“Emotion and reason are not necessarily opposites. To the contrary, emotion is often the servant of reason ( Levine, 1998) Without feelings we have scant basis for rational decisions.
Popular wisdom teaches us that many emotions, especially “negative” ones are bad for us. A litany of pop psychology books encourage us not to feel angry, guilty, ashamed or sad. Such emotions, the books inform us are unhealthy, even “toxic”. Pop psychologists are right to remind us that excessive anger, guilt, sadness and the like can be self – destructive” (Lilienfield et al, 2009).
Emotions range across a spectrum and when used in moderation and with appropriateness all can serve to enhance our relationships, life and experiences, even the uncomfortable and painful emotions like sadness, anger and guilt for example.
According to research conducted by Ekman (1994: 1999) and his colleagues (Ekman & Friesen, 1996) concluded that there are (7) seven, a small number of primary emotions that are cross culturally universal like:
Happiness, Sadness, Surprise, Anger, Disgust, Fear, Contempt and recent research suggests that Pride may be the 8th.
“For example, our eyes open wide when we are afraid, allowing us to better spot potential dangers, like predators, lurking in our environment. When we are angry, our teeth and fists often become cleaned, readying us to bite or fight” (Lilienfield et al, 2009).
Obviously getting into a fight or biting someone isn’t an ideal way to deal with these biological responses and often people will repress these emotions without a suitable release. This can be due to conditioned responses and / or a lack of development in assertion or communication skills. The build up of unexpressed emotions can cause people to feel like a “pressure cooker” rendering rational thought difficult to achieve.
Using a strategy to let off some steam, in the case of a situation that causes us to react with anger, removing yourself from the conflict as quickly as possible. By creating some space to allow your biology to settle down, this in turn will allow your brain to switch from “fight / flight mode” into a more resourced rational thinking state, where choice is then possible.
Choosing to respond rather than react will allow for changes in circular conflicts, the types that never seem to get resolved, the same old argument with a partner, colleague, boss etc.
This doesn’t mean you are “giving in” or being “weak”, rather that you are making a healthier choice to use your head, rather than lose it.
When you and the other party balance out the biology use effective communication skills like The 3 Steps below:
1. Reflective listening – Let the other person know what you are hearing them say.
2. Waiting to respond- Wait to allow each other to completely express yourselves.
3. Check in for accuracy- What I heard you say was …. , it that correct?
These strategies really help you to listen to what the “issue” is for each other.
Often conflict is a misunderstanding, and or miscommunication of intention, perception or expectation.
Give the 3 steps a go, practice this each time you experience conflict, anger, sadness any emotion and experience the difference for yourself.
In my experience as a Counsellor and Coach helping people to slow down and listen to their own feelings in a situation, then express them clearly with a request for change goes a long way in maintaining a calm peaceful mind and conflict free interactions.
Human Behaviour and Well being specialist.