Got Impulse Control?
by Janet C. Macaluso

An important component of being Emotionally Intelligent is having Impulse Control - the ability to resist or delay an impulse, drive or temptation to act. Impulse control is basically self control. When working with high powered managers, I sometimes suggest they refrain from being the first to act or talk - to delay the gratification of speaking up, interrupting or acting prematurely. (Leaders often think they know more, but they often learn more by exercising impulse control).

People with impulse control:

  • Tend not to over-talk;

  • Know when to be quiet and absorb information;

  • Don't rush to premature solutions;

  • Spend time reading social cues;

  • Use "strategic waiting" to plan for the right time or opportunity.

The key to developing more impulse control is becoming aware of your "self-talk" because we often interpret others' behavior as insulting, inaccurate or personal. Just as often, we want to impress others by showing how smart we are.

However, increasing your impulse control is NOT always the best advice.

Take for example, a recent study on Emotional Intelligence in children who were first categorized as either "exuberant" (outgoing and extroverted) on the one hand, or as "cautious" (more introverted or shy) on the other. Both groups participated in a study using candy as an incentive. The children were assessed to see whether they would either eat the candy at the beginning of the experiment, or wait ten minutes in order to get another piece (showing their ability to delay gratification).

Researchers found that exuberant children with high impulse control were more socially accepted and interpersonally skillful at school. These kids could control their extroverted tendencies. But if these high energy children did NOT exhibit impulse control, they had a more difficult time interpersonally - basically, they were the classic "bull in a China shop."

Interestingly, the cautious children had the opposite results. Cautious children with high impulse control were not interpersonally skillful with other children. They were too inhibited to make a positive social impact. However, the cautious children who did NOT exhibit impulse control (they gobbled up the candy) were more socially well-adjusted and interactive with their peers.

So, when it comes to impulse control, one size doesn't fit all.

Where are you on the Exuberant - Cautious Continuum? Once you figure that out, you might want to practice using more or less impulse control to make an impact.

If you have an impulse to speak during a meeting, ask yourself, "Is what I'm about to say going to:

  • add value to the task at hand?

  • be a "me too" comment?

  • feed my ego to show how smart I am?

In others words, before speaking, just ask yourself, "Whose needs am I working to serve here? My need to fill the air with hot air, or the needs of the situation at hand?" The choice is yours, just make it consciously.

Janet Macaluso, Ed.M., MSOD, is a recognized speaker, consultant and writer with 20 years of business experience. She helps leaders and teams meet their strategic business goals through organization development. Janet has held management positions with Delta Airlines and Fidelity Investments, and is writing her first book: “Power, Influence and Politics: Secrets to Making It in Today’s Workplace.” Visit for additional information.

Many more articles in Executive Performance in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2003 by Janet Macaluso. All rights reserved.

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