“How are you today?” is said many times in our waking hours to greet one another. This much used social convention is designed to connect us to each other and to pave the way for effective interpersonal communication. This salutation has become second nature to many of us and we use it without thinking, but its literal meaning points to the necessity for understanding and respecting the emotional space of another, if we wish to engage them in meaningful conversation.
The underlying intention of this gesture is graced with wisdom, as it acknowledges the need to check in and see how someone is doing before proceeding with the business at hand. The salutation question presents the opportunity for open dialogue rather than a close ended response – “Fine” which lessens the opportunity.
It has been estimated that when we are in a heightened emotional state, we hear about 50% of the message sent to us. Our emotional states act like filters, whereby only part of the message gets through to the person for whom it is intended. From time to time we all have these emotional filters, depending upon our situation in life.
Author Dr. Steven Covey tells the famous story of a young father and his three children riding on the subway in New York City one busy Sunday morning. The children were quite young and very unruly, causing distress for other passengers who did not spare their disenchanted stares and puzzled looks. The father sat idly by doing very little to discipline his unruly children.
Occasionally he would ask them to be silent but his demeanor rendered his injunctions meaningless as he seemed unable to assert his authority to intervene and stop their grating behavior. Tensions on the train continued to mount between this young family and the other passengers. Finally, one of the passengers who knew the family, informed people around her that the father and his three young children were coming home from the hospital…where his wife and his children’s mother had just died.
After this horrific loss for all of them the father was in a daze hardly able to put one foot in front of the other and he barely noticed what his children were doing. He was in a state of shock too frozen to even think, and he certainly could not act with resolution. The father’s intense emotional state created a filter that even the most obvious message could not penetrate.
The children, like their father, were very upset and they too acted out their pain. Their emotional states also caused them to be far less receptive to disciplinary messages sent their way. It was not until the other passengers on the subway were lead to understand the reason behind the emotional state of both father and children, that acceptance rather than judgement ensued.
Acceptance and Forgiveness require an understanding behind the reason of emotional states. Frequently and unfortunately,we don’t make the attempt to inquire and instead jump to conclusions which usually only intensifies the emotional condition.
We may be in an intense emotional state when we enter a conversation or we may find ourselves becoming emotionally disturbed throughout a conversation. This reality will create a filter that curbs our ability to comprehend what is going on around us as well as hamper our capacity to hear what is being said to us. Thus effective interpersonal communication is thwarted.
Emotional states consist of emotional flooding such as:
- Intense feelings of anger, sadness, overwhelming joy and so on, that will all serve to filter out precious messages coming our way.
- Bad moods. These will affect our perception of others and when in a bad mood we frequently are led to perceive the message of the other to be more negative than was ever intended. In this situation, the grounds for effective interpersonal communication and meaningful feedback goes out the window.
So what can you do about emotional states?
- Scan. Yourself and the person you are with for emotional states. Some of us do this automatically while others need to be much more intentional about doing so. Be very sensitive about what you say and how you say it, if someone or both of you are in an aroused emotional state. Effective interpersonal communication requires clear minds.
- Show. Sensitivity for another’s emotional state. If someone shows stress, do not raise important issues with them but rather ask yourself how you can care for them in this present moment. Sometimes words need to give way to human acts of kindness to promote the opportunity for effective interpersonal communication.
- Wait. Until someone is in a relaxed receptive state and then engage in serious discussion with them. If you are in a constant state of emotional flooding, see a professional to get help with the problem. If a colleague or loved one suffers from the same condition, gently encourage them to seek help as well.
Our emotions affect how successful we can be at absorbing information at any given time in our communication. We must always remember that our ability to hear another can be severely clouded by what is going on inside of us. The same applies to someone listening to us. Taking charge of our emotional states and acting appropriately will serve to enhance effective interpersonal communication, strengthen relationships and give flow to our lives.