I have five sons, ranging in age from 11 to 19. A few weeks ago, one of the older boys was angry at dinner because a teacher had scolded him when his younger brother arrived late for school. How unfair!
In the family, we have a well-established tradition of discussing serious topics at dinner, so my son’s anger gave me a good reason to tell the boys about the importance of learning to control their emotions—a useful skill, whatever your age.
I began by explaining that one simple way to think of intelligence is by dividing it into two broad categories: IQ (intellectual ability) and EQ (emotional intelligence), as popularized by Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence.
But over a decade earlier, in 1983, Howard Gardner, a professor of developmental psychology at Harvard, proposed a theory of multiple intelligences in his book Frames of Mind.
Gardner suggested that we have seven different kinds of intelligence.
1. Linguistic: good with words
2. Mathematical: good at numbers
3. Musical: good with rhythm and sound
4.Visual-Spatial: good at thinking in three dimensions
5. Bodily-Kinesthetic: good at physical activity
6. Intrapersonal: good at understanding oneself
7. Interpersonal: good at interacting with other people
The problem with conventional education is that most schools only teach the first five kinds, while standard paper examinations only test the first two.
What’s the result? That schools tend to underteach intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence (numbers 6 and 7), even though these are so important in adult life. As is so often the case, the skills we learn at school and the skills we need in life don’t quite match.
My son certainly needed greater intra- and interpersonal intelligence if he wanted to successfully jettison his anger and control his emotions to become more positive.
I suggested a simple, two-step method.
STEP ONE: Jettison anger
• Analyze why you are angry.
Thinking rationally automatically switches your brain function from the emotional to the intellectual.
• Execute an emotional refresh.
Do something to take your mind off your anger. Play basketball, go for a swim, find some friends to chat with.
That’s the anger out of the way. “But what about the business of controlling my emotions?” my son asked.
That brought us to…
STEP TWO: Control the emotions
• Try to recognize the emotion you’re feeling.
• Judge if that emotion is a positive or a negative one.
• If it’s positive, amplify it. If it’s negative, reduce it.
As a general rule, you want to reduce your negative emotions (anger, frustration, fear, desperation, etc.) to a minimum, while amplifying your positive emotions (joy, hope, gratitude, excitement, etc.) to the maximum.
If you can get yourself into a positive frame of mind and project that positivity, then you can easily attract and inspire other people—an essential quality for a business leader.
Despite his controversial legal trouble, Carlos Ghosn, former head of Nissan, was long respected in Japan and worldwide for his rescue of the struggling national carmaker in the late 1990s.
Ghosn based his approach to public speaking around a simple cast-iron rule: Your audience will forget 90% of what you say within 24 hours. What stays with them is your attitude, your emotion, the feelings you convey.
“If you want to make something of yourself in life,” I told my son, “you’ve got to be able to keep your negative emotions under control and project positive emotions.”
By this stage, my son was getting so interested in the idea of emotional control and projection that all his anger toward his younger brother had evaporated. The change in his mood proved my point.