Managing the emotional and the rational

September 28, 2009

NeuronsWe all know the feeling of having to deal with an emotionally loaded happening or decision, or when we need to communicate about something emotional for the other person(s).
The main problem is to be able to see the rational aspect of what we are dealing with in a moment when we have lost this ability to calmly analyze and put things in perspective. Our brain is reacting in the here and now and what leads us is to escape the situation as well as possible immediately. In this process, we rarely have the ability to think about the consequences of our behaviour.

Controlling one’s emotions
Although this is quite difficult for some people, the best way to start reacting is to not react, because your reaction can make others react back to you and there always is a risk of escalation. Before saying or doing anything, try to get as much information as you can by asking questions or even by keeping quiet. Generally, being silent is a great way of getting others to do the talking. Do not be afraid to ask for suggestions and listen before reacting on the answers.
Two emotions always can get you in more trouble than serve you: anger and fear. In both cases, the ideal way to deal with your emotions is to buy some time before reacting, in order to relieve the impulsivity and start to get a look at the larger picture. If possible, allow yourself a night of sleep before completing the process. It will calm you down; it will allow you to start thinking more rationally and put things back in perspective. It also allows you to develop your own plan on how to deal with the matter that happened to you.

Connecting with another person’s emotions
Although you are not dealing with your own emotions and you are in a position of thinking rationally, this situation is not any easier. The key here is to be able to literally get on the same wavelength as the other person. To do this properly, some empathy is obviously a great asset, but empathy alone is not enough. You need to assess the level of emotionality involved, and adjust your level of rationality accordingly. The best way to connect with the emotional person and to identify how intense the emotions are is to let the person vent and express what is causing the trouble. S/He will feel comfortable with this, because you create the conditions for it. Ask questions when necessary but do not make this an interrogation. Also, realize that, in an emotional interaction, verbal communication is a lot less effective than in a rational conversation. Therefore, your body language is quite important, which makes it even more important that you are sincerely willing to listen and connect. Since when it comes to non-verbal communication, the body follows the mind, any lack of sincerity on your part will probably be perceived.
Once you have connected, you will be a position to lead the conversation and, one step at a time, bring it back to increasingly more rational level. You will know that you have completed the process when the smiles come back and you reach an agreement on the next step.

If you are interested in this subject, feel free to contact me.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

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Empathy: the gentle way to get things done

June 4, 2009

Reaching outEmpathy is one of those qualities that is acknowledged as being important, but for which there is little training given. One reason probably is that empathy, like some other personality traits, one is born with it more than one can learn it. Yet, there are certain patterns that can be acquired and help people interact with their fellow men better.

What does make empathy so effective in interpersonal relationships?
Empathic people come over as more gentle and get their way more easily, because in the interaction, they take the other side’s point of view in the picture. This makes the other party more receptive to your arguments, as they have the feeling that the outcome is not a win-lose but a win-win situation. What empathy does is create a sense of mutual respect and mutual benefit. This is true as well in private life as at work.

How can someone learn to become more empathic?
This is not a simple process, as empathy is not a skill, but part of one’s personality. The starting point will always have to be the acknowledgement by the person that he/she needs to improve. To understand the impact they make by lacking empathy, they need to see how other people react to their behavior. A good way to do this is to have a video of how they interact with others. Another powerful way is to have them role-play with an instructor who will expose their behavior. Like many issues related to personality, nothing works as well as immediate feedback and correction. They also have to be able to ask themselves “what’s in it for the other party?”, as they soon will realize that they can achieve much more when their counterpart gets something out of the “deal”. Making a list of the needs and wants of both parties before going to a meeting or negotiation can be very useful, as at least the person has to put him/herself in their shoes.

How to deal with low-empathy people?
In my view, the best way is by using your empathy and figure out what their motives might be. It is also very important to be quite firm on what you want and to not give away anything without getting something in return. Assertiveness is also a powerful tool: tell them how they make you feel and what you think about that! However, the most powerful tool of them all is very likely to make them feel that they will lose more than gain by not changing. Low-empathy people do not like losing anything.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.