On Finding the Right Balance of Emotion in Communication

Emotions are fascinating and powerful messengers to the body and mind communicating each of our personal chemistry with any given situation. I love to keep close tabs on my emotional responses. They give me so much relevant insight. But they can also really fry my circuits and make me do things in rather inelegant ways that undermine my intentions.

It’s necessary for me to regularly acknowledge that there is nothing factual in my emotional responses. The insights they provide don’t usually point to some omniscient reality. They’re like those signs on the subway that read if you see something, say something. 

They send up an alert – something’s going on here! But they can’t clearly define exactly what it is – they might think it’s a bomb when it’s really just someone’s dirty old gym clothes.

As I have learned time and again, if I want to communicate effectively, I’ve got to attempt to fully metabolize my emotions before choosing my words. Or at least hold them in a balanced place inside me. (Unless of course, that isn’t an option, but more on that later…)

Each of our emotional responses is highly personal and often related to defending ourself as an individual. The emotional alert system is so important, but if the content is taken too literally, we can wind up ranting on about how we are so right and the other is so wrong. We make a fuss with our emotions to bolster our sense of self. People look at us spouting off, they give us attention for it, we feel like somebody. But it’s hollow.

Reality shows thrive on this. And if you’ve ever been cast in one, you know that producers want endless spillage of emotions of all kinds. The spectacle is mesmerizing. But not many healthy careers come of it. Because we don’t trust people who constantly lead with their raw personal emotions. They come off unstable and imbalanced. We can’t count on them to see beyond their own feelings to hear and understand the world beyond themselves.

One time I was on the subway and a mother and daughter were sitting across from me. The daughter, who was probably about seven, was half-crying in a noncommittal way. The mom said “stop crying… these people ain’t paying us. Don’t give ’em a free show.” I loved that. She was smiling at her daughter and the daughter got it and calmed down.

Since I have been writing these posts five days a week and I want to write about things I care about, they are often coming from an emotionally charged place. This means I need to do quick and effective editing to make sure I’m not just dumping my feelings on whomever is reading.

The feelings are a great indicator that I’m on a juicy topic, but if my writing is too packed with those feelings, it doesn’t give you space to have your feelings and draw your own conclusions. It’s oppressive.

My business partner Ken sometimes jokingly calls himself my consigliere. In the film The Godfather, a consigliere is a trusted advisor to the boss. Sometimes when my communication airs on the side of overly emotional, Ken gently suggests that my words about Schwarzenegger could be considered slander… and other valid little points for me to think about.

But I think we all have our own inner consigliere too. I usually have a sense when I’ve gone too far. If I post something prematurely and haven’t combed out the overly emotional content, I feel a little jumpy as I head out into my day. I feel kinda raw. Ready for a brawl. On edge. It’s kind of like I’m psychologically inflamed.

That happened yesterday. I published my first draft of my post on Quitting Whining and as I moved into the day, I felt the message was right, but the way I wrote about it didn’t feel quite right. It felt too temperamental. A little too judgy. It was telling readers what to think, instead of articulating an idea and inviting them to form their own conclusions.

If you and I view the world very similarly, this is probably not a problem. But if we don’t, then it’s just weak writing for me to be too emotional and not present the content in a logical, accessible way. So midday I revised it. Which I sometimes do with these posts.

Finding the words to clearly articulate the big picture around an emotion when the emotion is strong is seriously so exciting to me. Like, when your lover has done something that hurts you… digging beneath the reactivity and really trying to find the heart of the matter and speak it out loud is just so amazing. It is extraordinary the kind of transformation that can come out of accessing the heart beneath the emotions.

Although one of the risks here, is that sometimes people who are pretty mature and like to take responsibility for themselves don’t do justice to the full emotion. They feel it, but because they don’t want to be overly emotional, they spend a ton of time pounding it down, rolling it out, flipping it over and over… kneading it into a friendly little loaf of communication that has lost its blood and guts.

By the time they serve it to the other, the emotional charge has been left behind somewhere in the preparation process.

When it comes to personal relationships, I’m someone who tends to like to control all her communication and not let ugly emotions burst out the seams, I am more likely to under-communicate than overindulge in emotional expression. This leads to a thick glommy wad of non-communicated matter in my throat. Plus the feeling that I am being kept in captivity instead of allowed to roam free.

If you’re like me and you over-prep your emotions for communication, you likely prolong letting the other know about something that’s really important to you, and it comes out in a big burst one day. The blood and guts of your feelings explode all over the ceiling and walls. Then you might get an “emotional hangover” the following morning as you feel so uncomfortable about having lost control, and all your innards being exposed.

Personally, I think these bursts are moments of divine intervention. Sure, it would have been nicer if that emotion could have been more neatly packaged and still honestly represented prior to the burst. But ultimately, more important to everyone’s health, is that it must come out. Then you can at least have a direct conversation about the heart of the matter.

No big conclusions here… just musing on finding the balance… and gaining access to your inner consigliere when the heat is on.

What do you think?

*And please forward this to anyone who has trouble finding their own emotional balance in communication.


2 thoughts on “On Finding the Right Balance of Emotion in Communication

  1. jgeluardi says:

    Excellent point about the hollowness of emotion-based action. Particularly as it relates to writing. If you feel strongly about a writing topic, it should be a signal the author to make sure the tone and language is tempered. Bravo!

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