Many people are afraid. Afraid of their own feelings. Afraid of the feelings of others. They don’t know how to handle their own anger, or sadness, or shame. And they much less know how to maturely handle the feelings of others.
If you feel uneasy about some feelings you (or other people) are having at times, all the filthy, queasy emotional stuff, this is for you.
1. Where feelings come from
I always thought that feelings are an end of itself, and that you need to value feelings, and dwell in them, no matter what.
It turns out, they aren’t. They are much more like lights on a dashboard. They directly show whether a need is met or unmet.
If you have an unpleasant feeling, you know there’s a need (or a few of them) that’s not met right now.
If you have a pleasant feeling, you know there’s a need (or a few of them) that’s met right now.
Seeing it this way does several great things:
a) It lets you relax about “bad” feelings, like anger and sadness and so on, because you know that they grew out of a beautiful need. (So what could be “bad” about them?)
b) You can see the value of unpleasant feelings: They are what fuels us to become active to meet our needs. If hunger were a pleasant feeling, we’d have died out millions of years ago.
c) You know that it doesn’t make sense to push unpleasant feelings away. That would be like seeing a red light on the dashboard of your car, but instead of stopping your drive and checking to see what’s wrong, you’d be just putting black tape over the light, so that you don’t need to see it anymore. Not listening to your feelings is like killing the messenger. It doesn’t solve the problem.
d) It stops you from making a “feeling-religion”, where feelings are justified and need their time and space no matter in what situation. This is what I see many more “esoteric” people do, where they just dwell in their anger, or their guilt-trips, without taking the step to the root – the need. If you get to the need, that’s where transformation happens. Feelings are merely pointers to needs, not an end in themselves.
2. Want to take the heat out of a conflict? Mirror the emotion
To get buy-in from a person, it makes a lot sense to reflect feeling and need back.
“Are you [feeling X], because you really value [need Y]?”
You don’t need to state the feeling, especially in environments where having feelings is “not respected”. You could also only ask about the need you’re guessing the other person’s having right now, but in any case you need to mirror the quality and intensity of the other person’s emotion.
If someone is really angry and screaming, you might say something like “You’re really angry, and you want your point of view to be valued as well! Right?!”
If you whisper this gently, in a high-pitched voice, it won’t get you anything. The other person will be more irritated if anything, because he/she is still not feeling understood, emotionally. But if you ask this in a strong confident voice, the other person most probably will begin to relax, because he/she is a) having the feeling that you really, viscerally “get” what it’s about and b) gaining trust that strong emotions are okay in this room.
It might take you a few more of those feeling & need reflections, but once the “steam” is out, the person will begin to relax and you can start to have real constructive conversation about what the needs in the room are and how to meet them in a way so that everybody’s happy.
And this is what you’re after.
What are your experiences with strong emotions in a conflict? Let me know in the comments below.
(This is the article of day 24 of the 30 day blog challenge. To be notified of new posts, subscribe to the mailinglist on the right.)