6 ways to manage your impulses in EMS

A single outburst can destroy your credibility and ruin your ability to lead, so learn to stay in control

One minute, we are sitting on the street corner waiting for our next call, laughing with our partners, and singing to songs on the radio. The next minute, we are working a pediatric arrest that we are unable to resuscitate.

EMS is a very emotionally charged career. Being able to keep our emotions under control is an important part of our self-preservation, and ability to grow into successful EMS leaders.

It is up to us to set the standards for others to follow. For all the good we do, one single outburst, or emotionally charged statement, can destroy your credibility and ruin your ability to lead your workforce.

The ability to understand and manage not only our own emotions, but also the emotions of those around us is known as emotional intelligence. There are five components of EI: self-awareness (which has been covered), self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. Here's a look at the importance of self-regulation.

What is self-regulation?

We’ve all have that one person who just knows how to push our buttons. How do we handle that situation? Do we stay professional or do we let that sarcastic cat out of the bag? Self-regulation is the ability to control emotions and impulses.

There are leaders who take themselves too seriously, allowing their ego to shine by yelling when questioned, or even resorting to bullying. Successful leaders are those who understand themselves and know how to self-regulate in difficult situations.

They typically don't allow themselves to become too angry or jealous, and they don't make impulsive or careless decisions.

When leaders have command over self-regulation, they tend to think before they act, see the big picture, and don’t take things personally. Let’s take a look at the components of developing self-regulation.


When we fly off the handle, or allow our emotions to dictate our actions, we destroy our ability to lead others with trust and confidence. 

Developing self-regulation fits into six categories: self-control, self-understanding, stress management, trustworthiness, conscientiousness and adaptability. Let’s take a closer look at each element.

1. Self-control. We all know what self-control is, but when our tank is on empty, and our ‘last nerve’ is being pushed to the limit, it’s easy to feel frustrated, worried, angry or disappointed. We need to understand how these emotions affect us and develop a plan when we are placed in these situations, rather than acting on impulse.

2. Self-understanding. No one knows you better than you. Knowing yourself helps you manage your emotions and impulses.

Are you in the habit of reacting hastily to issues? Once you’re emotional, do you find it hard to stop talking? Are you able to stay composed and positive in stressful circumstances? Can you exercise patience in annoying situations?

The ability to keep disruptive emotions and impulses in check is the mark of a seasoned leader. Knowing what those triggers are will assist you in managing those situations.

3. Stress management. We work in a very stressful career field, so need to learn how to manage that stress. Death, illness, pain, and trauma happen on a daily basis.

Although we believe we can handle these situations, at times it may be too much. We’re expected to be strong, to not let things bother us. Yet nothing is further from the truth.

There are stressors that will assist in pushing us off the cliff, and good leadership means keeping an eye out for the warning signs of stress, and trying to determine the root cause.

4. Trustworthiness and credibility. In my leadership blueprints, being trustworthy and credible are closely interconnected. No single thing creates a trusting relationship; rather it is a combination of things that develops trust over time.

When your workforce trusts you, understands your motivations, and buys-in to the developed vision, it makes our job as leaders seamless.

5. Conscientiousness. This is a personality trait that involves strong impulse management, self-discipline and pride in one's own work and achievement. When you are conscientious, that is a direct reflection on your dependability, responsibility and drive.

Leaders who show a high degree of conscientiousness tend to be highly focused, are ethical and encourage ethical behavior, and have a need for structure.

6. Adaptability. In today’s EMS environment it is crucial we are flexible, open, and receptive — we must be able to adapt. What worked for us yesterday will not be the way we conduct our business tomorrow.

We have to ensure we keep an open mind, get out of the doing it “by the book” mentality, and consider pushing the envelope. As times change, you need to ensure your leadership behavior gives you the ability to continue to communicate and build relationships.

We can’t control the emotional situations we are placed in, but we can control our reactions to them. In the day of mobile integrated health care we are truly in a time of uncertainty of the change to come.

Having self-regulation allows you to control your emotional impulses as you adapt to these changing situations. It will also assist you in managing the workforce as their frustration grows. Leaders that have mastered their self-regulation are able to roll with the changes, suspend judgment, seek out information, and are always listening.

Join me next month as we discuss the next component of emotional intelligence: motivation. 

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