322: Paula Guilfoyle—How Do You Manage Your Emotions To Build Better Conversations For Exceptional Results?

Learn how to face adversity, change your thoughts, and smile

Do you ever wish you could handle your emotions better? In difficult conversations at work or in life, do certain words or attitudes trigger negative reactions, maybe from years ago? We’ve all been there, which is why I’m so happy to bring to you today Paula Guilfoyle, an expert in change management, a transformational leader, and a wonderful lady. She will teach us all to PBS: pause, breathe, and smile. Another tip from Paula: when that voice in your head is trying to make you feel bad, just NBC: notice, bounce, and change. Sound simple? It is, and it isn’t. Listen to our conversation and I guarantee that afterward, you will be more peaceful, more focused and more productive, at home and at work. Change is hard but you can do it! I know you can.

Watch and listen to our conversation here

Paula video


Paula and I talk about the challenges of changing a person, much less an entire organization.

Through her company, Claim Leadership, Paula focuses on helping companies, like Coca-Cola, and individuals in those companies manage their interpersonal relationships. Her proprietary tools improve productivity, engagement, teamwork and morale, as well as lower turnover and build a more positive culture. Paula and I both know how hard it is to get people to change, but it can happen!

To contact Paula

You can connect with Paula on LinkedIn and her website Claim Leadership, or email her at paula@claimleadership.com

Would you like to be more peaceful and also more productive? Start here.

Additional resources for you

Read the transcript of our podcast here

Andi Simon: Welcome to On the Brink With Andi Simon. Hi, I’m Andi Simon, and I’m your host and your guide. My job is to get you off the brink. And as you know, that’s not always so easy. Change is painful. Sometimes we need new ideas, we need new tools, new ways to think about things. Your mind can be your best asset or it can really hold you back from trying the new. It likes the familiar and the habits. And it really is wonderful, but it does exactly what it thinks you want it to do.

Today, I bring to you Paula Guilfoyle and Paula is an expert on helping you manage your mind, and watch those triggers that really do things that take you to places you don’t want to go. She’s going to tell you about herself, but then she’s got a whole program and a process that I think is well worth sharing so that you can expand your tools and begin to do what we want you to do which is see, feel and think in new ways so you can change. And change is painful. So we’re going to make it easy for you today. Paula, thank you for joining me.

Paula Guilfoyle: I’m thrilled to be with you today, Andi, thanks so much for having me.

Andi Simon: Tell our listeners and our viewers who Paula is. Tell us about your journey. This story is great.

Paula Guilfoyle: Okay, so very quickly, I’m one of eight kids and I was actually born rich. The riches that I have claimed for myself are: one, I’m one of eight children, I’m the fifth in five years. Second: I have actually lost a brother 10 years ago, we had a very special brother, a special Olympian. The third richness I had was that, at age 13, I went on one of two family vacations. And on that family vacation, my dad passed on. And the fourth richness is my mom. My mom was a quadriplegic at the time of my dad passing.

So I mentioned those, I rarely bring those up at the end. But I mentioned those because they are my richness. They are absolutely those challenges that we all have, that we all face, that I will call just the blah, blah, blah, the story of your life. And if you keep this your story, if you tell people through that lens, I had so much against me versus I had all these things that happened for me that allowed me later to be blessed with and I don’t say this tongue in cheek, have I got 12 years of treated depression. And not being a medical doctor, all I can tell you is, on reflection, I know and I understand that I chose to think in a particular way and couldn’t find my way out of that way. Eventually, after spending about 15-20 years very successfully in corporate America, I decided that I had studied the mind and personal development enough that I wanted to pass that along to people to help them. So that’s it.

Andi Simon: Well, pause for a second because let’s just think about what you’re sharing with the listeners. You’re going to help them think about managing their minds. You were astute enough to realize that the mind was doing exactly what it thought you wanted it to do. And there were enough catalytic moments in your life that you shared with us for it not to necessarily be a simple, easy, happy, light one. Well, it’s time to have learnings or things that were making you reflect on both the past and the future. And somehow you turn those all into a career with corporate and otherwise, that is helping other people do even better. A little bit about how you began to move forward in a new direction.

Paula Guilfoyle: Great question. I decided, as I mentioned, that it was just something that was important to me that I had to do something outside of corporate America, something where I can place my own mark on it. So I started speaking and I started learning how to speak through Toastmasters. I always loved public speaking and did some of that in my corporate life in sales and sales training and HR. And then just created some different opportunities. And one thing led to another where I created a model that I teach around and I spoke once in front of a great friend of mine who’s a VP of HR and actress but she said, “That model Paula, that model was amazing.” And I said, “What are you talking about? What models?” She said, “That casting you were talking about? That was really amazing.” I said, “GAP is just an acronym for me to remember my speech,” and then I was like, Okay, so it’s a model.

The GAP model apparently is something well-known in finance. So I decided it had to be the GAP Formula. And a very simple GAP Formula is a way to get from where you are to where you want to be. And I started spreading this. So for example, the reason why I shared my story today was, I shared that story in a public venue where I was asked to speak for free as part of an event and someone from Coca-Cola was in the audience. And through my story, they connected with me. And because of that, Coke hired me for three years. And I mentioned that because we all are challenged and this is a way to get past some of those challenges.

So Andi, can I share one tool with your audience? So one of the most popular tools that I teach, and most of my tools are three steps, because we’re lucky if we can remember three steps, right? Things taught in threes tend to be helpful for our brain to remember. So the acronym for this particular tool is PBS, as in Public Broadcast System, but this is your Private Broadcast System. This is three steps to get out of a situation when you were triggered. So Andi, ask me, what’s the trigger?

Andi Simon: You know, for the listeners and the viewers, our audience, I think if you’re going to think about triggers, you better help them understand what is a trigger. And how is it going to do something to, and who that’s going to be? So help them understand that. I love the thought of what’s causing you to react to something.

Paula Guilfoyle: So a trigger is anything that will cause you to change behavior. So a trigger could merely be your first thought of the day. Today can be a great day, or today’s going to be a disastrous day, or this person is tough, or that meeting will be wonderful. So a trigger is anything that happens. The most challenging triggers are the ones that just put you into a tailspin. And you don’t even know what happened. Those triggers usually include something that’s embedded way, way in the past.

So I’ll give you a couple examples of a trigger. For example, somebody at a meeting says, “I didn’t like your idea,” but maybe they’re a little bit more forward than that. So use these three steps: PBS. You pause, because between stimulus and response is all your opportunity, as Stephen Covey said. You just pause for a little bit. You breathe to calm yourself down on a cellular level. That would be: pause, breathe and then you smile. So the person at the other end will either think, “Wow, did she hear me, understand that I was sort of not exactly complimentary of her idea?”, or they might understand that the person who is smiling is actually in control of their behaviors. And if you want to shortcut this, simply smile, because that ignites your brain, as we know, to happy chemicals. And even if it’s a cheshire cat, frozen smile, it will have that same positive result.

Andi Simon: But remember, humans are mimics, like monkeys. So when you smile, the person on the other end of the table is gonna have a hard time not smiling. That person may not even know why. But yeah, there clearly was some, whatever the intent was, came back with a smile. And that changes the whole dynamics of that interaction, but the interesting trigger response, fascinating. So PBS is pause, breathe and smile. And then what do you do?

Paula Guilfoyle: And then you have to substitute a different thought. You must substitute different thoughts so there’s something going on here. And initially your thought may be, Well, now I’m really upset with Sarah. Now I’m really upset with Max,” whoever triggered you, or you may not even realize what he may know. “I’m really upset and I don’t know what’s going on.” You must get out of it. So there are a few ways to do that. One of the things that is most effective, believe it or not, is movement, right? The brain follows the body. So you get up and dance, or if you do something I call the musical walk.

So I’ll teach your audience the musical walk really quickly. This is something you can do anywhere. When I’m on stage, I’ll say, “Snap with me.” Have you ever been to a musical? Have you ever noticed in a musical, they can’t walk normally. A little bounce, little swing. Can you imagine walking down the hallway at home or at work, snapping your fingers and dancing a little bit and feeling badly. It’s almost impossible because your brain picks up those body movements.

I remember a person at Coke, he would always snap as he walked down the hallways, and it wasn’t the musical walk, it was just who he was. He was trying to ignite that happiness. So you must alternate that negative feeling because you will feel badly with a bad thought. So you must change that up. And either have a phrase that you say to yourself: “Hey, I’m okay. This is alright. I can handle this. I can get out of this. Today’s going to be a good day.” You have to think of something that’s going to shift your thinking or get into some activity. Get up, walk around the building. I’ll say to people, Pick up your cell phone and talk yourself out of it. Yep, so you’re talking to a friend. So just some ideas.

Andi Simon: Because without those tools, things happen. We don’t quite know what to do. I don’t remember anyone in elementary school or high school ever teaching me, I’ll call them survival strategies. You remember being in business and being the only woman very often, right? I was in a management team at a bank, and I was the only woman in that management team. It was a lonely place. And I wasn’t quite sure if what the guys were saying was the way I was hearing it. It was hard to always interpret intention. But if I didn’t have a way of coping with it, I would smile, a long time ago. And I also remember a little technique that someone taught me, say to somebody, “It sounds like what you mean is…” and keep it in their zone, out of yours. Because remember, we decide with the heart and the eyes and the gut. And if we don’t feel like it’s the right thing, we better have some tools to help manage those emotions. I also learned a long time ago, never do anything when you’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired: HALT. Because the emotions take over. And you need a click, a long walk down to break up, we can then manage our emotions and manage our thinking and manage feelings.

Paula Guilfoyle: That’s really it. I have a little thing called: her life gets a cup of tea. So if you take those letters T A, and stack them one on top of the other, your thinking creates your emotions or your energy and then that creates your action. And if you want to write, if you want to add one more letter, you can tear into your life, and that creates your results. So it’s your thinking. You have a good thought in the morning. And then you have great emotions or energy. Your thinking causes how you feel, your emotions, and then that causes how you’re going to act. And then that will cause your results. That’s your whole life is a cup of tea, or you can tear into your life, as I call it, as well. So you’re absolutely on target as usual Andi with that explanation.

People need to understand that there’s so many things going on in your environment. And one of the things that I really caution my clients about are things like the news, social media. Things that could easily take you off track, do not tune in. And there’s also the naysayer in the group. Do your best to divert the conversation somewhere else to move along.

And so I’ll give you one other quick tool when that thought comes in your mind, and that thought is just, Wow this can be bad data. You can pause, breathe and smile, or you could NBC. You could notice the thought, bounce the thought, and change the thought. I love NBC. So notice that thought, bounce that thought, and change that thought to anything that makes you feel even a little better. Because as we know, you are a person of emotions. As you heard earlier, your person is made up of emotion. So to think that I, for example, when I was depressed, I was going to go to joy. I feel so joyful…not likely. But if you can feel a little bit better, and believe it or not, people who are depressed, when they get angry, actually, it’s a move up. So what would be just a little bit more positive? I can handle this. I think this could turn out right. It’s possible, this could work for me. Some sort of wording like, It’s okay, I can handle this.

Andi Simon: You know, someone said this to me: “You sound like your cup isn’t half full, it’s overflowing.”

Paula Guilfoyle: Well, I believe, as I imagine you do, Andi, is that we have to work on this, every day. So what are some of the practices you use to keep as positive and focused as you are?

Andi Simon: Well, I’m a big believer in self-care. In fact, we have a 30-day challenge of self-care. I coach a lot of my clients on it. But for me, you asked what I do. I try the night before, I put my to-do list together for the next day. Because for one reason or another, I found it difficult to get out of bed in the morning until I had it a little bit organized once and it was perfect. And the self-care is, I try to make sure that I do something for me before the day begins. And once I’ve done that, the day is perfect, because I’ve taken care of me. And so whether that’s working out, work, exercise, taking my dog for a walk, even sitting and having a quiet cup of coffee before the day begins. And I’ve given myself permission to take care of me. And then you know, all the other stuff comes together.

At the end of the day, I found that there are some really neat things that my husband and I can do that’s quiet. I’m not a TV watcher. What I find is, reading gives me a focus and a purpose. So once you begin to build a life, let’s call it my meaning, I begin to see self-care wrap around. But I must tell you that I’ve always been pretty positive. And I’m blessed. I’ve been married for 54 years. And my daughters are happy. They’re all healthy, my grandkids are great. And so if you spoke at the beginning about the richness you had in a life that had pain in it, and I have been blessed with a life that’s had less than yours, but a little, but I’m really celebratory about every day being a gift.

I’ll tell you one last story. Now in 2005, I had a horse roll over on me and he broke my neck and he gave me a concussion. But I’m walking, talking, dancing and every day I wake up and say, It’s a gift. That was a moment, you never know. So stay positive, because there can only be one who can make you positive.

Paula Guilfoyle: Absolutely. So important. So important. And it sounds so simple. And it is, and yet our brain can go off track. So you really have to focus on that ability that you have to constantly change your thoughts. You can’t control what comes in, you can control after that thought is created in your brain. You can decide, I don’t feel good, I’m going to change that thought.

Andi Simon: Any insights that came out of pandemic experiences that have given a particular flavor or color to the work that you’re doing?

Paula Guilfoyle: So yes, I think one of the things that I’m aware of is, everyone has been through some form of post-traumatic stress. We’ve all had something happen to us. And different people obviously handle it in different ways. So one of the things that I want to be aware of, and I would invite others to be aware of, is compassion. We really don’t understand why that person is kicking and screaming, in a sense. That it’s the three-year-old acting out, and I’ll give you a somewhat funny story about my three-year-old.

I am with the most wonderful, wonderful partner I could ask for: Jeff. And Jeff, during our first year of dating, forgot my birthday, and called the next day and said, “Oh my gosh, I think your birthday might have been yesterday.” And I said, “Yeah, it was. But you know, it’s more of a weekend. I’m here in San Francisco and coming back to Charlotte, and we can celebrate on Monday. I’ve got the day off.” And he said, “Oh, Monday won’t really work. First of all, your birthday is past. I gotta play golf.” Well, that was a trigger. I mean, it was the strangest feeling. So when you’re really triggered on what I’ll call a childhood wound, or childhood perception, and I said to myself, You know what? I need to hang up now, because I knew it wasn’t going to turn out well.

So fast forward, I had a really challenging time giving that up until I recognized that it was my three-year-old, my five-year-old, who wanted a birthday party, and when I tell the story, I literally wear a little birthday hat on my head. And we don’t know when the three-year-old or the five-year-old, or the seven-year-old is going to show up for someone. And then there’s compassion, which he did offer me. He said, “I can see and I understand this must be a big deal for you. Or for some reason. So yes, you know, I’m gonna put off the golf game.” As for his answer, he played the golf game, but we celebrated that night. So, you know, it’s just a sense of compassion, because everybody’s been a bit tossed about, and there’s that little person in there that’s fearful.

Andi Simon: It’s been a great conversation. It’s about time for us to think about our audience, and two or three things that you don’t want them to forget. And your last story is unreal. One or two things that you really think are important. People often remember the ending better than the beginning.

Paula Guilfoyle: Okay, so a couple things. One is that voice in your head: that voice in your head does not tell the truth. And is not necessarily your friend. Now, let me rephrase that: the voice in your head, when you are not feeling good, is not telling you the truth. It’s telling you limiting beliefs that may have been picked up during childhood, or may have been picked up a little later on. Your goal is to NBC: notice, bounce, and change that voice to say, You know what? I can little by little change that.

The second thing I would remind you is that second tool: pause, breathe, and smile. And then finally, just to get some resources. There’s so many different ways you can get resources. I do have over 152 minute-reads. I call it One Minute Happy Blogs on my website. So my website is Claimleadership.com. And it’ll just pop up. You know, if you want to sign up for the blog, just hit this. I work with leaders and teams who want to have better outcomes in their life at work and at home. They want to be more peaceful, more focused, more productive so that they can be a valuable resource at home and at work.

Andi Simon: I have been delighted to share your stories with our audience because our job, and you can hear the commonality here, is to help you see, feel and think in new ways so you can better your personal life, your professional life and your business. Whatever it is, remember, all of life is a conversation and each conversation, you can call it a trigger, but it’s going to require a response from you. And I love the idea of whatever it is, start with a smile. That softens the whole conversation, takes off any of the edges to it, and humans love smiles. So it becomes a great way to start the day: smile and keep it going.

For our listeners in our audience, may I tell you how much I appreciate the fact that you’ve pushed us into the top 5% of podcasts globally, which is such fun and you come from across the world to see and listen to us. So my thanks. My books are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Rethink: Smashing The Myths of Women in Business won the 2022 bronze Best Business Book Award in the Women in Business category, really cool. You can find it, read it, listen to it. It’s done wonderful things for men and women trying to smash the myths that are holding us back. We’re here to help you. Our job is to get you off the brink. You can reach us at info@andisimon.com and our website, simonassociates.net, is going through its rehab now and it’s really exciting to be coming up shortly. Bye bye now. Have a great day. Stay healthy. Stay well. And if you listen to Paula, keep smiling.