Emotions As Tools – Seven Top Conflict Resolution Tips Using Emotions As Tools

If you have not done so, already, I encourage you to download the first chapter of my book Emotions as Tools: A Self-Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings  by scrolling back up to the top of this page and clicking on the “EMOTIONS as TOOLS TOC_Intro_Ch 1 PDF link.  This is not an opt-in.

If you have ever found yourself facing another person who is angry with you because of something you did (or did not) do something the other person thought was important, you have experienced conflict.

When this happened did your conflict resolution strategies include using your emotions as tools to gain valuable strategic information?

If not, the 7 step process below will teach you how to use the information provided by emotions to resolve conflict between you and someone else or between two other people.

So that we are all on the same page, here are some basic working definitions:

Difference of Opinion: A misunderstanding between two people that may involve some mild emotions and can be usually be dealt with through discussion, clarification, and compromise.

Conflict: A strong disagreement between two parties that involves some action that was taken or some action that was not taken. Conflict is always accompanied by strong emotions. With human beings, conflict is almost impossible to totally avoid.

Emotions as Tools model:

1. States that our emotions are created by our thoughts and how we perceive the environment

2. Every emotion has an underlying message which reflects the perception that created it.

3. By reading the emotion and understanding the underlying message, we can address how a person perceives his or her situation and help them change that perception.

4. When the perception changes, the emotion changes.

The three steps of conflict resolution:

1. Finding out what the presenting issue is by asking questions and actively listening to the answers.

2. Using the information provided by reading emotions to determine the real underlying issue.

3. Taking the necessary time to address the underlying issues and come to an agreement about how to best deal with the presenting issue so that both parties are satisfied (win/win) or at least agree to live with what is agreed upon (compromise).

The 7 step process:

Step 1: View all disagreements as a difference of opinion NOT as a conflict.

With a difference of opinion, the presenting issue is what it is. Two people have differing opinions. Depending on the situation, the emotions that go along with misunderstandings or differences of opinion are surprised, confused, possibly frustrated, or maybe even amused. These tend to be milder emotions that usually do not get in the way of further discussion.

Differences of opinion can escalate into conflict if not resolved.

Step 2: Recognize a “conflict” by identifying the emotions (specifically anger) that are present.

If you notice that you or another person is getting angry about an issue, it is likely that a conflict has developed.

This is why.

The message of anger is that the angry person both feels threatened and believes that if he demonstrates his power through his anger, he can eliminate the threat.

When we are in threat prevention mode, we are not in problem solving mode.

The specific threat may be to his (or her) ego, to some goal, or to an ideal such as fairness. When you see anger, it means that, in addition to the presenting issue such as when a teenager gets angry when her parent sets rules for dating, there is an underlying issue of perceived threat which must be addressed first for successful conflict resolution to occur.

The presence of a perceived threat is what leads to a conflict.

Note: A future article will address the indirect anger shown by women in our society and the tendency of men to use anger as a substitute for hurt. You can, for now, assume that anger in a conflict reflects some underlying threat. You will not lose with this strategy.

Step 3: Keep your own head level.

Adopt a conflict resolution mind set.

This includes:

-Acknowledging and understanding your own perception of threat if you are angry.

-Having mutual respect for everyone and their position.

-Remaining non-judgemental.

-Being willing to actively listen to the other party and hear their story

-Expressing your own story without accusing the other party.

-Remaining open to possible solutions other than your own.

Step 4: Address the underlying issue of perceived threat.

In most cases, when anger is present, one (or both) party perceives a threat. Examples include:

(i) Threat to Autonomy

Strategy: Reaffirm the maturity and independence of the other person.

(ii) Threat to a sense of Fairness

Strategy: Reaffirm that any decision made will only be reached after all sides have been heard and an agreement reached that is agreeable to both.

Note: If the issue is between a parent and a child, a different approach may be needed

(iii) Threat of Loss

Strategy: Acknowledge their sense of loss and reaffirm that each loss also may involve a gain.

An example is when you give up some autonomy to do your own thing and gain cooperation and harmony in an office setting.

Step 5: Address the presenting issue.

Once the threat is addressed, the conflict becomes a difference of opinion and the presenting issue can be addressed.

Step 6: Resolve the conflict

Once the issue is addressed, a win/win solution or a compromise can be agreed upon. Or, you can agree to disagree. Always seek a win/win solution first.

Step 7: Finalize the agreement

State the agreement or write it down with information about who will do what by when and any consequences that will happen if “WHAT” and “WHEN” are not done by “WHO”.

As establishing that you understand the other person (empathy) can be very important in resolving conflict, I encourage you to scroll down this site and revisit my earlier posts on empathy.

I welcome your comments.

 

 

You Cannot NOT Communicate

The title of this blog post may look like I added an extra word.

I assure you, (no pun intended) that I did not..

The point I am making, and that most people miss when they interact with others, is that we are always communicating something whether we intend to or not.

Most people believe that communication is a fairly simple process. This is an unfortunate myth.

The process of communication, while I admittedly am simplifying the process, can be illustrated with two examples.

Example #1: Think back to the days of the telegraph.  If you wanted to send a message, you had to write out the message, the telegraph operator had to convert it to Morse Code, the wires had to be in place between you and the place to which you were sending the message, the receiving  operator had to get the signal, decode the message, and write it down so that your target person could receive your message.

The first example illustrates the verbal communication process.  Most of us can easily encode an idea into words, deliver the words, and expect the receiver to accurately decode the message and understand what we mean and intended to say.  And, in most cases, when it is factual information we are communicating, this process works.

There are some underlying assumptions here.

  • Both of the participants speak the same language and can understand the words being used.  Words can be thought of as one “filter” through which ideas are processed. (One way to understand the idea of a filter is to think about what happens when you take a black and white picture with your camera or smart phone. The filter takes out the color.) Words can have a multitude of meanings and, therefore, can be thought of as a filter in that you choose the words you eventually use based on what you want to convey.
  • The message is clear, does not involve emotional issues in either party, and is not easily misinterpreted. (Emotions are another “filter” through which ideas are processed.)
  • Both participants are paying attention to each other, are not distracted by “noise” in the environment (think about having a conversation in a loud lounge), and are “actively” listening with the goal of receiving and understanding the message.  They are not  “passively” listening while engaged in some other activity such as texting or planning tomorrow’s schedule.

If we are dealing with issues involving emotions (or complex issues), the process becomes more complicated.

Example #2: Think about the last time you sent a text or an email thinking that you were being very clear only to have the person to whom you sent this electronic message get upset because they misinterpreted the message they received.

The second example illustrates a situation in which the message has several different “layers” but the only layer of information that is “available” is what is “written” down.

There are several possible complications here:

  • The message may contain implied emotional overtones. For example, you are upset with the person and have not directly expressed your feeling.
  • You may have directly expressed your feelings but the meaning of the emotional words you have used were misinterpreted when “decoded” by the recipient of the text.
  • You tried to use humor in your text or an emoji.
  • And so forth.

By the way, the above process is why we are frequently advised, and warn our kids, to be very careful about what they send in an email or a text.

There is a quote from the Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) literature that says: “The meaning of a communication (to the receiver) is the response that you (the sender) get regardless of what you intended to say.”

The receiver’s (upset) response clearly suggests that he (or she) viewed the message as “threatening”. This is the “real” meaning of the message to him.

If the communication process is to be successful, you will need to determine where the “disconnect” is. Perhaps, the misunderstanding occurred because the message contained implied emotional overtones that were included in the message (either intentionally or unintentionally) or the receiver read emotional overtones into the message that were not there.

When you are involved in a face to face conversation, there are additional complications that can take place because of the nature of non-verbal signals.

  • Non-verbal signals comprise a significant (perhaps, major) portion of the communication process and involve your tone of voice, the expression on your face, the way you are standing and so forth.
  • An important part of the emotional process is the constant scanning of our surroundings that our senses engage in, our Amygdala monitors, and our bodies unconsciously react to if there is a threat.
  • Our primitive brain is programmed to “read” non-verbal signals because they are often a more accurate (though not always so) indicator of possible threat. This is because humans are not very good at modifying their non-verbal signals (unless they are trained to do so).

Consequently, you are always communicating non-verbally and your listener is always tuned into your non-verbals.  Hence, the title of this blog: You cannot NOT communicate.

An example of this potential conflict is  the saying “Your actions speak so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.”

Communication problems can arise for at least two reasons:

  1. The meaning of non-verbal signals is not always clear and can easily be misunderstood.
  2. The non-verbal signals you are communicating with your tone of voice or body language are not consistent with the verbal message.

You master your emotions (and the emotions of others) when you are aware of and utilize the nature of non-verbal (and verbal) signals.

  • In your own communications, take extra care to insure that the message you are conveying non-verbally is consistent with the words you are using.
  • Be aware of the non-verbal signals your receiver sends to you, the emotions indicated by those signals, and the message those emotions tell you about how he or she has interpreted your communication. Using this information, you can seek clarification if what you see in their response is different from what you expected and you can clear up any misunderstanding.

I hope this information is helpful and I welcome your comments.

 

The emotional meaning of a word is in the person NOT the word.

Have you ever said (or did) something only to have the person with whom you are interacting, react in a way that totally surprised you?

Of course you have.  We all have. But you may not know why this occurred.

There is a quote from the NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) literature that says: “The meaning of a communication is the response that you get regardless of what you intended to (say/do)”.

Another way to put this is that the emotional meaning of a word is in the person not in the word.

Let me explain.

While it seems to be a simple process, and sometimes it is, communicating with another person can be very complicated.

Each interaction involves you (the sender) and the other person (the receiver).  Your job as the sender is to pick the best words to convey what you want to say.  This is called  encoding. The job of the receiver is to listen to you and get the meaning you are trying to send. This is called decoding.

Several different processes can complicated the encoding and decoding of words. These processes serve as obstacles to successful communication.

  1. Do each of you have a sufficient vocabulary to pick the best word?
  2. Are both of you engaged in the communication process such that you are focused on each other, avoiding external distractions, and concentrating on the message?
  3. Are both of you paying attention to insure that your own emotional issues do not interfere with the message being communicated?

While there are more issues that can interrupt communication, these three give you an idea of the potential obstacles that exist to successful communication.

Emotions become relevant in obstacle #2 and #3.

In every case, you respond to another person based on how you interpret what they are saying (or doing).  Your interpretation of another person’s words depends on your emotional state.  This is obstacle #3. If you are “primed” for anger because you are thinking of a previous incident in which you were mistreated or you have a history of incidents with the other person, the filter through which you will perceive what they say will be one of self-defense and you will more easily get angry.

If you have had a good day or you have a positive or neutral history with the other person, you are more likely to give them the “benefit of the doubt” and possibly reserve judgment on any questionable communication.

A similar process goes on for other feelings.

The same is true for another person whose reaction to you suggests that they have misperceived what you said because their reaction does not match the words and emotional tone you were trying to communicate.

Let me give you an example:

You go into your office to start your workday and you say to one of your co-workers: “How are you?”

A. If your co-worker says “Great, how are you?” then you have had a successful interaction.  In most cases when we say “How are you?”, the meaning of the words are simply “I acknowledge you.”  Saying “Hello”, “How is it going?” or “Good morning.” all mean the same in this context.

B. But, suppose, your co-worker says: “Wow, I am really glad you asked. I had an argument with my spouse, the dog had an accident on the rug, and I had trouble starting my car this morning.  Oh, and did I mention…..”  In this case, he (or she) interpreted your question as meaning ” I really want to know about your life.  Give me all the details.”

C. Or, if your co-worker says: “Why do you ask?” or “What’s it to you?”  In this case, your co-worker has interpreted your question as unnecessary prying or intrusive.

With examples B and C above, it is not what you said but how the other person misinterpreted what you said that led to the unexpected response. The other person put their own spin or interpretation on your words and reacted “as if” you meant to say what he “heard” you say.

Or, to put in another way, the meaning of a word  is in the person or the meaning of a communication (to another person) is the response you get (from that person).

Using the Emotions as Tools Model, you can infer how a person perceives you based on the emotional tone of their response to you and the message of that emotion.

If they respond in an angry manner, then you know that they have perceived you, or what you said (did) as a threat.  You know this because the message of anger is that a threat has been perceived that the angry person believes they can eliminate.

If the response you get suggests that the other person is anxious or cautious with you, then you can assume that they perceive you as a possible threat that might hurt them. This is the message of anxiety.

With this knowledge, you can ask them for clarification.

You can say: “I am surprised by how you responded to what I said.  What did you hear me say?”

Be sure not to label what they said, take offense, or blame. Your initial goal is clarify what is going on with them.  It is possible that you did not use the right words or that you had an emotional overtone in your voice. Or, maybe, the misinterpretation is totally on them.  It doesn’t matter at this point as, for now, your goal is clarification.

There is always time later on to seek additional clarification, if needed, apologize for any misunderstanding or respond to their emotion, if appropriate, or rephrase what you said.

I welcome your comments.

Anger: A Review

Anger is a powerful emotion.   And, it is highly misunderstood.

Some basic concepts about emotions…

The words emotion and feeling mean the same thing.

  • Anger is an emotion and all human emotions are tools which you can use to improve and gain control over your life.
  • We are born with primary emotions including mad (anger), sad, glad (happy), fear, disgust, surprise and interest. These feelings are tools that our ancestors used to survive.
  • Just like the tools in your kitchen (the stove, specific pots, the thermometer, and the microwave), the tools in your office (the computer, the telephone, and the printer), and the tools in your garage (your car, the hammer, and the washer and dryer), each emotional tool has a specific purpose and serves you best when it is appropriately used.
  • Your eyes, nose and skin are sensors which, like radar, scan your environment. Your emotions inform you about what your senses have picked up. This is the message of your emotion. Your feelings also prepare you to take action and give you the opportunity to choose whether you want to do something about the situation facing you or ignore it.

The truth about emotions…

  • Your emotions are your first line of defense against threat.
  • Your senses first register a possible threat.

For example, you are on a hike in the woods and you see a snake on the path in front of you. The information from your eyes is picked up by a part of your brain called the amygdala which registers the threat and causes you to freeze in your tracks. This is done without any thought on your part as your survival may be at stake. The job of your brain is to keep you alive.

You want this reaction to happen automatically if your life is really on the line.

  • You REACT to your primary emotions the same way your ancestor, Mr. Caveman, reacted to his basic emotions.

When threatened by a predator (animal or human), here is what happened to Mr. Caveman…

  1. He got angry
  2. He made menacing facial and verbal expressions.
  3. Adrenalin rushed through his body.
  4. He was ready to fight for his survival.

When you get angry, the same process occurs, and you are ready to fight for your survival.

The problem is that, while the threat to Mr. Caveman was always real and his survival was at stake, with most modern threats your survival is rarely at risk.

You create the emotion you feel.

A short time after the amygdala receives its information from the eyes, the thinking part of your brain, the cerebral cortex, picks up the information and gives you the opportunity to evaluate how real the threat is. If you decide that the threat is real, the emotion you feel will reflect the nature of the threat you have decided exists. If there is no threat, there is no emotion. When you realize that the snake is really a tree branch, you calm down.

Your emotions are the result of the thoughts you have about your situation. You create your thoughts and the feelings follow

Because your feelings come from your thoughts about your situation, reading your feelings tells you how you perceive what is happening to you.

For example: Your anger tells you that you see a threat that you can eliminate if you throw enough power at it. The threat may be to your safety, your body, your values, your finances, your goals, or your ego. Your anger tells you that you need to evaluate the true nature of the threat.

The actions you take are based on this evaluation and are your response to the situation. Acting without this evaluation is called a reaction and will often get you in trouble.

A basic misconception about anger..

  • People or situations make you angry.

Fact: You make you angry.

I know this is a tough one for most of us to accept so we can take a closer look and use a traffic jam as an example.

If you are in a hurry to get somewhere, you will get upset or even angry at the traffic. If, however, you have all the time in the world, your favorite artist is on the radio and your car and the air conditioning are both working great, you will tend to sit back and let the moment pass. The same situation, the traffic, results in two completely different emotional responses.

If the traffic jam made you angry, it would affect everyone the same way.

The sun makes us hot. It affects everyone the same way and what we think about it is irrelevant.

The truth about anger..

  • The message of anger is that you believe you are facing a threat that you can eliminate if throw enough power at it.
  • When angry, your body prepares you to either fight off the threat or run away from it.
  • Anger causes you to focus your attention and your energy on the perceived threat. Your thinking is directed to how you can deal with the threat you see.
  • Being prepared in this way to deal with the threat is very healthy if the threat is real

Real threats involve significant risk to your life, your goals, your core values, your finances, your property, or your family.

It is the anger that gets blamed for the aggression that angry people engage in. In truth, it is the misjudgement about the nature of the threat that leads these people to REACT with aggression when the actual level of risk calls for some other, less offensive, RESPONSE.

  • Managing your anger involves CONTROL and is only a first step.
  • Mastering anger goes anger management and involves assessing the nature of the threat, choosing an adaptive response,  and focusing the energy of the anger to eliminate the threat.

Three anger mastery  techniques you can use today as soon as you notice you are getting angry…

I. Take a deep breath before you take any other action.

What does this do?

Taking a deep breath does two important things:

  • First of all, it has a calming effect on you.
  • Secondly, it gives you an extra second or two for your cortex to kick in so you can evaluate the nature of the threat.

II. Evaluate the nature of the threat.

What does this do?

Evaluating the nature of the threat allows you to choose a response that fits the situation rather than react to your first impression which may not be correct if there really is no threat.

Take a moment to ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is at risk?
  2. How real is the threat?

For example:

  • Will the traffic jam I am stuck in kill me, my goals, or my core values?
  • While I do not want to stay at work, what are the life or death consequences at stake when my boss tells me that I have to work overtime?

III. CHOOSE the RESPONSE that best fits the nature of the threat.

If the risk is to your life, your core values, or your primary goals, you have only one choice

  • Use all the power provided by your anger that you need to overcome the threat.

Note: You can always choose what means you will use to eliminate the threat.

If the threat is not significant, you have three choices:

  • Choose an action that deals with the situation as it is.
  • Choose to walk away from the situation.
  • Choose to let it pass by ignoring it.

Choosing your response based on your evaluation is using your anger as a tool to interact with your environment. This is mastering your anger.

I welcome your comments.

Hesitate to ask for what you want? Why and what you can do.

Have you ever wanted to ask someone for something but hesitated?

Examples include:

  • Asking someone out on a date
  • Asking someone to help you on a project
  • Asking a co-worker for some needed information or for a report
  • Asking a boss for a raise

We all have.  But, have you ever thought about why you hesitated?

While there could be many reasons, concerns, justifications, or ways in which you rationalized your not taking action, the underlying barriers to your not asking can be boiled down to two issues.

Before I lay these barriers out to you, however, let me give you some insight into the process of rationalization.  Rationalizing is a psychological defense mechanism which allows us to justify whatever action we take with “reasons” which, while we may accept them as sufficient to back up what we want to do, might not carry much weight or significance to a third, unbiased, observer.

Why is this? Well, while the correct spelling of the word is R-A-T-I-O-N-A-L-I-Z-E, the psychological spelling, or underlying process is R-A-T-I-O-N-A-L    L-I-E-S.

When you rationalize, or justify, an action you are taking, or something you are not doing, you may be manufacturing excuses or “lies” which appear to support the position you are taking.

Now, I am not saying that you are intentionally telling an untruth (a “real” lie), although you could be.  I am saying that the reasons you are giving yourself, when seriously analyzed, probably won’t hold up to examination.  Hence. I am calling them “lies”.

So, what are the two underlying barriers which result in your hesitation to ask for what you want and how do you get around them?

The first barrier to your asking for what you want is emotional.

The anxiety that you are feeling and experiencing as distress will stop you in your tracks.  Remember that anxiety is a future based emotion, the message of which is: There MAY be a threat out there and it MAY  “kill” me.  The word kill is in quotes because with anxiety, we aren’t talking about physical death but some outcome which we believe could be “disastrous”, unwelcome, or significantly damaging in some way.

The question that elicits anxiety as distress is: What if  A, B, and/or C happens? where “A”, “B”, and “C” are worst case scenarios. This is called “catastrophising”.  Inaction happens when we accept A, B, and/or C and the answer to this question as inevitable  and back-off to avoid the unwanted outcome.

The second underlying barrier to your not asking for what you want has to do with your self-image and is experienced as a sense of your own unworthiness.  You do not believe that you are either justified in asking for what you want or that you are worthy enough to have your request granted.

There are 4 questions which, when asked and answered by you, will enable you to overcome these barriers.

  1. What is the worst that can happen if I do ask for what I want?
  2.  If the worst happens, can I survive it?
  3.  How will I benefit if the outcome I want happens?
  4. Is the request I am making (or question I am asking) a valid, reasonable (given the situation), and appropriate (again, given the situation) request to make?

Questions 1 and 2 are designed to address the anxiety.  If you can identify the worst case scenario that underlies your anxiety and you can survive (however you define this word) the disaster you are envisioning, then you no longer need to be bullied by your anxiety. You may still feel some anxiety but it will not be overwhelming.

In the case of requesting something from someone, the unwanted “disaster” usually involves some form of rejection, either of you, personally, or of the issue you are raising.

And, the answer to the survival question should, in nearly all cases, be “yes”.

Following these questions, you can use your anxiety as a tool to motivate you to get the facts you need, do whatever preparation you might have to do, and think through your request, prior to approaching the person and making your request.

This is using anxiety as “eustress”.

Question 3 turns anxiety into its mirror emotion…  anticipation.  Anticipation is also a future oriented emotion and elicits the same energy as anxiety. Anticipation, however, looks ahead and envisions a desirable outcome. Since you want the outcome to occur, you are more motivated to make the request and ask for what you want.

Question 4 indirectly addresses the question of worthiness.  If the request you are making is valid, reasonable, and appropriate, then the request is its own justification for being asked.  You, as the “requester” become worthy by implication because the request is worthy.

Yes, I know that the question of self-worth is far more complicated than this, can impact your life in a multitude of ways, and could require professional help if it becomes a clinical issue but, in the case of hesitation as we are discussing, this usually is not what is taking place.

So, to wrap up, Questions 1 and 2 directly address the distress of the anxiety which may be a barrier to your asking for what you want and uses anxiety as a tool (eustress) to motivate you to prepare for action.

Question 3 turns anxiety into anticipation so you are motivated to take the action you have prepared yourself for.

Question 4 indirectly addresses the question of worthiness AND (as a bonus) can give you additional motivation to ask for what you want.

Thanks for reading and I welcome your comments.

 

 

Anger Mastery: Respond, do not react when using your emotions as tools

Think about the last time you got angry.

Maybe, you were driving and another driver cut in front of you.

If you immediately got angry, gave him, or her, the one-finger salute, or used language you would not want your five year old to repeat, it is safe to say that you reacted to the situation.

The emotions as tools model teaches you to use your emotions to gain control over your life. In other words, your emotions are tools that inform you about your world and help you to become more effective in the actions
you choose to take.

The critical word here is “choose”.

When you choose what you want to do, you respond to what is happening.

There is personal power in responding.

When you act without thinking, you are reacting.

Reacting often leads to regret for having done something you later wish you had avoided.

As tools, each emotion communicates a message about how you perceive the situation you are in.

The message of anger, according to the emotions as tools model, is that you have perceived a threat that you believe you can remove, defeat, or eliminate by throwing enough energy at it to overpower it. You viewed the actions of the other driver as a threat and you IMMEDIATELY threw your energy into overpowering the threat. In other words, you reacted.

So, what was the threat you perceived? Was it to your safety, your sense of driving etiquette, your ego?

Even if there was a genuine threat, how much did the action(s) you took help to improve the situation?

A second example..

I was at the airport recently and there were long lines at the counter. I observed a man who was loudly complaining and becoming increasingly more angry every time he looked up at the screen announcing the flight information. When it was his turn, he focused all of his energy on the clerk. She apologized to him for his inconvenience and said that
there was nothing she could do about his cancelled flight.

This was an emotional reaction that reflected the degree of energy behind the anger but was totally ineffective in resolving the “threat” to his travel plans.

A few minutes later, this same clerk was approached by a passenger who effectively utilized her anger and responded to the situation. She acknowledged that the situation was not the clerk’s fault, stated her need to get home as soon as possible, and noted that she would appreciate anything the clerk could do. The clerk responded in kind by making
a few phone calls and securing a flight out of the airport.

This passenger responded to her anger and chose a course of action that was appropriate to the situation.

Responding-Not Reacting

Reacting
* is acting impulsively
* does not involve any reflection upon or thinking about your situation
* is usually ineffective in eliminating the threat
* typically results in your doing something you later regret or need to correct (as in offer an apology)
* may often make the situation worse

Responding
* is acting effectively
* always involves thinking about your situation
* requires weighing your options
* allows you to choose the best action to take
* results in the threat being eliminated or at least weakened

The three important functions anger, as an emotional tool, performs for you:
1. Anger informs you that you face a threat.
2. Anger alerts you to the need to think about what action you can take to eliminate the threat.
3. Anger gives you an opportunity to choose the best response to handle the threat.

When you respond to your anger, you empower yourself and you effectively utilize your emotions.

I welcome your comments.

The Atomic Power of Words: Learn to Harness It Part 2

In my last post, I introduced you to the atomic power of words to elicit feelings.  Feelings, in turn lead to behavior.  It is the connection between words feelings and actions which give words their power.

The downside of this relationship between words and actions is that the words we use can be misunderstood by others. Misunderstandings can elicit behavior we may not want.  Consequently, it is critical that we use words that are less likely to be misunderstood and, therefore, are more likely to generate the responses (behavior) we would like.

In this post, I want to address what I call “stop” words and replacing them with “go” words.

Stop words are words which when used tend to leave others feeling deflated, unmotivated and stuck. The same end result occurs when we use these words and direct them toward ourselves.

Go words are motivating.

It is important to note that the specific word you use is less important than how that word is interpreted on a feeling level.

Specific stop words are: “can’t” as in “I can’t…”, “problem” as in “We’ve got a problem.”, “should” as in “You (or I) should …” and so forth.

Let’s take the word “can’t”.  What we mean when we say we “can’t do something” is usually that we may see obstacles in the way of our accomplishing the task.  While there may be obstacles, the issue with the word “can’t” is that your brain may interpret the word as “impossible”.  If you say “I can’t do this.”, what you may feel is that it is impossible for you to do it.  If you truly were facing an impossible task that you felt compelled to overcome, you might get depressed, feel overwhelmed, stop trying, lose motivation and so forth.  When you tell yourself you “can’t” do something, you react as if the task facing you is, indeed impossible.

Another way around the word “can’t” which both acknowledges the difficulties the event you are facing represents and elicits a feeling of motivation is to say, “This situation is admittedly difficult but it is doable.”  “Doable” is a go word. Emotionally, your brain is satisfied that the situation has been correctly labelled as requiring great effort and you remain motivated because you believe you have the ability to persevere and overcome.

If you tell someone else they “can’t” do something or you are told that “you can’t do something”, the reaction you may get is defiance or resistance.  In this case, the word “can’t” is perceived as an unfair imposition of power and might elicit the emotion of anger.  The message of anger is that a threat is perceived that can be overpowered.  In trying to deal with a threat you view as “unfair”, you, or someone else such as your kid, may be motivated to rebel, look for ways to get around the imposition and so forth.

In both cases, the word “can’t” is a stop word because it impedes forward progress and weakens motivation.

I am not saying you can never use the word “can’t”.

I am saying that if you do use it, explain what you mean by looking at the obstacles that exist or the issues which prohibit another from taking a specific action.  You might say, “You can’t do this because…”

You get a similar reaction when you use the stop word “should” as in “I should go on a diet.” or “You should be more….”.  The initial reaction is resistance as in “Why?”, “Who is gonna make me?”, or “Who says.”  Think about your own reaction when someone like your doctor or your spouse tells you that you “should” do something like lose weight, stop smoking or exercise more you tell yourself that you should do something like your New Year’s Resolutions.

Another stop word is “problem” as in “We have a problem.”

I don’t know if you remember the movie Apollo 13 but it is a true story about an American crew whose space ship explodes.  While the crew is alright, their ship is severely disabled and there is a real possibility that they might not be able to get back to earth.  The captain of the mission, played by Tom Hanks, radios the command center back on earth and says,
“Houston, we have a problem.” In this case, the problem was a life threatening, potential disaster with no immediately obvious solution. The word “problem” implied potential catastrophe.

It is the emotional connotation of catastrophe that makes the word “problem” a  potential stop word.  Someone tells you that they have a “problem” or you tell yourself you “have a problem” and the emotional reaction is anxiety, disbelief, or, possibly, inadequacy.  The message of anxiety is that the situation you are facing might be a threat that might “kill” you.  The emotional behavior elicited by anxiety is stress or withdrawal.

Instead of labeling an event as a “problem”, you can call it a challenge or even a very difficult challenge. The word “challenge” is a go word. When facing a challenge, the emotion elicited might be excitement or enthusiasm, or motivated.  The ensuing behavior is solution focused activity designed to meet and beat the challenge.

When you are aware of the strong emotional impact that words can have on the behavior of others and on your own actions, you can begin to master the atomic power of words to motivate yourself and others. Stop words can result in inhibition, withdrawal, or resistance. You might want to avoid using stop words, replace them with go words or, when you do use them, provide a context in which the word you use makes sense and doesn’t elicit emotions and reactions you do not want.

I welcome your comments

The Atomic Power of Words: Learn to Harness it. Part 1

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.

Dealing with regret.

Regret is an emotion that can increase your stress level, consume your energy, and lead you into a proverbial emotional maze from which there is no escape. Regrets can haunt you.

All emotions have a message. Mastering an emotion involves understanding the message that the emotion communicates to you about how you perceive your world, taking a breath and assessing the validity of the message, and choosing an appropriate response. You can master emotions such as anger, sadness, anxiety, jealousy and even envy. In fact, I wrote a book entitled Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool. If you haven’t done so already, go back to the home page of this blog and download the first chapter of Beyond Anger Management.

Regret can also be mastered if you change your approach to it as I will show you below.

If regret is a troubling emotion for you or someone you know, then you, or they, may have allowed your regret to overwhelm you. When this happens, mastering regret becomes impossible and regret becomes emotionally draining and psychologically intrusive.

Let me explain.

The message of regret is that, based on some future outcome, you either did something you later wish you had not done or you did not do something you later wish you had done. By itself, this can be a healthy message. And we will use this aspect of regret below.

The darker side of regret which is the source of all the emotional pain associated with the feeling is the self-recrimination and blame that people engage in when they feel regret. This can be expressed as: “I was such an idiot when I (did or did not do) X!” or “How could I be so stupid to (have done or not done) X?” or “I lost so much when I (did or did not do) X.” The insidious face of regret is the message that not only was an opportunity ruined by my action or inaction but that opportunity was both important and, now, irretrievable and I am both blameworthy and incompetent for blowing the opportunity.

Put another way, regret continually beats you over the head with the message that you can’t change what you did and you can’t recover from the action or inaction you displayed. This is the emotional box canyon I mentioned above. Not only did you screw up but you are incompetent and must suffer forever because you can’t change what you did and the outcome you created.

While it may be true that the opportunity is lost and that you are responsible for your actions, there usually is no justification for remaining stuck in the past.

So how do you master the emotion of regret and use it to move you forward?

The key to mastering regret is the acronym IWBNI (Ih-whib-knee). The letters stand for ItWould Be Nice If.

Here is how and why this approach works.

When you change the message from “I should (or should not) have done X.” to “It would have been nice if I had (done or not done) X.”, you acknowledge the importance of the specific opportunity that was lost or ruined, you accept responsibility for what you did or did not do, you remove the self-recrimination element, and you give yourself a chance to learn from the past and move forward.

Using the IWBNI approach focuses your attention on what is true. This is why the approach is so powerful.

In every case, it is totally true that It Would Be Nice If the situation had been handled differently.

Secondly, acknowledging the importance of the lost opportunity and accepting responsibility satisfies the thinking, or logical, part of your brain and makes it possible for you to remove the self-recrimination, learn from the past and move forward.

You are now mastering your regret by acknowledging and validating the message of the emotion that something in the past led to undesirable outcomes, you are examining your past behavior and putting it into an emotionally acceptable context, and you are choosing how you want to respond to the emotion.

I welcome any comments on the above.

Effective Empathy- Step 2 and 3

In my last post, I talked about step 1 to establishing effective empathy and noted that you need to both be aware of and overcome the barriers to empathy which might exist between you and the person with whom you are trying to communicate.  These barriers act as filters through which what you say is interpreted and, often, misunderstood. Taking the time to interact with another person and find the common ground that you share begins to set up the foundation from which empathy is built.

Step 2 involves using your knowledge about emotions to provide you with a context for your interactions with the other person.  Step 3 involves showing the other person that you do understand their point of view.  You do this by communicating that you are aware of and acknowledge the barriers that exist between you. You also need to validate their feelings about the issue that both of you are trying to resolve.  This is what “understanding” is all about.

If the other person does not feel that they are being understood, you can’t establish that you care about them or that you understand them, both of which are critical to establishing empathy.

You demonstrate that you understand another person’s point of view when you address the message of the emotion they are showing you.  This is what emotional mastery is all about.

The emotion you see in the other person is based on their perception of the situation in which they find themselves.  This is the emotional process which I addressed in earlier posts. Each emotion communicates a different message.  When you understand the message of the emotion, you can address the concerns of the other person.

The message of the basic emotions are as follows:

  • Anger: I perceive a threat which I believe I can eliminate if I throw enough force at it.
  • Anxiety: I perceive a possible threat in the future that MAY hurt me.
  • Guilt: I have done something wrong that I need to make right.
  • Regret: I either did (or did not) do something that led to a negative outcome that I am powerless to correct.
  • Sad: I have lost something or someone who was very important to me.

I addressed anxiety and anger in earlier posts and I will address regret in a future post.

If a person is angry with you, you “master” their emotion and establish empathy by attempting to determine the threat they perceive.  Are you the threat?  Is a new policy the threat?  Has something changed in the work setting?  You might say, “I can see that you are angry.”  This is the beginning of empathy but does not establish effective empathy.

To be effective, you need to add, “Can you help me understand what it is that you are so angry about?”

When they tell you the object of their anger and you realize that this situation is perceived as a threat, you can then work with them to eliminate the perceived threat in such a way that both of you get what you want.

This is exactly the opposite of what happened when professional women expressed anger about a situation in their work settings and the men in that setting demeaned them and marginalized them. The men appeared to feel threatened by the women’s assertive behavior.

I have tried to give you a basic foundation for establishing effective empathy.  If you would like a more indepth discussion of this issue or a point I have made is not clear, let me know in the comments section.