Spirit of EQ Podcast – Navigating Emotions
Eric: Hi, everybody. My name is Eric Pennington and this is the Spirit Of EQ Podcast. Today we’re going to be looking at navigating emotions. I feel like I’m about ready to get on a boat. I’m going to go whitewater rafting. That’s what emotions sometimes seem like.
Jeff: Sometimes they can seem like that and sometimes they can be the nice pond with no ripples.
Eric: Well that’s kind of where I’m at. It’s like the water is really calm and then all of a sudden, oh my gosh, here we are, we’re going down. Let’s talk about that for a moment. I’m sure the listeners would say they understand the term navigating. Do I go left, go right? Is it that simple? What is navigating emotions?
Jeff: It can be very simple to the point where if you recognize that you’re angry, “I probably shouldn’t talk to anybody today'” or if you recognize someone else is angry, you’re going to approach them differently. If you recognize something else in the person, it’s that simple, just a spur of the moment thing, it’s not a lot of conscious thought. But what is most important…and this goes back to the very first of the competencies, enhancing emotional literacy…once you’re able to identify and name emotions in yourself and in other people, you’ll be better at navigating emotions. Let’s say you’re in your car and you punch in some place to go in your GPS. What’s the first thing the car has to know? Where it is. It needs to know where you’re starting from. It needs to know right there, where is the beginning point, before it can navigate to where you want. So you have to have that beginning point, recognizing the emotion, recognizing in yourself or in the other person. It’s just like early sailing ships, they didn’t have GPS. So the hardest thing sailors was the ability to navigate. They needed to develop a way to know exactly where they were. So they developed an extremely accurate chronometer and the sextant. And once they did that they could navigate with better outcomes, getting to where they wanted more accurately, because they knew where they started from.
Eric: So, if I’m hearing you right, the starting point is where we’ve got to be, before anything else can truly happen positively. You got to know where you’re at.
Jeff: Or the other person. If you don’t know where you’re starting from, you’re never going to be able to navigate an emotion in a way that gets the outcome you want.
Eric: I’m thinking about things like assessing, harnessing, and transforming emotions, and using emotions as a strategic resource. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Jeff: While assessing the emotion, understanding what it is, you’re also assessing the strength of it. Like we talked earlier, each emotion has a range. Joy, happy, contented. Those things are all in the same range. So assess the strength of the emotion. What is the strength that you’re feeling with that emotion. Angry can be divided up the same way, to the point of loathing. Disgust. They’re all that way. So you assess exactly where you are or where you think the other person is. That’s going to help guide you, knowing the strength of the emotion. And then harnessing is taking that information and using it. I recognize that someone has made me angry. Ok, so I know I’m angry. I know how strong I am with that anger. What am I going to do with it? Am I going to get in a confrontation with them? Am I going to talk bad about them to everybody else? Or am I going to go, “OK, why are they angry at me?” or “Why am I angry at them?” “What is the situation?” So I assessed the emotion. I feel the emotion, then I decide what I’m going to do with it. This person is very important to me, I don’t like feeling anger towards them. So I’m going to assess, “Why am I angry?” “What did they really do?” “Did they do it on purpose?” “Was it because of their situation that day, they were just having a bad day?” Whatever the situation is that’s going on with them. So I’m going to harness that. “OK, I need to find out more about the situation.” The same thing if somebody is angry at me. “What did I do?” “What did I really do to make them angry?”
Eric: You know that’s interesting. And not to…well, yes I am. I’m going there. The movie thing. The Horse Whisperer. I remember that movie, and especially the first scene where the horse he was trying to help. And he just wasn’t saying much but he was observing, he was just watching the horse’s behavior. And when you’re talking about this Jeff, it really is this idea that speaks to me. This idea of slowing down and kind of assessing. “Where am I at here?” I mean, we go back to that again about knowing from a navigational stand point. “Why is it this person?” “Why am I?” So that’s really, really powerful. And another thing that I want to ask you about is using this as a strategic resource. What does that mean?
Jeff: It means you use it to arrive at your outcome. I know I’ve said outcome a lot and especially these last two podcasts, but that’s what this is all about. “What do I want in the end?” So strategic resources are used for the outcome. It’s not so much tactical, right in that moment. You use it to work towards the outcome, the end. If I’m angry at someone, the outcome I want is not to be angry at them. So I want to get to that point. And being able to navigate emotions is a strategic resource, it’s the vessel that you can use. Once again you’re navigating.
Eric: So let’s think about. I don’t think it really is age specific, but we’re taught that we are to control or suppress our emotions. Don’t lose control. So why is this not a good idea?
Jeff: The first thing that jumps in my mind is you’re giving up a very valuable tool when you’re not using your emotions. We’re taught that emotions are weak if you show them. We’re taught that emotions aren’t rational if you base your decisions on emotions. We’re taught all these things, that don’t show emotions in a good light. They’re showing them in a way that a lot of people consider, like you said, weak.
Eric: It’s associated with weakness.
Jeff: Associated with weakness, wishy-washiness, that kind of thing. It’s not associated with coming to a good result. We’re taught that, one way or the other. In my generation, boys weren’t supposed to cry. I don’t know exactly how it is today. A lot of times, somebody that is expressive with their emotions is not taken as seriously as the serious person in a business sense or something like that. So we’re taught that, especially when it deals with making decisions. It’s just not looked upon as a good way to make a decision.
Eric: I think it’s fabulous the idea of navigating the emotions. I think that sometimes it’s easy for us to kind of look at it as this, “Oh it’s too big of a thing. You’re asking too much of me to have to do all this.” The alternative, though, is that we get deeper in the mess that we’re already in. Right?.
Jeff: Exactly. I believe that you personally have only so much emotional energy. You can use it positively or negatively. And when you’re not navigating emotions you’re pretty much wasting it. If you get in your car and your GPS tells you to go this route. You decide not to believe what it’s telling you, and you go your own way. It ends up being twice as long. You’ve wasted your gasoline. We do the same thing with our emotions when we don’t really follow the good path. We waste all that emotional energy, going some way that is not going to get you where you want. Or if it does get you there, it’s a much longer path.
Eric: I want to ask you about looking at the emotions of others. Again, I know it’d be great if everything was that calm pond scenery you mentioned in the beginning. But oftentimes it’s not. So can you talk a little bit about that, as far as assessing and looking at others emotions?
Jeff: That’s very important to be able to understand, the assessing part. Let’s say you walk in the office in the morning and you walk by somebody’s office door, it’s open, and you ask them “How are you doing?” Most of us do that expecting no interaction. You see a person there. I’m just going to walk by.
Eric: We’re not expecting someone to say “Hey, I’m glad you asked me because I really want to talk to you about this.”
Jeff: Or they may say that, or the response may be “OK.” So then you assess that. You go “OK, there’s something going on with that person. I like this person. I’m interested in them.” So you can navigate the emotions two ways. One, you can go to your office, because you don’t want to get involved. Or two, your empathy will kick in, and you’ll want to help that person. So then you’ll sit down with them and go “I know you said you’re OK. I don’t believe that, what’s going on right now?” So you’ve assessed it, you’ve harnessed it, in this case an emotion of empathy, caring about the person. And then you’re transforming that emotion into helping someone. You’re actually sitting down with them, being present with them, and showing them that you care. Now, the thing that we sometimes get stuck in is that we’re going to try to fix their problem. That’s not what we should be doing at that moment. Sometimes you could, but most times not. You just need to be emotionally connected with that person. A lot of times that’s all that person needs from you, is that somebody recognizes them, somebody is understanding that they’re not doing well, and you’re just there with them.
Eric: I’m sure many of our listeners have heard this before, and I know I got the advice tons and tons of times. That when your wife wants to talk, she’s not looking for you to solve or fix the problem. She wants to be heard. She wants to feel the connection. Took me a long time and maybe I’m getting there. If she was here, Jeff, you could ask her. But it’s really, really important.
Jeff: It is. We’ve mentioned before that I’ve done a lot of work in prison. And one of the biggest things that the men in prison are looking for is somebody to be present with them without an agenda. “I’m here because I care about you.” “I’m here because I value you as a person, no matter what your situation is.” And sometimes that is the most powerful thing we do when we’re with someone, is just to acknowledge that they’re a valuable human being. And that’s navigating emotions. Because, in the case of a prisoner, we never ask them what they’ve done. A lot of times they tell you what they’ve done to get put in there. And they do that to see how you’re going to react. So if you can navigate this emotion, “Well, I killed three people,” and you navigate that emotion to, “Would you like some coffee?” instead of letting that emotion drive you to anger, or whatever that emotion might be when you find out somebody has killed three people. You can navigate away from what they’re expecting, which is disgust, hatred, “I don’t care about you anymore.” And when you can navigate away from that, that’s when you’re transforming your emotion into what your intended outcome is, which is “I want that person to know that they’re cared about.”
Eric: There are so many applications for that in so many areas in life. I mean, to me, it sounds like a plan that you could adopt for just about any situation. So with that, let’s segue a little bit. Tell me a little bit about Winnie.
Jeff: Winnie is our new dog. She’s about a year and a half old, a Bull Boxer. She’s mostly Boxer with some Pit Bull in her. She’s a “rescue dog,” we got her from the Humane Society. She’s just a great dog. Love her to death. Very headstrong. But there was an interesting situation that I had where I observed something in her. I had to navigate an emotion because she showed an emotion. She loves playing with her rope toys with balls on the end, and she throws them up in the air and chases them and does all this stuff. She threw it up in the air and it went behind the couch. I wish I would have taken a picture. She’s up on the couch with her paws looking down behind the couch, knowing she can’t get it. So I have to get it. I pulled the couch out. I still couldn’t reach it. So I went into the kitchen and picked up a broom to get the toy out from behind the couch. Well, she cowered and went into her crate and wouldn’t look at me when I held this broom. She did the same thing when my wife picked up an umbrella the other day. She’s been beaten in the past by someone. And so I had to navigate her emotion of feeling threatened. And then I had to navigate my emotion of being angry at whoever did that to her. You just get to the point where “OK, we’re never going to do that to her.” We need to make sure that she understands that as best she can. So I just loved her a little bit. That’s the way to navigate emotions. I observed what was going on in her when I did that. It was totally a surprise to us. So that’s a way you can navigate emotions. I observed what was going on with her. I observed how I was feeling and I knew I just had to not worry about that anymore, and just be there, be present, for Winnie the dog.
Eric: We all have time to be observant don’t we? And it’s kind of funny to me. You ask someone, “So how are things going?” “Oh, I’m really busy.” “You know I can’t do that, I don’t have time. I’ve got to be here, I got to be there.” And you would think that every person was the President Of The United States. I try to remind people, “I don’t want to disappoint you, but you have time.” You have time to be observant. Because think of the opposite side of that. The consequence of not being observant. What would have happened if you just ridden on in with your emotions with Winnie?
Jeff: I don’t know. Dogs don’t get enough credit for their ability to read their human’s emotions. They know. And I would not have wanted her to pick up that anger as anger against her. She couldn’t interpret it. “Is he going to hit me?” I don’t want her to ever think that, that we would do that to her.
Eric: That’s really powerful. Instead of stuffing down the emotions and wasting the energy and all of that, what are you advocating we do? Just as an example, do we use them? Is it something that can be managed? To gain insight? What about that?
Jeff: It is very important that we do use the emotions, that we can learn how to manage them. Like talking about the dog, to direct that a different way, to manage it, keep it under control. Then use them for insight. The insight was somebody had been cruel to her and abused her. So now we have insight about Winnie. And we know that we need to be careful around her with things that somebody might have beaten her with in the past. We’re learning from her reaction what not to do to make her feel like that.
Eric: Jeff, one thing that’s leaping out to me. You mentioned earlier on in this podcast, as well as some of the previous episode, about an outcome. So let’s look at Winnie in that situation. Maybe it’s not perfect by any stretch. But what’s the outcome? What outcome did you get by taking that approach?
Jeff: The outcome is she still loves us. She wants to be with us. We’re working on making sure she understands she is in a safe home now. As much as a dog can understand this. We’re probably giving her a little bit more credit than is due. But you do the same thing with someone else. Let’s say someone has been verbally abused in the past, which can be just as powerful as physically abusing someone. And you gain that insight. And what I might say to you is as teasing or joking around, I won’t say to another person, because they’re going to interpret it as an attack, as abuse. So I’m gaining insight. Now I need to work on making sure I don’t do that with that person.
Eric: That’s really powerful because I think in many ways that brings a bit of a transformation for that other person. That they can see there’s someone that cares about them enough that they would do that. Let’s look at the extremes again.
Jeff: Well, one extreme is “volatile,” which means you don’t navigate emotions. You’re like gasoline. Just a little spark and you’ve got a flame going. Things get out of control quickly. You’ve never thought about the outcome. You never thought about the damage you’re doing to other people, to yourself, to the situation. So you’re volatile, there’s no thinking. It’s just like a reaction. And then you go all the way to the other end which is “placid.” You really aren’t feeling any emotion. You’re not taking in the emotions that you’re feeling, you’re not taking in emotions you’re seeing in other people. And so now you’re at the point where you’re just “there.” I can’t think of a scientific term for that. So you’re really not navigating anything. The volatile person is navigating, but not very well. But the placid person is not navigating at all. Or the navigation is to NOT get involved, to NOT do anything with someone else.
Eric: That’s interesting. I know we’re getting close to the the end of this podcast, but I’m thinking about the employment situation, where you have a manager that is a very volatile manager. If you could quickly throw out some ideas, maybe a suggestion, for that manager’s manager, who is seeing this volatile personality. Because again, they can do the observation thing right? And they’ve got to navigate. I won’t ask you to say how you fix it, because that’s pretty complex. But but what are some things you would recommend?
Jeff: Well, there’s a couple of ways to look at it. One find out if there’s anything going on with him. Anybody that says you can leave your personal life at home and not bring it to work is wrong. I’m sorry. I usually don’t go that black and white, but they’re wrong.
Eric: I agree with you 100 percent.
Jeff: That’s just not possible. So is there something going on with him at home. Then I would look at the people he reports directly to. There might be some things going on with them that’s causing him to be volatile. This is the observation. Is he volatile from when he first walks in in the morning? Or is he only volatile after he deals with his employees? So observe and see what’s going on and that will give you a little bit of an insight of maybe what kind of direction you want to take with that person. But then, in your strategic planning, know this person is volatile. You’ll need to plan for that when you’re addressing the situation, so that you don’t light a match to his gasoline.
Eric: So on the other side of that equation too, I would imagine, if somebody who is a very placid individual, it may require a totally different approach.
Jeff: Exactly. You have to navigate the river that you’re on at that time.
Eric: Well, Jeff this was a great one. I really appreciate it. It’s great to be with you today. And this is Eric Pennington, and you’ve been listening to the Spirit Of EQ Podcast. You can contact Jeff and Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org.