The word emotion comes from a Latin word meaning to move. Emotions have, over time, evolved to move us to action. As I discussed in the emotional cycle, the primary emotions of mad, sad, fear and disgust are primitive threat detectors which subconsciously alert us to and prepare our bodies to react to a threat which could have a negative impact on us if not addressed. We manage an emotion when we validate it, adjust our arousal level and stop the initial emotional reaction before we act on it.
We go beyond emotional management to emotional mastery when we assess the nature of the emotion, decide if the emotion does, indeed, match the situation in which we find ourselves, and choose how we want to respond to that situation. If the emotion matches the situation, we choose to let the emotion motivate us to take effective action. If we have misperceived the situation and the emotion does not match what is happening, we can choose to change our perception of the situation and let the emotion subside.
With this in mind, I want to make you aware of what I call the atomic power of the words you use to generate feelings (same as emotions) which in turn motivate you to take specific actions. We master the power of words when we are aware of the emotions specific words can elicit and choose the words we use to match the situation we wish to create.
Most of us spend too little time thinking about the words we use both in our conversations with others and in our “conversations” with ourselves. All communication starts with an idea that you may have which you attempt to put into words. The challenge is that we try to compress the multifaceted picture we have into a static, often oversimplified word. The person to whom we are speaking has to decode the word using his, or her, own set of filters hoping to recreate the same “picture” we originally encoded in the words we use. Use the word “breakfast” as an example. Maybe you are thinking of an American meal steak and eggs and someone else is thinking about a continental meal of yogurt and pastries. Same word… different pictures.
Oftentimes, the other person does not accurately decode our message. This leads to a misunderstanding which can elicit emotions we did not intend and would rather avoid.
By the way, because words can be misunderstood, you need to be careful when you send a text, a letter, or an email to another person like a boss. You may know what you want to say but what that other person “hears” is very different. The emotions your words elicit in that other person may be very different, and sometimes detrimental, than what you intended to convey.
There are words which leave you, or someone else, feeling excited, energized, and ready to act. These words are motivating and move us forward. I call these “go” words.
There are other words which leave you feeling turned off, overwhelmed, unexcited and stuck. I call these “stop” words.
There are other words which can have unintended effects. One example is when a parent tells a child, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” We will talk about this is a future post.
Because we often only “see” what we intend to communicate, we may miss other ways our words can be interpreted. When this happens, the atomic power of the word can backfire.
We will talk more about “stop” words in the next post.