How do you react when someone is uncomfortable, confused, or angry? Like many people, you probably want to relieve their discomfort. Whether you leap in with a suggestion or an attempt to ease their pain, unless they want your help, fixing people and their situations can push them away. They might feel disrespected, undermined, or inadequate. Even if you are an experienced leader, when you interrupt to render aid, people no longer feel they can fully express themselves with you.
The War Against Emotions
Although your intentions for fixing people and situations are good, the reason you jump in is often out of your own discomfort with the expression of anything but positive emotions.
Most of us were brought up to believe negative emotions make you look weak or illogical. You should only feel positive emotions.
I like feeling happy as much as anyone. I’m more productive when my mood is bright. I’m easier to be with when I’m hopeful about tomorrow.
I have also made big changes in my life through the power of my anger, realized the depth of my courage when feeling my fear, and learned what is important in life from sorrow.
When you deprive someone from feeling, you are depriving them a part of their humanity.
The “darker” emotions fuel civilization. They are often at the base of creativity, innovation, and progressive change. You need to hear the outspoken critic, the non-conformist, and the disappointed visionary to ensure growth and greatness. Otherwise, habits become entrenched. When voices aren’t heard, companies, and civilizations, fail.
People don’t always need you to cheer them up or tell them how to solve their problems. They want you to acknowledge they are okay. Help them feel they have the power to solve their own problems. Help them feel safe enough to ask for help when they are ready.
If you give people the space to be angry, afraid, or disappointed, they might be able to discover what to do next on their own. They might even come up with an idea you never thought of.
What if it were safe to bring your emotions to work? Would they really create havoc, or would the full human beings be more creative, passionate, and focused?
Stop fixing people and start creating the space for growth
Whether you are a leader, family member, or friend, you can hold conversations so people feel safe enough to fully express themselves without being judged or fixed. Allowing people to express themselves doesn’t fuel negativity; it creates the opportunity to grow together.
To do this, you need to notice your urge to save, fix, or shut down the person who is feeling. Mindfulness is the capacity to notice whatever might pass into your thoughts and through your body in a non-critical way. You notice when your own emotions begin to arise in your body. Through noticing, your thoughts and emotion subside.
When you use this skill in conversation, you notice, breathe, and come back to being present to the person you are with. You choose to be curious instead of knowing what they need, patient instead of uncomfortable, caring instead of annoyed, and courageously quiet instead of helpful.
Try these four steps: Receive, Accept, Notice, and Test (yes, it spells RANT). If they work for you, keep trying until the steps become a natural practice.
- Receive what is said with no judgment. The moment you notice your impulse to defend, instruct, or check out, breathe in and exhale to release your reaction.
- Accept the experience the person is having as theirs, not yours to fix, ease, or change.
- Notice what the person needs from you. Do they need someone to hear them out, recognition them for what they tried, or understand what they are experiencing? Maybe they just need you to silently listen. Ask them what they need if you don’t know. Ask out of curiosity and care, not to cut them off. If they don’t know what they need, that’s okay. The intensity of their emotions will pass if you calmly listen.
- Test the water for moving forward. After genuinely telling them you understand their reason for feeling the way they do, ask if they are ready to think about next steps. Don’t push if they aren’t ready to move on. Let them know you will be there when they are.
You can counteract your brain’s tendency to react out of discomfort. You can pause before you offer your thoughts. When you Receive, Accept, Notice needs, and Test the willingness to move forward, the emotional energy is free to flow. They might even ask you for advice, which means they are open to hear what you have to offer.
Read more tips on having powerful conversations in The Discomfort Zone.