Hillary, Benghazi and Regulating Emotion

What did you think about Hillary Clinton’s style (specifically her management of emotion) while testifying about Benghazi?

Here are some of Wilma Koutstaal’s wise words about regulating emotion in her book The Agile Mind.

Emotional regulation involves the . . . “capacity to inhibit a dominant response and initiate a subdominant response according to situational demands.” She goes on to describe research that measured self-control in terms of thoughts, emotions, impulses and performance. Higher scores, demonstrating  greater capacity to manage emotions correlated with higher grade point average, better relationships, and interpersonal skills, and less binge eating and alcohol abuse.

“Reactivity and self-regulation both have clear biological basis influenced by heredity, maturation, and experience. Reactivity refers to an underlying quick arousal and response, without moderation, whereas self-regulation refers more to effortful, purposeful control.”

For example, you’re feeling on the verge of tears in a work situation where shedding one tear would be a disaster. Even appearing tearful would strip your power and respect as a leader. The situation doesn’t allow you to get  physical distance.

You should not react. You should pull out every ounce of regulating emotion that you’ve got stored away. Purposefully control the tears. Bite your tongue, think about good sex or someone or something you’re really angry about, or repeat inside your head, “I’m tough,” “I never cry at work,” or “I have control and I’m using it right now.” You can also get outside of yourself with detachment by thinking that this situation is a movie you are watching — sitting in the very back row.

Hillary, whom I admire greatly in her role these past four years as Secretary of State, showed prowess in the parts of her testimony I saw on TV. She had a wide range of emotions expressed as well as thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and knowledge. She seemed to use effortful, purposeful control of her emotions most of the time, but it didn’t look like it was a big effort. I would imagine it actually was difficult in the face of all the negativity coming her way from the questioners. Twice, I saw her react rather than regulate; once with anger and once with tears. That’s pretty darn good in my thinking. How about you?


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