often remembered more for their inappropriate behavior than the good work they may do.
Impulse control is a key competency of emotional-social intelligence and is defined as the ability to resist an impulse to act, or delaying an impulse. It may be a pattern of behavior or a one-time occurrence. Either way, the impact of a lack of impulse control in the work place is generally significant. When we act on an impulse that leads to a positive outcome, it gets a different type of attention. It can look like we planned to be brilliant. Impulses such as Adele’s can be perceived as a lack of control, maturity, or business savvy and often derails the offender as it can lead to termination or reduced opportunities for advancement. Other emotional-social intelligence competencies may be at play such as a lack of stress tolerance and self-awareness. Impulse control plays a key role in decision making as well.
The more awareness we have about how we manage our impulse control, the greater opportunity we have to avoid inappropriate decisions or outbursts. At times, we may be hi-jacked by our emotions and be hard pressed to stop ourselves from putting our foot in our mouth or stepping out of line. During the outburst our responses often come from the primitive part of our brain which initiates the fight of flight response. Learning to control our impulses often comes after an unfortunate event where we lost it and we pay a price for not being in control. It is often in retrospect that we have any understanding of what took place and recognize how our actions may impact our success. After the fact, our brain has had time to process what happened from a more rational place. Sometimes, we can take appropriate steps to limit the damage. Recognizing that we have control over changing this behavior allows us to take charge of our impulses and learn from our experiences. As a result, we can take charge of our success in life and in the workplace.