05 June 2007

Communication 201

Let's put the two blog posts together now. One post was that emotions are facts. The second one talks about the communication process.

First, you need to know what you are feeling. It's not always easy, but there are oftentimes physical cues. Some people say that there are five to eight primary feelings or emotions--joy, anger, sadness, disgust, surprise, curiosity, acceptance, and fear--and that all other feelings are simply combinations of those feelings--jealousy can be a combination of anger and sadness; excitement can be a combination of joy and fear. Once you get past those primary feelings (and their synonyms), you may be on thin ice.
Consider the following examples.

If you are telling someone how you feel based on some outside events, e.g. "I feel concerned (fear) that the president is risking nuclear war because he is putting missiles in eastern Europe." You are expressing a fact and the rationale for that fact. It's kind of like saying, "I know it is raining because I can see the rain through my window." You're expressing one of the primary emotions and doing it to a third party.

It gets trickier when you are communicating your feelings directly to the person who is "causing" those feelings. Consider a situation where the message you are receiving is strongly negative. Maybe you're getting chewed out for turning in a report late. When you tell your spouse about it that night, you might say, "I really felt attacked." That works because you are simply reporting a fact to a third party.

If you were to tell your boss, "I feel attacked." Even though you are reporting a fact to him, there is the implication in there "You are attacking me." In essence, you may be using your expression of a feeling as a form of attack or judgment.

So what do you say to your boss?

If you can frame it into one of the primary emotions, you will be in better shape than if you use a secondary one. Often, adjectives that end in -ed are judgments in disguise. Attacked, rejected, humiliated, and punished are some good examples of feelings that are probably judgments in disguise.

So what do you say to your boss? Probably your best bet is to say nothing at first. Process the feelings going through you. You may be angry, afraid, surprised, or curious depending on the circumstances. Keep a lid on your emotional, unthinking reaction. If the boss is genuinely angry, i.e. not putting on a performance to invoke fear, you might acknowledge his anger. "You seem really upset about this." Try to get a handle on what is driving his emotions. Rather than reacting to his words, respond to the emotion behind them. This is often easier said than done.

Once you understand what is going on there, try to deal with the circumstances, not the person. For example, you might say, "I feel surprised that the deadline was yesterday. I understood it to be tomorrow." rather than "You told me it was tomorrow." Say that and you're in for a urination contest that you don't win by being "right."

Stick to the format, "I" & "primary feeling" & "circumstance." and you will probably be ok.

But This Goes Against The Grain. It Is SO PC

Yes. As engineers, we are taught that black and white are the only two colors. Everything else is touchy-feely PC BS. Why not just tell the boss that he is full of something and let him know that he was wrong? The short answer is that, in most cases, it would be ineffective.

Your boss is just a bag of chemicals with fears and anxieties. Pointing out other people's errors, thereby making yourself "right," is seldom a winning move. It displays a strong lack of emotional intelligence, as well as poor judgment. Here's a link for more on emotional intelligence.

The other thing is that politically correct is not all bad. In most cases, it is a more objective, logical, non-judgmental way of stating things. For example, calling someone "black" is not PC. Now we call that person African-American or a person of African descent. Sure, it's more syllables and we feel some resentment (disgust plus anger?) at having to change (yet again) a way of saying something, but it is more accurate. Black is an inaccurate description of most African-Americans.

Summing Up
Stick to primary feelings when possible.
The format "I feel + primary feeling + circumstance" is usually an effective way of communicating.
Be careful of judgments hidden as feelings.
Politically correct is usually a more accurate, if perhaps cumbersome, way of expression.

On to Shame and Guilt >>>>>

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