In my earlier posts, I defined what a relationship is, listed three categories of relationships and addressed the four attributes of a relationship.
In the next two posts, I will address 4 tips which will help you apply what you have learned so far about relationships and give you some suggestions about how you might choose to intervene if you want to improve a relationship that is “working” or change a relationship that is dysfunctional.
The four tips are:
- Master Your Emotions
- Master Their Emotions
- Remember and apply the Basic Relationship Rule
- Shoot for a win/win but settle for a compromise
I will discuss tips 1 and 2 in this post and tips 3 and 4 in the next post.
Relationship tips 1 and 2:
Tip #1: Master Your Emotions
Because I have written several posts dealing with emotions and emotional mastery, this section will only cover mastering your emotions in the context of relationships. As a reminder, you can access all of my previous posts by clicking the Index tab above.
There are two reasons why mastering your emotions is the first tip. The first reason emphasizes the importance of relying on your emotions to alert you to your surroundings and the possibility that something isn’t right in your relationship. Accurately perceiving your interactions with others is critical to maintaining or improving the relationship that you have.
The second reason emphasizes the importance of lowering your arousal level so that you can clearly assess the nature of the possible problem and focus on an effective response. If your arousal level is too high, you are more likely to react and possibly escalate the situation than to respond and move forward.
The Anger Mastery cycle illustrates, using anger as an example, how the emotional mastery cycle works. The link, by the way, takes you to a downloadable copy of the Anger Mastery Cycle.
We all constantly scan our surroundings for any possible threat. When a threat is perceived, an emotion is elicited which alerts us to our initial perception of what is happening to us. Our emotions then evoke a behavioral reaction.
Your emotions, therefore, are your window on the world. They are your “early warning system”. Your emotions alert you to how you perceive what is going on around you and prepare you to deal with whatever you see that “isn’t right”. This alert is the function of the emotion. The content of the alert is the message of the emotion.
Our emotions may communicate that:
- we do not like what we see (upset, frustrated, displeased, disappointed),
- we perceive a current threat (anger),
- we see a possible future threat (anxiety), or
- we are aware of a need to move away from the interaction (disgust or fear).
- when a relationship is “working” and is relatively free of complicating issues, our emotions inform us that we want to stay in the relationship (happy, content, satisfied) and we tend to just “go with the flow”.
This “communication” is the message of the emotion.
Emotional mastery includes:
- managing your emotional arousal level so that you don’t escalate an interaction and
- validating the emotion to give it credibility
- assessing the message of the emotion against the situation
- using the message of the emotion to choose an effective response
Most of you have probably heard of emotional management (as in anger management.) Mastery exceeds managing an emotion and involves both understanding what the emotion tells you about how you are viewing the situation and using that information to assess your perception. Finally, mastering an emotion involves choosing an effective response (based on your assessment) which will lead to a better outcome (in whatever situation you find yourself).
In the context of a relationship, when you “feel” that something isn’t right, your first step is to take a deep breath. This lowers your arousal so that you do not react to the perceived violation.
Too often, when we believe we have been “wronged”, we want to lash out, or react. This is not recommended because, while our initial perception may be correct, we might also have misunderstood. It is, therefore, preferable to respond to the situation rather than react.
When our emotions inform us that there is a “problem” with a relationship, we start looking for ways we can “work things out”, “make things better”, “come to an understanding”, and so forth.
Mastering our emotions involves learning to stay emotionally cool while still validating the emotion, assessing the situation to see if it does, indeed, match the emotion, and then using the energy that the emotion gives us to choose how we want to respond to the violation we “feel” has occurred.
Tip #2: Master Their Emotions
Tip #1 advised you to master your own emotions so that you can lower your arousal level, validate the message of the emotion you are experiencing and respond rather than react to a perceived threat. That you would master your own emotions makes sense because you can directly impact what you feel.
That you would attempt to master the emotions of another person is less intuitively satisfying and doesn’t seem to make any sense.
Until it does!
Think about it for a moment. Your goal in a relationship is to make the relationship work. The threat you perceive is negatively impacting your interaction with another person and eliciting (not causing) your emotion.
This is also the case for the person or people you are interacting with.
While it is true that you can’t directly impact what another person feels, knowing how the emotional process works gives you an opportunity to indirectly impact their emotions by helping them alter how they perceive you and what is going on between you.
Here are the key steps to mastering another person’s emotions…
- The emotion you are observing in the other person, and the message that emotion communicates to you, gives you insight into how that individual perceives you and their interaction with you.
- Understanding this perception allows you to implement the emotional mastery cycle and validate their emotion. Remember that validation does not mean acceptance. So, you can say something like, “I can see that you are (angry, annoyed, frustrated, etc.))
- You can then assess the nature of the perceived threat by checking out the basis for the threat by asking for clarification regarding what you might have done which led to their perception of you as (a threat, an obstacle, uncaring, rude etc).
- You can then, if appropriate, apologize for any misunderstanding. Be aware that you are not admitting guilt here. You are only acknowledging that something you did might have been misunderstood.
- You can, then, choose how you will interact with them and seek a resolution by clarifying what you did, asking for additional input from the other person and so forth.
Note that when you validate their emotions, apologize, and ask for clarification, you are facilitating their changing how they perceive you which should help them lower their own arousal and be more open to anything you might have to say. This is the key to mastering their emotions. You are not doing anything to directly impact what the feel and the behavior that feeling evokes but you are using the message of the emotion to help them change their perceptions.
Once you have implemented tip #1 and both lowered your own arousal level and understood your perception of what is going on in the relationship and you have implemented tip #2 to help the other person lower their arousal level so that they are more open to interacting with you, you can begin to gain some additional understanding into their actions by implementing tip #3.
The next post discusses tip #3 and tip #4.