Tips for Emotional Encounters
Much has been written about how to deal with difficult situations. In the ‘Resources’ section of our Web Page, I have included a program I designed to deal with difficult interviews, ‘Ready – Steady – Go’ which provides you with practical tips relating to the preparation of a difficult interview and the advantageous way to conduct that interview. The following is a quick summary of the ‘Ready’ section of that program.
Quite often, at school you will be faced with an inescapable meeting with a very difficult parent, colleague or student. The advice is to give yourself a short amount of time to:
- Check your emotional condition (you may already be stressed from the day to day activities)
- Calm yourself down
- Make sure your boundaries are on; protect yourself physically and mentally
Those who have followed these Newsletters or been exposed to the philosophy behind the work we do at our consulting practice know the importance of stress in the management of behaviour. Stress is a signal from our brain that we are uncomfortable and we will act to return to a state of homeostatic equilibrium, that is regain our sense of comfort. When you are facing another person, who is attacking your sense of well-being the part of the brain that will be accessed is that part that controls our socio/emotional state; the limbic system.
So, as stress increases our access to the cognitive, thinking processes to control our behaviour decreases. To take advantage of the tips outlined in our ‘Ready – Steady – Go’ program and those available all over the internet, you need to access the executive, frontal lobes, top of the brain where rational thought takes place. The following is advice to help you manage your emotions during those difficult encounters.
We have all heard that old adage ‘fake it until you make it’ and there is some truth to this. Simone Schnall and James Laird, of Clark University have investigated what they call Self-Perception Theory which declares that when you act as though you are experiencing a certain emotional sense your body language will mirror that sense of ‘being’. The all-important key to this is that your body provides a feedback message ‘confirming’ our self-chicanery.
So, when you embark on a stressful interview act as though you are quite comfortable and confident, then not only will the other person perceive you as having such self-assurance you will feel that you have it! It goes without saying confidence is not arrogance so state your case in a quiet, unassuming manner.
Then there is the contagious capacity of how you present yourself. If, as I suggest you present as calm and assured this will encourage your partner in the dispute to mirror that behaviour.
When I taught students about the effect their emotions have on their decision making I often talked about working from the very low levels of the brain. I referred to this as being in the reptilian brain and informed my students of this information! So, when I interviewed two students who had been in a verbal slanging match I would ask, was ‘Max’ acting like a lizard? This was followed by ‘How many lizards where there’? The language was a short cut to remind them that there is no use trying to convince someone of logic when they are agitated. Wait until they return to their ‘thinking status’!
The next bit of advice is about a significant aspect that influences the ‘connection’ between you and the other person and that is eye contact. So much has been written about the eyes. Our folklore, our literature is littered with references to the power of the ‘eye’! They are ‘the window to our soul’, ‘the doorway to our heart’, ‘our eyes met across a crowded room’, ‘life passed before her eyes’ and when you can’t make your point, you demand the other person to – ‘open their eyes’! There is something powerful about eye contact. If you are in a discussion with another person and they look anywhere other than in your eyes, the only conclusion you can reach is that they are not interested.
However, just to make things a bit more confusing, the appropriateness between cultures needs to be considered. In some traditions, it is a sign of aggression if you look directly into another’s eyes. So, when students, who may be in trouble don’t look you in the eye it may well be a sign of respect. Of course, we all have experienced that defiant student who unwaveringly glares at you when you are discussing some dispute, hardly respect more likely some veiled threat!
I understand this but I suspect that when individuals get beyond a notion of power difference, eye contact between people is more universal. That is, when we get to the stage that we are building a relationship eye contact is crucial.
Jodie Schulz, of Michigan State University discusses the 50% - 70% Rule. This recommends you make eye contact 50% of the time you are speaking and 70% when they are talking. This sends the message that you are more interested, or at least as interested in what they have to say compared to what you say.
On top of this the transition away from that focus should be gradual. Abrupt changes to your attention indicate that you have been ‘uncomfortable’ looking in their eyes inferring a sense of insincerity. Or, if you look away at something quickly the message is that the thing you set your gaze on is ‘more interesting’ than listening to what they have to say.
As the relationship develops, the level and ease of eye contact increases.
As I indicated at the start of this Newsletter, the resource we have up-loaded to our webpage provides a formal procedure in dealing with difficult people. This article provides some clues to help you create the supportive emotional setting to facilitate a successful outcome in those difficult meetings.