You have great news that you are eager to share. You enter a room filled with your colleagues ready to burst out your joy. You’re practically dancing as you glide through the doorway with your happy voice ready to sing loudly and cheerfully.
Hopefully we’ve all experienced this exciting moment of anticipation to spread happiness. But the question is whether you immediately share or take that half second to check the pulse of the room. Most of us, myself included, immediately share.
But what if that suddenly turns into an embarrassing moment for you because your colleagues were in the middle of consoling one another over a tragedy you didn’t know about? This moment not only becomes an emotional letdown for you but frustrates everyone else because your expression of joy is viewed as inappropriate and callous. You’ve upset the tone the room. Sadness, concern and empathy were at the name of the game, and you just knocked over the game board.
Many of us have made this communication blunder in the past and may make it again when we are on an emotional high. But we can learn how to limit these blunders, and how to come back from them.
One aspect of great interpersonal skills is having emotional intelligence. This means that you are aware of and can identify your emotions and the emotions of others. If you are proficient, you can control your emotions and help others control theirs. This is a critical skill for deescalating heated discussions and shifting them to productive conversations.
“To wear your heart on your sleeve isn’t a very good plan; you should wear it inside, where it functions best.” Margaret Thatcher
Salovey and Mayer proposed a model that identified four different levels of emotional intelligence, including emotional perception, the ability to reason using emotions, the ability to understand emotion, and the ability to manage emotions.
As with many things in life, the first step is being aware of what is taking place. Start with yourself. What are the emotions that you are experiencing? What are you feeling? Why do you feel that way?
Then move on to those you are communicating with. What emotions are they projecting? They may be sharing emotions through their words, their tone, or their body language. Keep your perception wide as you take in all those factors. These are all different pieces to the emotional puzzle, and without all the pieces you won’t get the full picture.
Keep in mind that this is an ongoing process as you must re-assess your awareness throughout the conversation. Each time someone responds to you – verbally or non-verbally – you need to gauge if your emotions have shifted due to that response and if the emotions coming the other person has changed since your last assessment.
Once you are aware of what you are feeling, you need to think about what emotion you want to share with others. This intentional decision-making process should consider the emotions you have perceived coming from others. What is the emotion you want to convey to others? Are your words, tone, and body language all expressing the same emotion or are you giving mixed messages?
Emotions can be attention getting triggers for certain types of responses. Reasoning allows you to be pro-active and use your emotions to support the conversation and the type of response you want. Reasoning also involves empathy. Thinking about how others are feeling helps you see things from their point of view.
Once you’ve identified how others are feeling, you need to try and determine why they might be feeling that way. This is important because the emotion you are receiving may or may not have anything to do with you. Whether it be joy or anger, you need to assess if the emotion is directly connected to you and the conversation you are having, or if it an outside emotion that is exerting influence.
Understanding what is causing the emotion can help you decipher if the emotion is correct for the conversation. Is the boss’s anger you’ve perceived and reasoned coming from the mistake you just made or from the argument your boss had with spouse earlier that day? Is the joy you’re projecting based on the mistake you just made or the thrill of your child receiving a full scholarship to college? Taking a moment to understand what is driving the emotion can play a significant role in bringing clarity to the conversation and limiting misunderstandings.
“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.” Roy T. Bennett
You’ve payed attention and perceived the emotion, you’ve identified and reasoned out what the emotion is, and now you’ve given context to understanding why that emotion is present. Now what are you going to do with all that information? This is your opportunity to respond appropriately. This includes your words, your tone and your body language. This is your opportunity to increase or decrease the emotional level in the conversation.
Managing your emotions and the role they play in a conversation is no easy task. It takes lots of practice and no one gets it right 100% of the time. It is why we practice important conversations in our head or with a role play partner. We frequently think about what we want to say. But it is just as important to think about the emotion we want to convey. What we say and how we say it is a dual script that we can use to keep the conversation on point.
Putting It All Together
There is a close link between our emotions and our behaviors. Fortunately, we can learn to control this link and use it to improve our communication. Professional development and training can help you improve your interpersonal communication skills. With practice you can learn to watch for the cues that signal what someone might be feeling, and knowing how to talk about emotions can clarify misunderstandings. You can reduce your communication blunders by learning to read the emotional cues in a conversation. Remembering that these cues can be both verbal and non-verbal.
Taking it even further, learning how to manage your emotions can help you respond to situations in a positive manner and set the stage to help others manage their responses as well. This combination is what leads to open and productive conversations. This is a critical skill for both your work life and your home life. Personalized coaching is a great way to hone your interpersonal skills.