FOR a sustained good image, master emotional self-control.

"Those who command themselves," goes an old saying, "command others." That is true, and it means being disciplined enough to put your personal feelings on hold even when tempted to blow your stack.

If you make a great first impression, yet allow yourself to be pushed over the edge to rant and rave and to say and do things that you later regret, that is the "you" that will be remembered.

Your hard-won image of positiveness or enthusiasm can be shattered in an instant. It will take much damage control to undo even one such outburst.

One executive, whom I'll call Harry, seeks to project himself as fair, sensitive, highly knowledgeable, a good listener, and, above all, tranquil under fire.

However, his volcanic temper is never far from exploding. Moreover, when it does erupt in an outpouring of vitriol, no one is safe. After his emotional eruptions, no one looks him squarely in the eye for quite some time as he tries to resume his role as good ol' Harry, the wise, imperturbable leader.

What Harry needs is what I call pausitiveness: the ability to pause and refrain from giving immediate feedback. Many an argument can be avoided if one side refuses to be defensive. That is because feedback, while generally a good idea, can be like throwing gasoline on a fire if you misunderstand the intent of the other person's message.

Another example: I once was at the home of some friends and was chatting with the wife when her husband, who was running a little late, burst into the room in an apparent huff.

Pointing at his shirt collar, he demanded loudly and harshly: "Where did you get this shirt cleaned?"

Many spouses, fearing a rebuke, might have counter-attacked. However, this woman, in a calm voice without disturbing body language, just named the dry cleaner and said evenly: "Why do you ask?"

The husband said it was the first time any cleaner had done his shirt properly and he would like all his shirts done there from now on.

Therefore, clearly, there are times when it is best just to pause, bite your tongue, and restrain your body language and gestures in the face of an implied threat or criticism until the smoke has cleared.

Maybe, as it sometimes turns out, there is no crisis at all, or perhaps you wrongly inferred that the other person was being critical. In any event, by remaining calm, you may defuse the situation and, at the very worst, you will not aggravate it.

Remember: People will always believe that what you say in your worst moments is closer to your true beliefs than what you more carefully tailor for their consumption in calmer times.