January 26, 2022

Warren Buffett’s Lesson on Emotional Intelligence May Be the Best Advice You Will Hear Today

[Inc., Getty Images]

The Oracle of Omaha heard this advice over forty years ago and still applies it today.

There’s no question Warren Buffett is a genius not only for his investing practices, but also for his invaluable wisdom about living a successful life.

One of Buffett’s secrets to success is attributed to Tom Murphy, one of Buffett’s “heroes” and an exceptional business executive who taught Buffett how to lead and run a company. 

The lesson

In the book Getting There: A Book of Mentors, Buffett shares one “indispensable” lesson Murphy taught him, which has everything to do with your emotional intelligence:

Forty years ago, Tom gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received. He said, “Warren, you can always tell someone to go to hell tomorrow.” It’s such an easy way of putting it. You haven’t missed the opportunity. Just forget about it for a day. If you feel the same way tomorrow, tell them then — but don’t spout off in a moment of anger.

In the early years of building the business juggernaut that is now Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett admits to not having the social skills to match his intellect. He may have been the one to tell someone else to go to hell in the heat of the moment, later to regret such a decision. But, like many great leaders, Buffett had to develop his self-awareness, an essential skill and perhaps the most important one to master if you call yourself a leader. 

Tom Murphy mastered such a skill. Buffett shares in the book how Murphy “didn’t have to shout or scream or anything like that. He did everything in a very relaxed manner.”

It doesn’t mean you suppress your emotions when being wronged. But with self-awareness, you can probe your emotions in any given situation to understand what you’re feeling and why before spouting off at the mouth in a fit of anger.

This is key for understanding how to appropriately respond, rather than impulsively react to a situation going south. So that when tomorrow comes, you may not feel it necessary to tell someone to go to hell (and thankfully saving yourself from burning a bridge). 

Managing your emotions the right way

Mastering the ability to know why you’re feeling a certain way is critical. To elevate your self-awareness even further, take what you know about how you feel to regulate yourself. For example, when experiencing anger or frustration, understand the triggers so that you can manage your emotions to positive outcomes. And consider this: The best course of action at that moment may be to take no action at all, but, instead, to hold your tongue.

Psychologist and best-selling author Daniel Goleman says this about people who manage their emotions well:

Reasonable people–the ones who maintain control over their emotions–are the people who can sustain safe, fair environments. In these settings, drama is very low and productivity is very high. Top performers flock to these organizations and are not apt to leave them.

Next time you get thrown under the bus or “feedsmacked” by harsh and undue criticism from a colleague or boss, here’s what to do to help you respond in a more productive way:

1. Breathe

Take a moment to breathe deeply from your gut to calm yourself down. This is always the first step.

2. Assess

Do an honest self-appraisal of a situation that makes you feel threatened. What is it about this issue that makes you feel that way? Drill down until you get to the root of the matter, going below the symptom level to reveal the core of what you’re feeling. Your anger may be a secondary emotion to something much deeper — the primary emotion — that may be the source of your festering anger and resentment. 

3. Cope

Once you gain an internal perspective on the source of your anger, use a coping strategy that best works for you. For example, let the other person know that you need to take time to reflect and evaluate what was said, then come back at a later time to resolve matters when you’re in a better space. Or, acknowledge that you’re mad and go talk to someone you trust to get a better perspective. 

4. Shift

Make a conscious and intentional effort to shift to the positive. For example, rather than avenge the wrongdoing by sticking it to the offender, choose to look at someone who has wronged you in another light: imagine what challenging circumstances that person may be facing that caused his or her own angry reaction (or moment of stupidity). By practicing empathy in conflict, you learn to understand someone else’s frustration, knowing in your mind that those emotions are every bit as real as your own. This uncanny ability to understand and share the feelings of another helps develop perspective and opens you up to more positive outcomes. 


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