Hold That Thought

Posted on October 8, 2012| by Geoffrey Tumlin

There is a thin, but essential, layer of civility that protects most human interactions. This layer is frequently breached when negative emotions like fear, anger, or frustration infiltrate conversations because these emotions often lead to an escalating cycle of damaging words.

Restraining your emotional responses doesn’t mean that you won’t feel your emotions. It’s impossible not to feel an emotion that’s been triggered. But there’s a big difference between feeling and reacting.

Follow this four-step process to prevent your reactions to negative emotions from hijacking your conversations:

Step One: Let the first—and typically the strongest—wave of emotion pass. Allow the first wave of emotion to wash over you without talking, or at least without saying anything substantive. It’s fine to confess: “I’m gathering my thoughts” or to acknowledge “I don’t know what to say” until the initial emotional intensity fades. Just don’t make substantive comments until the initial burst of emotion passes through you.

Step Two: Get inside your own head. When negative emotions come rushing at you, you need a little self-talk. Tell yourself something like: I can get through this. I can get in front of this. This will fade soon. This is not meaningless psychobabble. Positive self-talk is a powerful reminder that you are competent enough to handle the situation. Mentally reinforcing that point can help make it so.

Step Three: Now, consider talking. Has the first wave of emotion passed? Did you tell yourself that you could handle it? Are you a bit more relaxed? If your responses are yes, consider talking. And make sure to address the fundamental question of whether you need to have a conversation right now. If not, delaying the conversation will provide even more opportunity for the intensity of your negative emotion to fade.

Step Four: Handle the situation as appropriate. Remember that the emotion is still present; it’s only the initial wave that has passed. You’ll still feel the emotion, but the steps above will help you manage the situation more sensibly.

Negative emotions like fear, anger, frustration, anxiety, and sadness are a part of life, but how we respond to these emotions is largely within our control. Hasty reactions are almost always regrettable, while restraint reliably protects our underlying relationships from damage.

Originally posted on mouthpeaceconsulting.com.