Power Players

Warren Buffett calls this 'indispensable' life advice: 'You can always tell someone to go to hell tomorrow'

Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc
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Aside from being recognized as one of the most successful investors of all time, Warren Buffett is also revered for his invaluable wisdom. But how did the Oracle of Omaha gain the knowledge that led him to such extraordinary achievements?

In his essay for my book, "Getting There: A Book of Mentors" (in which 30 influential leaders share their secrets to navigating the jagged path to success), the Berkshire Hathaway CEO revealed that he inherited many of his insights from a handful of people, who he refers to as his "heroes."

One of those heroes is Tom Murphy, a media executive and the former CEO of Capital Cities/ABC Inc. Buffett described Murphy as an enormously even-tempered and able business person: "He didn't have to shout or scream or anything like that. He did everything in a very relaxed manner."

Practicing emotional discipline

More than 40 years ago, Buffett wrote, Murphy taught him an "indispensable" lesson about the importance of recognizing and controlling your emotions. "He said, 'Warren, you can always tell someone to go to hell tomorrow,'" Buffett recalled. "It was one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received."

Murphy's point is that, often, in a heated situation, the smartest thing you can do is hold your tongue. If you lose your temper, you're more likely to do something you might regret later on. And once it's out there (especially in today's technological world, where anything you say can go viral), you can't take it back.

"It's such an easy way of putting it," Buffett continued. "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!"

Warren Buffett, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway
Photo credit: Gillian Zoe Segal

Learning how to gracefully handle your emotions isn't easy, but it's worth practicing; allowing them to run wild can cause you to make bad decisions and even harm your reputation.

According to Richard Orbé-Austin, a psychologist and leadership consultant, you can strengthen your emotional discipline by using "techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, and breathing." Committing to these practices can "help manage difficult emotions, when we are in situations that can trigger them," he added.

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!"
Warren Buffett
CEO, Berkshire Hathaway

It's important to note that Buffett isn't advising people to not be emotional. Rather, he emphasizes the advantages of acknowledging, examining and understanding your emotions. By doing so, you create more time and space for clarity, which will then allow you to make more prudent decisions.

It all comes down to emotional intelligence

Murphy's advice is deeply connected to the concept of emotional intelligence. An emotionally intelligent person possesses both self-awareness and social awareness skills — both of which are essential to developing and maintaining good relationships, communicating clearly, managing conflicts and achieving success.

Buffett knows this well. As Pauline Yan, a portfolio manager who runs a personal finance blog, pointed out in a recent interview with CNBC, Buffett is a great investor because he isn't just aware of his own emotions, but he's also able to pick up on the emotional cues of others.

It was one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received.
Warren Buffett
CEO, Berkshire Hathaway

"[Buffett] recognizes that emotions are running the game, and he uses his insight into what the mass population is feeling to make wise investment decisions," Yan explained.

The bottom line? By practicing emotional discipline, you'll be far better equipped to unlock the outcomes you want to achieve in life.

Gillian Zoe Segal is the author of "Getting There: A Book of Mentors″ and "New York Characters." She received a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a law degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Gillian lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.

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