No, Not Like That
You may be thinking, “Emotional Communication? I’m not about to cry every time I open my mouth!” Emotional communication isn’t about being “emotional,” but rather having emotional intelligence. What does this mean? It means deeper connections to those close to you, to know and be known, to love well – I’ll explain with a story:
Living in Our Fast-Paced World
Back in 2013, I worked for a company that worked with a variety of provided home-based therapeutic services for people in the Indianapolis and surrounding areas. Our CEO challenged our staff with this:
When you ask someone, “How are you?” Make sure you have the time to actually hear what they have to say. Take the time to invest in each other.
How uncommon is this? How many times have you had a 10 second conversation with someone else?
“How are you?” > “Good, you?” > “Good!” > “Good to hear! See ya later!”
You probably have this conversation many times throughout your day. It doesn’t stop when you’re at home either. Many can relate to the following:
“How was your day?” > “It was okay, yours?” > “It was good.” > “Pizza’s in the fridge.” > “Oh okay. Thanks.”
Our conversations are commonly transactional and very short. We rarely engage our hearts and minds together in conversation to create the atmosphere of safety and connection.
A Conversation for Deeper Connection
The art of conversation can be explained in 4 simple steps. You can have this type of conversation with anyone. Of course, your interaction and boundaries should look different depending if you’re speaking with a co-worker, a friend, or your spouse, but the outline below gives a good general outline.
Step 1 – Be Interested and Listen
Just like my former CEO suggested. Be interested in the person you’re speaking with. Give your time and attention to that person. If you’re looking around, looking at your watch, turning your body away from the individual you’re speaking to – they know it! They sense it and will end the conversation quickly and you will be none the wiser. Look the person in the eye. This will keep you engaged and make a stronger connection. Part of sincere interest involves active listening. This allows you to be more accurate with your responses rather than giving vague, “Oh that’s cool,” or “Good!”
Step 2 – Ask Questions
Instead of ending with the general “how’s it going,” ask them, “What’s been the highlight of your week?” “What do you find most exciting in life right now?” “What are some of your short-term goals for this month/year?” These open-ended questions simply don’t allow for single word answers, but will give a chance for the individual, colleague, or spouse to open themselves up to a more meaningful conversation. When they are talking about an event ask, “Tell me about that!” “What was your favorite part?” “Are you looking forward to your next meeting?” If they don’t want to go into detail or they don’t have time, they won’t say much – that’s okay! Still offer your sincerity.
Step 3 – Put Your Feelings Into Words / Allowing Others to Express Emotion
Most people know the 5 major emotions: mad, sad, fear, disgust, enjoyment. There are hundreds of variations of these emotions, but Dr. Paul Ekman in his vast study of the human face and universal human emotion has provided us with just 5. From these and their variations we can accurately articulate what we are feeling and more accurately process and respond to others’ emotions without dismissing, disapproving or unintentionally doing any damage. Remember you are actively listening, creating a safe environment for the other and asking questions. If the other person does not feel safe, they will not share. This may not be your fault, but you can always advocate towards a safe environment with seincere interest and firm boundaries.
Step 4 – Express Empathy and Understanding
Most of the time, you’re not a problem-solver. Most of the time people don’t need you to figure things out for them. They need to feel heard and understood. If they are looking for answers, ask yourself these questions: “Am I apart of the problem?” “Am I apart of the solution?” If you answer “no” to both of these questions, it is not your job to try to fix or help (knowing this comes with solid, healthy boundaries). You would be surprised how much a, “Gosh, I’m so sorry this is happening,” can make someone really feel heard and accepted for their own position.
If they are asking for advice and you have already answered “no” to the above questions, point them in the right direction to find answers or help. Most churches and pastors provide solid counsel, but is usually short-term. Licensed professionals can also be great help for those in need. Make sure you are finding the right person for their specific issue.
Remmeber this: If you are sincere, the conversation has the potential to thrive (thus allowing your relationship to thrive). You will need to practice this skill. My suggestion is to start with your spouse or significant other. This is (or should be) the safest relationship you have and can be where you really practice and master the skill of conversation. This allows you to be more comfortable with conversation and authentic with your questions, responses and interaction. Are you ready for a deeper connection? Start here.