Emotions, Part I

Emotions in Communication

I attended an all-girl high school in New Orleans back in the 70s. Although I was not a particularly spiritual student, I looked forward to Religion class for one reason: the nun that taught it shared an affinity for the music of Simon and Garfunkel.  Her class primarily consisted of listening to their songs and then analyzing the lyrics to tease out its possible meaning or message. Today, I cannot hear The Dangling Conversation, Sounds of Silence or El Condor Pasa  without being transported back to that three-storied, circa 1906 building that exists now only in my memories.  The dust motes dance in front of my teenaged self, sitting at her desk jotting down her inspired epiphanies. Music communicates! It touches our emotions in inexplicable ways.  Without a range of emotional experiences in our repertoire would we even know we are alive?

In 1995, Communication theorist Daniel Goleman gave us the term emotional intelligence, (EQ), which he posited was just as critical for our success as cognitive ability, and further, was also measurable. Goleman’s research set out to assess EQ, as well as prove the value of its effects on our self-esteem, perceptions and overall satisfaction with life.  Emotions are an integral part of the human ability to communicate, but what exactly are they?  We know from research that emotions can be influenced by many factors, including personality, culture, gender, societal norms, social roles and emotional contagion.  Further, emotions cause physiological changes, so we know that emotions are not simply experienced in our heads.  Without our being aware of it, our emotions often manifest themselves in non-verbal reactions. What we say and what our bodies say are interconnected – do we sometimes hear what another is saying without their saying a word?  Of course we do!

Although we may be experiencing a variety of emotions, our bodies often respond in very similar ways.  Angry people perspire, tense up their muscles and feel a rise in blood pressure, but so do excited and happy people.  How can we listen to what our own bodies are saying to us when we interpret our emotions?  Further, do we stop to reappraise what we felt from the distance of a few hours or days after we originally felt them?  This can be critical in our communication with others; we do not have to act on an emotion simply because we felt it. Being annoyed with a friend or loved one can be maddening, but walking away rather than saying something hurtful can be a relationship saver at times, can it not?  Yes words can be powerful tools to communicate how we feel emotionally.  But again, simply saying you are angry rather than acting out your anger is certainly more beneficial in most instances.

Emotions are tricky at best – we have little say so over how we will react to something we hear.   How do perceptual differences when they are so complex and multi-dimensional?  In the next blog, we will discuss how we deal with “incoming” data.

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