Emotions and Communication


Can we be emotionally intelligent? According to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, we can. 

What is Emotional Intelligence?

l      Being in touch with your feelings

l      Dealing with emotions without being overcome by them

l      Not letting setbacks and disappointments derail you

l      Channeling your feelings to assist you in achieving your goals

l      Being able to understanding how others feel without their needing to spell it out for you               

l      Listening to your and others’ feelings so you can learn from them

l      Having a strong yet realistic sense of optimism 

Daniel Goleman says:

“Emotional Intelligence is more than understanding your own feelings. It also entails skill is expressing your feelings constructively.” 

What are emotions?

    According to communication scholar Julia T. Wood, emotions are basic to human beings and communication. They are also hard to define. A growing number of scholars think that most or all emotions are socially constructed to a substantial degree.  For example, we learn when and for what to feel guilty or proud.  Most scholars believe we experience holistically, not individually (we feel a cluster of emotions).  

How do we define emotions?

Emotions are processes that are shaped by physiology, perceptions, language, and social experiences.  All of these elements interact continuously to shape our experience of emotions. There are different theories of emotions: 

Physiological Influences: This view of emotions was advanced by philosopher William James (1890) and Carl Lange (1922). The physiological view asserts that when an event occurs we respond physiologically, and only after that do we experience the emotion.
Example:
“Take out a half a sheet of paper.”  The physiological response theory views emotions as instinctual responses to physiological arousal caused by external stimuli. 

Perceptional Influences: This theory asserts that subjective perceptions shape what external phenomena mean to us. In other words, external events only gain meaning as we attribute significance to them.
Example
: raised fist as a threat. 

Social Influences: The society and communities in which we live affect what we perceive (and don’t perceive) and how we interpret, organize, and respond to what we perceive.
Example: By age 3, 95% of  Chinese parents report that their children understand the meaning of shame, whereas only 10% of US parents report this (Shaver, Schwartz, Kirson & O’Connor, 1987). 

How do we effectively communicate emotions? 

A. Framing Rules: Framing rules define the emotional meaning of situations. For instance in western culture, funerals are sad events and weddings are happy occasions.  

B. Feeling Rules: Feeling rules tell us what we have a right to feel or what we are expected to feel in particular situations. Feeling rules reflect and perpetuate the values of a specific society and the roles assigned to particular groups in that society…  

For example, societies that emphasize individuality promote the feeling rule that it is appropriate to feel pride in personal accomplishments.  Researcher Hochschild perceives a strong connection between feeling rules and social order. She claims that one way a society attempts to control people is through feeling rules that uphold broad social values and structures. Hochschild notes that there are differences in the feeling rules that families teach children. 

C. Emotion Work: Hochschild asserts that there is an effort generated when we think about what feelings are appropriate in particular situations. Although we do emotion work much of the time, we tend to be most aware of engaging in it when we think our feelings might be inappropriate in specific situations.  Typically what we think we should feel is based on what we’ve learned from our social groups and the larger culture.  

Reasons We May Not Express Emotions: 

  1. Social Expectations: Social factors shape feelings and expression of them.
  2. Vulnerability: We don’t want to give others information that could affect how they perceive us.

c.   Protecting Others: We fear we could hurt or upset others.

d.   Social and Professional Roles: It may be inappropriate within the social context based on your role.  

Ineffective Expressions of Emotions:

a. Speaking in Generalities: “I feel sad.” “I’m happy.”  “I’m sad.” Statements such as these do express emotional sates, but they do so ineffectively because they are so general and abstract that they don’t clearly communication what it is the speaker feels. 

b. Not Owning Feelings:  By stating feelings in a way that disowns personal responsibility for the feeling.  “You make me angry” versus “I feel angry when you don’t call when you say you will.”  Even more effective: “I feel angry when you don’t call when you say you will. Would you be wiling to call if we agree that it’s okay for calls to be short sometimes?” This statement accepts responsibility for a feeling, communicates clearly what is felt, and offers a solution that could help the relationship.  

c. Counterfeit Emotional Language: This is language that seems to express emotions but does not actually describe what a person is feeling. For example, shouting “Why can’t you leave me alone!” certainly reveals that the speaker is feeling something, but it doesn’t describe what she or he is feeling.   It’s also counterfeit (and unproductive) to not explain feelings. “That’s just how I feel” doesn’t tell a person how their behavior is related to your feelings or what you would like him or her to do.  

Guidelines for Communicating Emotions Clearly  

a. To become more aware of your emotions Identify your emotions:, give mindful attention to your inner self. Just as people learn to ignore their feelings, we can teach ourselves to notice and heed them. When sorting out intermingled feelings it’s useful to identify the primary or main feeling. 

b. Choose how to communicate your emotions: Once you know what you feel, you consider how to express your emotions. The choice facing you is whether you want to communicate your emotions to particular people. Sometimes it is wise and compassionate not to tell how you feel.  If you decide you want to communicate your emotions:  

        Evaluate your current state. (According to Daniel Goleman, it takes about 20 minutes for us to cleanse our minds and bodies of anger.)

        Decide to whom you want to express your feelings. Choosing someone else to express your emotions to can allow you to “vent” without imposing them on others who might be hurt.

        Select an appropriate time to discuss feelings. Most of us are not able to respond appropriately when we are preoccupied, defensive, stressed, rushed or tired.

        Select a setting for discussing feelings.  

c. Own your feelings: When we use “I” language to describe how we feel when another person behaves in a particular way, we allow the other person to listen thoughtfully and respond sensitively to our expression of emotion. 

d. Monitor your self-talk: tuning into your self-talk and learning to monitor it helps you    manage your emotions.

e. Respond Sensitively When Others Communicate Emotions: Try not to respond to another’s feelings with generalities (“You’ll feel better when you get this in perspective.”) or solve another person’s problem or make the feeling go away.  Helping another solve a problem may be appreciated, but usually it’s not the first support a person needs when she or he is expressing a strong emotion. What many people need first is just the freedom to express what they are feeling to others.

Material excerpted from Julia T. Wood, Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters, “Emotions and Communication”, chapter 7.